On Easter Sunday, the pastor of my Maryland church preached a sermon about the "unknown gods" that each of us worships daily. Our culture, especially where I live, is permeated with materialism. I would never describe myself as a materialistic person, but it creeps in unawares when I least expect it. I constantly scour Pinterest for new image-enhancing fashion and makeup tips. I feel the strong urge to hide my face every time I navigate my bumper-less, chronically screeching '97 Honda amid throngs of shiny SUVs, Mustangs and Camaros. I endlessly plan for the house of my dreams. And, like much of the working world, I envision myself and Nathan spending our last years in a blissful cottage by the sea.
Society's idea of retirement recently collided head-on with my concept of spiritual growth. My mom is one of my heroes, and for as long as I can remember I've watched her live out her faith with a mixture of awe and determination. "Someday," I tell myself, "when I'm Mom's age, I'll love Jesus as much as she does." This mindset allows me to make peace with spiritual apathy, since I have the rest of my life - 50 more years, at least! - to get serious about Jesus. What we would call premature death - a kindergartner collapsing on the soccer field with heart failure, a young teenager losing the battle with cancer, a college graduate's life abruptly snuffed out in a car accident - instills more than just grief. For me, with my intentions of living a long life with time enough to accomplish all my spiritual goals, it brings the sobering fear that I am not making the most of now. What are possessions, social status, beauty and accomplishments when faced with eternity?
Mom's parents just celebrated their 68th and 72nd birthdays, respectively. As I wrote their cards I reflected again on the impact that their counter-cultural retirement years has had on my family. Grandma and Granddad live in the simplest of houses and share one car. I cannot remember them ever traveling for fun, or engaging in leisurely hobbies. Their "golden years" are spent in community and political involvement, helping to homeschool and care for their grandchildren, and faithful intercession. To outsiders, their lifestyle would invoke pity - if not outright mockery. To me, a grateful recipient of their love and prayers, they have uncovered the pearl of great price. To them, Jesus is so wonderful that He is the only thing worth living for - now, and every day until they see Him face to face. They embody the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians, living "as having nothing, yet possessing everything" (6:8).
If my goal is to continually grow closer to Jesus for the rest of my life, why would I spend my remaining days on this earth in pursuit of pleasure and earthly fulfillment? Why not instead find true and eternal joy in the emptying of myself for Someone infinitely greater? Some may say that I'm being too hard on myself; that everyone deserves their share of happiness on this earth. This begs the question: what defines true happiness? Is it found in things, people and experiences, or in a relationship with my Savior? Do I really believe, in the words of Tullian Tchividjian, that Jesus + nothing = Everything?