When my spirit faints within me, you know my way! (Psalm 142:3 ESV)
It comes upon you quickly, this thing called aging. It is not that one day you are young and the next you are old, but it almost feels that way. Everything about us ages slowly except our minds — I do not mean our brains which is the organic instrument of thought, but our minds made up of our thoughts, values, memories, personality, and designs.
Age surprises us because we are creatures of habit and we base our today on what we did yesterday. We do not live backwards, so even when youth has long vanished from us physically, we still identify with who we were then, much more than who we will be in five or ten years time.
There is that premature panic that strikes us somewhere in our middle years, when we have a twinge of arthritis, a moment of forgetfulness, a touch of stomach upset, a brief and gentle touch of age, and most of us think we are dying. Of course, we usually still have far to go and much more to endure, so much so that we say to people who bemoan turning 50, “I’ve got socks that old.”
But there is also a perplexity that comes later in life, and we are a bit surprised that we are not further along in maturity than we thought we would be at this stage. The final years of life are sometimes described as though in life we had been swimming across a treacherous body of water, fighting the waves and the currents, along with more than a few dangerous sea creatures, but in our final years we reach the shore and comfortably rest from the journey. But what we find is that as we near the end, we are still swimming in the treacherous waters, and whatever we dealt with in our former years is still here to be dealt with in our later years.
There are still dangers without — stuff on the outside of us, the dangerous creatures and realities that can swallow us whole, or just gnaw at us slowly. And there are still dangers within — our own hearts are not as settled as we wish they would be. We still have our fears, our worries, our doubts, our ambitions, our preferences, and even our bad attitudes. We still must contend with being misunderstood, being forgotten, being ignored, random accusations, and getting along with difficult people. No, we do not reach the shore in our final years. The shore of God’s peace and tranquility still lies beyond, and all that we know of it in our personal experience must still be claimed by faith.
But there is a positive way to look at this, that these final years are the times to grow more spiritually than we have ever grown before. “When my spirit faints,” the psalmist proclaimed, “You, God, know my way.” The idea is of a spirit that is muffled that cannot speak its own mind, not even to itself. It describes the moment of intense confusion, when thoughts and feelings, fears and hopes, facts and suspicions all rise together, and we are not sure what step to take.
We had been there before, and we shall be there again, but as before our hope is still in the Lord our God who knows our way. He knows where we are and where He wishes to take us. He knows our hearts tendencies and our spirit’s needs. He is our hope and our joy. The victory is not to have our problems all obliterated but to know that in Christ are all things working together for good. He will bring it all in His wisdom and power into a glorious completion to those who are in Christ, and He will do so for His glory, and not ours.
In fact, in such moments of complexity, the soul must think not of its own comfort but of the glory of God. This is, in fact, what our hearts truly long for, that our lives would count for eternity.
It was said of Alexander the Great on his death bed wanted three things: that doctors should carry his coffin, that his wealth would be scattered in the street along the procession, and that his empty hands should hang outside the casket for all to see. These spoke of three realities: the finest doctors cannot always heal, the wealth we accumulate we leave here, and that we enter into eternity empty-handed.
As thoughtful as this was, the simplest believer has an infinitely greater hope, that in Christ is our security and our glory and our hope. Even if we do not always feel that our legs are underneath us, it must be okay, if we have enough simple faith to believe in Christ. Life today, in every stage of life, can be placed in His hand. We are still following His will and His plan for us, until we reach heaven’s shore.