Written by Todd Mangum
Friday, 10 August 2012 00:00
It’s true. This week I turned 50 years old. And that’s all I’m going to say about that — it still sounds old to me. I’m taking comfort in the notion that that means I must still be young at heart.
A wise man knows he will not live forever, Ecclesiastes and all that. Still, it’s hitting me harder than I thought it might, and has prompted some reflections. Don’t get me wrong; I really am looking forward to the life to come. I’m just not finished preparing for it yet — and seeing the gas gauge down to a quarter tank is . . . well, disconcerting.
Anyway, here are major lessons I’ve learned from five decades of living so far — enjoy:
Ages 1-10: I learned that my parents loved me, were always there for me, and could be trusted to protect me when bad things happen. In the following four decades, one learns that none of these are as failsafe as you thought when you were three. Even still, that feeling of love and protection is something every child should be allowed to enjoy. It’s something you and I can give to our kids; and the fact that not every child has these basic senses of love and protection is one of the injustices of this life that Christ calls us to work toward rectifying.
Ages 11-20: I learned that God is always there, is always watching, and is always with me. That learned and notwithstanding, my friends — the kind of friends I had and the kinds of interests we shared and pursued — were often a greater influence on what I might actually think, say, or do at any given moment. When I came to recognize that, it was both startling and sobering. Note to self: be mindful of the friends you hold dear and be careful about the company you keep.
Ages 21-30: I learned that life with God can be fun; His blessings are rich — wife and kids included. I also learned that working hard to achieve goals is a real joy, but that sometimes all the hard work in the world results still in disappointment. Life is a journey of victories and losses, successes and failures, joys and sorrows. Each of us enjoys or endures both in different measures, sometimes because of choices we make, but often by choices others make that affect us or even by what just seems like the luck of the draw. In the end, the character of a person is demonstrated by one’s response to both success and failure — not by how many may be listed in each category.
Ages 31-40: This was when I learned that life has a finite timeline, and that you can do some things you’ve always wanted to do — but you can’t do everything. Choosing between good options means not doing some good things, and missing out on things you wish you didn’t have to miss out on. Looking back, some of the times I remember and cherish most are the whiffle ball games in the back yard with my toddler and pre-school boys, the backyard baby pool, Christmases and birthday parties. And, I’m so, so glad I coached my son’s baseball team that year even though I was still working on my doctoral dissertation. I can put my book, The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and the “Coach Todd” baseball trophy on the same shelf. I didn’t know it at the time, but that cheap trophy that every kid on the team got that year — including the third string right-fielder who never did quite learn to throw and ducked at every pitch thrown him at the plate — may actually represent the more significant impact of my life’s work. (You should still buy my book though: http://www.amazon.com/Dispensational-Covenantal-Studies-Evangelical-History-Thought/dp/1842273655/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid= 1343394285&sr=8-1&keywords=mangum%2C+dispensational).
Ages 41-50: Over these last ten years I’ve learned that faithful life for God and with God is life filled with great joys and also great pain — that God can be trusted, but no one is spared the anguish and agony of loss and disappointment. I have also learned — well, am learning — that the blessings are probably greater than the disappointments, but, if you’re not careful, you can overlook them and be weighed down by the struggles. My wife — already a great blessing from the Lord right there; Prov. 19:14 is serious! — took me out for brunch on my birthday. She knew I was feeling a bit pensive about all this, so she began listing major blessings that even now we are enjoying from the Lord’s hand — in career, in ministry fruit, in the Lord’s provisions financially and in physical health, ending with the listing of the blessing of my family. Parents who love the Lord and love us; three sons and a daughter in law who all know and love the Lord and love me. “And, don’t forget,” she ended, “a beautiful wife who knows you well and still loves you dearly.” J Yep. True dat.
Academics like me — and you’re probably one, too, if you’re reading this blog — live in the world of critical thinking and analysis. We thrive on picking apart glib analysis and populist premises. But truth is: there’s a lot of truth in all the corny sayings and hackneyed clichés about love and life, family and friends, God and Jesus that Mommy and Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa, the pastor and the Sunday School teacher, and the other good people in our life have tried to tell us. Take it from one who’s now lived half a century: corny truths are still true, and they’re some of the most important. You can bet your life on that.
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.