Altars and Ambition

“As for man, his days are like grass; as the flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them.” Psalm 103:15-18

My first novel, A Lifetime Ago, contains passages that resonated with me at the time I wrote them, and they continue to resonate. One such scene occurs after the character Cami Taylor, a novelist, has unplugged from her life for reasons I won’t go into because they would be spoilers if you read the book. Cami is lazing in a friend’s backyard pool, and she thinks, “…I’ve grown addicted to this lazy routine of rising late and doing nothing. There is no passion in me to write, no sense of urgency to make the day productive. I realize, on this morning, I’ve come to believe no effort is in every way as good as my best effort. I have never known such freedom.”

I was in my early forties when I typed those words for the first time. I earnestly wanted to write a novel that achieved recognition and distinction, not to mention big sales. I poured my soul into the work. Unlike my character’s, my own ambition was vibrant and healthy.

One of the wonderful things about racking up decades is each one brings a new point of view. My fifth decade brought the dissipation of the ambitions that dominated my earlier years. I began to feel satisfied to the point that I thought if I don’t get to do much of anything else, what has gone before will be enough. My life has exceeded my expectations. Maybe I’m kidding myself, but the thought has a profoundly relaxing effect. The last time I got a deep tissue massage I asked the therapist if she noticed any tension. “No honey,” she said, “You’re not tense. At all.” That was a first.

Not too long ago I remembered how I felt when I was in my twenties. I didn’t have a degree or any skills to speak of, but I really, really wanted a career. Well, God provided one that fit me to a T, and it’s pure satisfaction to have successfully completed it. Sometimes I glance at the retirement plaque I keep on the desk at my day job, and I think, “Wow. That’s done.” As I look to the future, I’m more like Cami – I’m free from the need to prove anything. It’s as if the Holy Spirit is whispering, “We got that out of the way, now let’s get on with what comes next.” If sixty is the new forty and life begins at forty, here we go. Rock and roll. Rather than driving ambition, I now enjoy a sense of expectation. A looking forward to something – I’m not sure what. Everything so far has been a gift. I can see that now. If the path of the righteous (Romans 3:22) is as the breaking dawn that shines brighter and brighter until the full day (Proverbs 4:18), what wonderfulness could lie ahead? If I’m willing, that is.

Willing to do what? You ask. Willing to change again at least as much as I have been changed before. After all, we’re just getting started. We’re just beginning to get down to business. Pastor Jack Hayford published a wonderful teaching about the altar Abraham built in the place the Lord visited him and made The Big Promise (Genesis 12:6-9). My current state of mind isn’t a bad place for an altar. Rather than rocks, I’ll use wineskins, old and new (Mark 2:22).

I don’t have to build an altar, and I don’t have to allow myself to be altered. I’ll still go to heaven. I’m sure the years will still bring many blessings. After that eternity will bring even more. But wouldn’t I regret staying on the kiddie rides when I’m holding an E Ticket? Yes, I might regret that.

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Paul the Apostle to the Church at Philippi (Philippians 3:7-14 NIV)

© Melissa Kay Simonds

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