Of Kings and Aunts and Country Singers
Old and weathered, Maine houses hide their stories but are reminders of ours. When young, optimistic, enthusiastic and busy, we take little notice of the imperceptibly slow but progressive changes occurring in our bodies. Regardless of physical conditioning, body habitus, or huge amounts of denial, they creep up and surprise us. We wrinkle, sag, shuffle, hobble and become gray and lose our hair. Our grandchildren look at old photos and ask, Who is that?” Fair enough! We don’t recognize ourselves in the mirror! At some point, we realize that we don’t have too many more runs around the sun, and the run seems shorter every year!
Tennessee Ernie Ford, a mid-century popular country singer and probably best known for singing “16 Tons,” sang Stuart Hamblen’s “This Old House,” a song which lamented the relational and physical losses of advancing age-how life wears away and becomes diminished as time runs out. “This ole house once knew his children/This ole house once knew his wife/ This ole house was home and comfort/As they fought the storms of life .” But laughter and joy and family are replaced by weakness and fretfulness and the reality that death can’t be avoided and is imminent.. “Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer/Ain’t a-gonna need this house no more/ Ain’t got time to fix the shingles/Ain’t got time to fix the floor/ Ain’t got time to oil the hinges/Nor to mend the window pane/Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer/He’s a-gettin’ ready to meet the saints.”
Although bemoaned in music and literature and pondered and expounded upon in medical journals, health magazines, and promotional ads promising the fountain of youth, the surprises, disabilities, and eventualities of aging can not to be avoided among the living. So, old people learn to laugh at their complaints as they brave physical and mental frailties and visit their geriatricians. They “get it! It is part of the process. ”Slightly misquoting Bette Davis, my wife’s Aunt, who died a few days short of being 101 years old, frequently said, “Aging ain’t for sissies.”
Israel’s King Solomon, who had an amazing life, would have agreed. An intellectual with a wide range of interests and pursuits, he shared a fascinating account of his very long, adventuresome, and priviledged life of wealth and power. In his closing thoughts in Ecclesiastes, his vivid prose painted a picture of advancing age and its disabilities and declared that all the pursuits of life are meaningless. They are but “vanity.” “Everything is meaningless,…completely meaningless,” he said. But that statement was just a segue to a very wise, hope filled, and somewhat unsuspected conclusion about the meaning and purpose of human existence. He proceeded to exhort youth to always keep the end of life in mind because in those surprising but unavoidable, confining years of decline, all of one’s life will come into focus, “Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” However, he finished with a positive message, the encouraging thought that life is not limited to the material, it is spiritual. It is connected with God, in whom lies ultimate and lasting meaning. “Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty…” (Ecclesiastes 12:1-14)
Both Tennessee Ernie Ford’s singing lyrics and King Solomon’s poetry and prose point us not only to eventualities and finalities but also to a living hope. The time will come when “This old house” will return to the earth, but “the spirit returns to God, who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7) More importantly, Jesus also taught the urgency of “seeking first” the eternal values of God’s Kingdom. (Matt 6:33) There are many worthy, worldly pursuits, but the most valuable life long priority is seeking a relationship with God, who is not far from us. He gives us all the treasures of His Kingdom through faith in His redemptive work on our behalf. For that purpose Christ appeared on the human scene: ” to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
These cautionary words from Tennessee Ernie, King Solomon and Jesus remind us how limited our material world is and that our deepest needs are spiritual, that our spirits are reality, and that we were created for God, who lavishes his love on us through Christ. The Westminster Catechism sums it succinctly and well : “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”