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On Friday (August 10) I said that that was the last I was going to say about my fiftieth birthday.  But, because I do two blogs a shot for the faculty blog page, today is an “encore” on that theme.    

When I was in high school, I heard a sermon preached by Rev. Peter Hook (who now teaches preaching and pastoral leadership at Cairn University; he’s still one of my favorite preachers).  He ended the sermon with the poem below, by Edward Guest, entitled “The Painting.”

When my hair is thin and silver, and my time of toil is through,

When the years behind are many and ahead of me a few,

I shall want to sit, I reckon, sort of dreaming in the sun,

And recall the roads I've traveled, and the many things I've done.

I hope there'll be no picture that I'll hate to look upon,

When the time to paint it better, or to wipe it out, is gone.

 

I hope there'll be no vision of a hasty word I've said

That left a trail of sorrow, like a whip-welt sore and red.

And I hope my old age dreaming will bring back no bitter scene

of a time when I was selfish, or a time when I was mean.

When I'm getting old and feeble, and I'm far along life's way,

I don't want to be regretting any bygone yesterday.

 

I am painting now a picture I will have one day to see,

I am filling in a canvas that will soon come back to me.

Though nothing great is on it, and though nothing there is fine,

I shall want to look it over when I'm old and call it mine.

So I do not dare to leave it, while the paint is warm and wet,

With a single thing upon it I will later on regret. 

It’s a poem obviously written by a younger man; for one thing those whose hair is thin or silver tend not to write about it so romantically.  It contains some of Ecclesiastes 12’s pensive reflections, but clearly without the bitter pills of life swallowed and choked on as background. 

It was still a poem that gripped me at the time.  Year later, I had a chance to talk about it with Pastor Peter when we crossed paths again in a different context.  He was kind enough to write it out by hand and give it to me to keep.  To this day, I keep it in my desk drawer, and pull it out and read it once in a while — like I did today, reflecting on my 50 years of life so far.

At this point in life, I have to unfortunately recognize scratches and flaws in my painting of times when I was selfish, times when I was mean.  I’ve lived to regret some hasty words, words I’d like to take back, but I fear have left in some cases an indelible mark.

I’m glad that the whole of my life’s painting doesn’t consist of just such — my wife, as I mentioned yesterday, has helped remind me that the painting of my life so far is turning out pretty well, by God’s grace.  But I can’t read “The Painting” today without some of its points resonating in me with remorse (not just warning).

I don’t know if, as you read that poem, it strikes you as more profound or more corny. I know that God used it and has continued to use it to have a pretty significant impact on my thinking and my life just the same.

On Friday,  I alluded to the fact that there are often profound truths in the folksy wisdom, corny clichés, and even the three-points-and-a-poem of the standard sermons that some of us have grown up on now for nigh unto fifty years.  That’s still true today. 


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.

 

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