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Displaying items by tag: Christian Living
Saturday, 31 March 2012 15:13

The Arc of Life

The Arc of Life

- Living life at any age -

As I turn 40 today, I can’t help but get a bit philosophical about life and its natural course.

As a pastor I work with people of all ages and from all places of life. On any given day, I’ll counsel teens, young adults, middle aged people and senior citizens. I’ve prayed with prostitutes and politicians, dined with drug dealers and doctors; and while I still have much to learn about life, I have a unique perspective that seems worthy of mentioning.

Because I have spent so much time with people of such an array of stations in life, I’ve observed something I’m calling the “Arc of Life.” What I mean by this term is that there is a natural rhythm of life that keeps pace with us, and even limits us, to what we can or should be doing at any given time. I began seeing this arc of life as I have had the chance to develop such close relationships with people of so many different ages and accomplishments. What I’ve seen is that there is a natural arc to life, an arc of productivity, an arc of family, an arc for things of God.

The book of Ecclesiastes has a passage (made famous in the 60’s by Bob Dylan and The Byrds) that speaks to this arc:

Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—2 A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. 3 A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. 4 A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance. 5 A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing. 6 A time to search and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep and a time to throw away. 7 A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; A time to be silent and a time to speak. 8 A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace.

Now you’ll see in this passage that God has ordained certain times for certain activities. There may be a degree of flexibility from person to person, but by and large, life in alignment with the Lord follows this arc: preparation> production> concentration> transition. I have found that our modern society that seeks to throw off all restrictions—people no longer think in terms of proper times and proper seasons. But whether or not we understanding it, our lives follow this arc. The less we live in harmony with it, the less peace and joy we’ll find.

In a nutshell, the arc begins with childhood—this is where children learn about life, about values, about work and play, etc. The lessons they learn here propel them into early adulthood.

Then, in early adulthood people decide upon their course for life. They refine their skills and step away from the edge of the pool and start swimming. Along the way they pick up a spouse, have children, and settle down. They are moving up the arc.

In their middle-aged years (from about 30-50) they are living in a renaissance of personal productivity. They are producers—making something, having an impact, seeing results. They are full of activity—if it can be done, they will do it. Should it be done? Maybe/maybe not, but they’ll give it a try. The folks have time, resources, vision and passion. They are nearly at the top of the arc.

But I have seen—when a person is following God’s natural arc—somewhere between 50 and 60 years old, rather than the typical notion of “slowing down” that the world pounds into our thinking, instead when a person has properly followed this arc, during this time they will enter into a realm of purified productivity—they are ultra productive, but not existing in a realm of hectic activity. They will be wise and seasoned. They will know what matters. They will still have resources of energy and vision to accomplish great things; but they will have the added blessing of seeing life from an eternal perspective. They start marking days and years and realizing that they can leave a legacy if they focus on the right things. They have the discernment to leave behind things that waste time, and they focus on what will count for eternity. Now they are at the top of the arc.

Where they go from here depends on how they have gotten here. If they have followed God’s arc to this point, they are rich with perspective and wisdom. They have much to offer others and seek to pass the baton on to the next generation of leaders. Their joy is found in giving away the riches God has given to them. They have much to offer and people come to them to receive. They continue to lead, but they lead into the twilight, lighting the way for those who follow, and because so few today have followed God’s arc to this point, many people gaze at these saints with love, joy, respect and gratitude.

This is the arc. It is an arc filled with hope, optimism and peace. It’s an arc most could follow, but few choose.

The more I interact with people, the more I see how living out of balance with this arc causes great misery. It seems as though society has increasingly derailed good people from this perspective. Society, with its sophomoric wisdom, tells itself that it can ignore this arc, that there are more immediate ways to happiness, that we shouldn’t be bound by such naïve notions. Yet people wonder why our misery continues to rise, our contentment continues to lower, and we increasingly descend into despair—especially as we age. Life is painful and without knowing their place on the arc, they forsake hope and give up.

And that’s why I thought I’d take a moment to write this post—for many people reading it—there is still time to redirect efforts and recognize our place on the arc.

First and foremost, the Lord needs to be at the center of our lives. Back in High School, I thought I was pretty cool by saying that God was my Co-Pilot. What I didn’t realize then is that a statement like this is simply foolishness. God IS the Lord and master of ALL life—even if we ignore Him or deny this truth. I can say I don’t believe in gravity, but it still dominates everything I do. God is not our co-pilot, He is THE pilot! He has determined the course of our days and the times and places we live. He is moving us along this arc whether or not we admit it. Unless we are surrendered to Him, we’re going to find that each stage of the arc is frustratingly toilsome. We’ll be out of sync with God’s natural rhythms of life.

We’re like a blind person, sitting in a canoe, being carried down a stream. We don’t know where the stream is going and we can’t see where we are, but we’re paddling with all our might into the darkness. The solution is to recognize what God is doing and let Him lead. This kind of trust and knowledge of God requires that we are reconciled to Him. It’s not enough to be fatalistic and just “go with the flow”. It’s more than that—we need to surrender and do God’s will. This means we need to be in a right relationship with Him.

How do we do this? Well, here’s the basics: God is holy and pure and dwells in absolute purity and perfection. Therefore, He can’t have any sin in His presence—otherwise, it wouldn’t be perfect any more. But sadly, each of us sin, each of us do things that are not like God. This means two things: we are out of fellowship with God here and now, and when we die, we will be out of fellowship with God forever (e.g. we go away from God because we can’t enter into His presence). If we are not in fellowship with God here, we are off His path for our lives.

But God wants us in fellowship with Him, God wants us near. So He sent His son, Jesus, to earth to be our atonement. Jesus was perfect—like God—never sinning. His death on the cross was to shed His life for us; to cover us with His perfection. This is His gift to us: eternal life. We don’t earn this, like any gift, we receive it when we reach out for it by faith. We confess to God we