Last week, I had a defining moment: I turned 70.
Although I didn’t feel any different from the day before, it still seemed like a remarkable milestone. I was 28 when my dad died at 56, and for some reason, when I turned his age, that year seemed more daunting. Yes, I know that sounds superstitious, but you understand.
Regardless, I did reflect a bit. And, of course, never wanting to miss a potential teaching moment(!), I decided to think about My Seven Biggest Learnings over Seven Decades. These have been stones from the middle of the Jordan River for me.
1. Exercise critical thinking.
In the first year I became a Christian, I discovered the writings of C. S. Lewis. I read everything he wrote—some now seem quaint, a product of his time and culture, even misogynistic in moments. But he taught me to think hard and to almost welcome my doubts as a way of strengthening my faith. In that first year, I also read Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not A Christian. It was good for me as a new convert, to think hard about what I knew my heart had experienced. Today, a reproduction of the Time magazine cover of Lewis from 1947 hangs in my office. He was my first teacher.
2. Forgiving others is the best gift you can give yourself.
Unforgiveness was one of the devil’s best tools to stunt my growth. It seems insidiously, lip-smackingly good—and even right—to hold others in unforgiveness for the remorseless pain they caused. But what a slick deception. It tastes fine on the tongue, but it is poison to the soul.
3. Practice the art of letting go.
I have found that my whole walk with God has been an adventure in letting go. Letting go of the past, of the need to be right, of power, of what I thought was security, of position, of money, and on and on and on. Although I’ve regularly heard the phrase, “You cannot out-give God,” I found it could be applied to everything in my life. Anything I released, He followed up with something far deeper and richer.
4. It’s hard to make a stupid decision in the Kingdom of God.
This has become a mantra for my wife and me. It simply goes like this: if your heart is aimed toward heaven and honoring God, it’s really hard to make a dumb decision. I’m convinced there are boatloads of possibilities, and God’s capacity to redeem the consequences of our decisions is incalculable. If my children wanted me to make all their decisions, I would be deeply disappointed in my parenting. And if that carried into their adulthood, we have serious maturation issues. Spiritual adulting is crucial.
5. Take way more risks.
I know this is based more on my perfectionistic, passive-aggressive personality. Apparently, there are adrenaline-fueled people in the world who connect dopamine to danger, but I’m not one of them. As I’ve written before, I don’t swim with the sharks, I dog-paddle with the dolphins. Nevertheless, with hindsight, I wish I had leaped more often and at key times, especially as it relates to faith.
6. Be kind to everyone, for everyone is in a great battle.
The well-known quote has been tracked down to John Watson, a Scottish pastor in the late 1800’s, writing under the pen name Ian Maclaren. He originally used a term that has changed over time: “Be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle.” In other words, be full of pity. I would say it’s simply an exercise in empathy for the people we meet—each person has their own past, wounds, and circumstances that create challenges. It means I don’t assume the worst about people, that the “benefit of the doubt” is vital for me despite the inherent risks.
7. Remind yourself regularly that God really loves you; Jesus is the proof.
I sensed it when I first surrendered my life to God. But that feeling faded in the routine and disappointments of life. I found it necessary to regularly recall the reality of Jesus and his sacrifice as the central narrative of who God is. And even when I grasp the cosmic confrontation of good and evil in the cross, it’s easy to lose sight of that deeply personalized moment that includes me. When all feels random in a vast, bent universe, remember: Love is at the center.
Seventy years. And fifty with Jesus. What a run!