“I have nothing to show for my life,” he said.
“No career. Few friends. No spouse. No financial future. Nothing. I’m enslaved to debt, struggle with childhood sins, and have little left to hope for. Don’t hear me say something I’m not, but many days, I wonder why I am still here.”
The season of youth had past. Dead dreams and wrinkled expectations kept him company each night with his pets. He described his life the way Anne of Green Gables had: “My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.” And many of his hopes went into the casket alive.
“There is more to every Christian’s story than can be experienced now.”
Time picked at his wounds. He felt anger towards church members who betrayed him, resentful towards employees who cheated him, embittered that others had what he only longed for. He had been fighting his sin the best he could — and this is how God repaid him?
Disappointment seemed easier to bear in his youth, but now the sun began to set. Where was the life he always imagined? He stood an undertaker to hopes gone by.
What if you look back, like my friend, and all you see is a graveyard of buried dreams, an egg that never hatched, great things that never came, years that passed as a sigh? What do you do when the life that should have been finally escapes the rearview mirror?
1. Let Go of the Life You Wanted
We must acknowledge that a “hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). If the job never comes, the spouse is never found, the wound never heals, then the delay (and death) of good things should make tears run their course. But the day must come when we lay aside the weight of an unrealized life and run the actual race set before us, looking to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2).
Christ teaches this when he says to “remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). Instead of pressing forward into the life God called her to, she looked back longingly at Sodom. As a result, God turned her into a pillar of salt. Like her, many of us are tempted to look back longingly, as Demas did when, “in love with this present world,” he forsook Paul (2 Timothy 4:10). Still others of us look longingly to a city we never visited, a life we never lived.
Jesus continues, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it” (Luke 17:33). The life we hoped for can be one of the hardest to lose. Ghosts are more challenging to kill. But we all must forget what lies behind when it would impede us from straining forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13).
2. Look to the Life to Come
The story of humanity is not “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” as Macbeth despairs. It is a tale, larger than our individual cameos, told by a wise and good Creator and, to the Christian, a Father. We must not pretend as if our story is the story, but happily locate our few lines in the scope of God’s redemptive drama. The Christian alone can look upon his (underwhelming) sentence of life, wince for a moment, and then rejoice with joy inexpressible and filled with glory, because in Christ many more chapters — indeed the best pages — still lie ahead. Death is more of a beginning than an end, a comma than a period, an arriving home than leaving it.
“Death is more of a beginning than an end, a comma than a period, an arriving home than leaving it.”
This is why Paul describes our life this side of heaven as waiting. We kill sin and live godly lives, “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). We evangelize, waiting. Seek his face, waiting. Host small groups, raise children, work jobs, waiting. There is more to every Christian’s story than can be experienced now. “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
For what do we wait? We wait for our blessed hope, the appearing of Jesus Christ. He is a very different hope than we have on earth. He is a happy hope, a hope that shall not fail, falter, or break. Once buried, he is the only hope that conquered the grave.
Do you lament a life that never came? Behold “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Our hope sits enthroned at the Father’s right hand, immortal; our inheritance, imperishable. The believer’s true life appears when he does: “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4).
On the day when he casts his children’s reproach to the bottom of the sea, the saints will be seen — even in our mundane, ordinary lives — as the great treasures of Christ’s crown, the kings and queens of heaven. It will be said on that day,
Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. (Isaiah 25:9)
Life begins at his arrival. The adventure begins beyond the grave.
3. Embrace the Life You Have
Holding heaven before us, we can embrace the life we have now. Jesus climbed the tree and drank our wrath “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). The end of the story helped him, and helps us, endure the middle. If, within our brief paragraph, we hear Jesus say, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), then we need not grow despondent over the dullest or seemingly most wasted life. To “depart and be with Christ . . . is far better” (Philippians 1:23).
So, as John Piper counsels, “Occasionally, weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have” — knowing that, in Christ, it’s not the life you’ll soon have. Our future inheritance teaches us not to despair at what should have been, but rather to rejoice in what will be. We burn with zeal for good works, God’s glory, and others’ good; we pray to our Father, read his word, obey and adore his Son; we laugh and cry, sing and hope, looking for him around the next bend. Trust in Christ, follow him now, and this will be the furthest you ever stand from home.
Do Not Grow Weary
Perhaps you tire of waiting. I know I do. I long to be at home with the Lord. I long for all the bad things to come untrue. To cease battling sin. To cease hearing horrible news. To experience perfect unity with the saints. To see him face to face.
“The life we hoped for can be one of the hardest to lose.”
But all the greatest stories teach us not to tire of waiting. The final resolution will make it all worth it. Should we fatigue, waiting for everything we ever wanted? Should we grieve that the sunrise of eternal bliss rises at six o’clock instead of four? Certainly, a few extra hours of darkness make the eternal rays all the more delightful; the few extra chapters of suspense can be used to heighten the resolve.
He will come. Blessed are those who, through the disappointments of this life, wait for the coming chapters. Let go of the life that never came. Embrace the life you have. Wait for the life that soon shall be.