[Thanks to those of you who have kept checking at the blog in spite of my hiatus in writing. I have been grappling in grim earnest to finish off the monstrous beast of my PhD thesis (and yeah, Beowulf has been in the pleasure-reading, as the foregoing clauses betray).]
This will be a rather personal post.
I turn 40 over the weekend. It feels like a milestone of sorts, one worthy of some degree of reflection (at the risk of self-absorption).
I used to pray that I would not “sell out” or slink into worldly compromise when I got older. So I have been wondering what the 20-year old Andy would think about the 40-year old Andy… about the values I now hold, the vocational goals, the accomplishments or lack thereof. Would that younger version of me (“20A” we will call him)—a passionate and restless soul freshly committed to serving Jesus to the death and to the uttermost reaches of the earth—would he approve of the contemporary Andy (henceforth “40A”)? Would he find his prayers against the lukewarm-ness of adulthood had been answered in the unfolding of two decades? And since I had a major change of heart after becoming more serious about my faith at 19, I will throw in some thoughts from the 18 year old Andy (“18A”)….
I think 20A would be absolutely flabbergasted to find that 40A is still a student. How could this be? 20A chose “Forestry” as a field of study to avoid the “liberal” religious studies department at UGA, and eked by academically just enough to get into seminary a couple of years later. And now 40A is 85,000 words into a doctoral thesis on biblical theology. 20A certainly evidenced some degree of intellectual promise, but university academics were a laborious distraction from the glorious “out-there,” the land of greener grass beyond the quad, a realm full of grand and epic adventures among perishing souls in need of rescue. 20A would be positively shocked to find his older self slogging through a third postgraduate degree.
What would 18A think? He would be disappointed that I have not already won a gubernatorial race in my home state of Georgia, and entirely miffed that financial means would be squandered on degrees that yield little in terms of financial means.
I think 20A would be pleased that 40A has written a couple of books. He would be quite dismayed, however, over 40A’s (materialistic?) struggle with their poor sales performance, even though 18A would be livid that one would invest so much time and energy (and I mean so much time and energy) in profitless enterprises like writing on theology and culture.
20A would be excited to discover that 40A has a passport jammed full of stamps and currently lives overseas. He would be puzzled, however, that the overseas location is an industrialized Western nation rather than a dark, jungly place of daily dangers.
20A would also be troubled by the fact that 40A has yet to reach an unreached people group and bring them to faith. He would have a tough litany of questions to pose to 40A: how could you be studying when so many people are starving and without the Gospel, or in need of medical help, or in need of rescue from oppression?
On that note, 20A would be pleased to learn that two decades later he would be struggling through multiple languages. He would, however, rub his eyes in consternation over news that said languages are biblical Greek, ancient Hebrew, and academic German. Why not the tonal clicks and gutturals of a stone age tribe awaiting the Gospel?
In sum, 20A would be very pleased indeed to know that 38A daringly moved his wife and kids to another country “by faith,” leaving behind a nice big house, a respectable job, and beloved members of his wider family. He would delight that a hefty percentage of material goods were jettisoned for that costly jaunt overseas. He would just be alarmed that all of this sacrifice—though expended in the name of following Christ—involves the pursuit of a ministerial vocation with such an academic bent.
18A would find both 20A and 40A as alien and quite unfamiliar and would possibly suffer embarrassment over being associated with either of them.
I have a lot to learn from the 20-year old version of myself. That guy had an edge about him, a streak of rebellion against “the way the world works.” One of the benefits of working with university students in ministry is that they do not know about these worldly workings and can thereby hear with peculiar clarity the countercultural edginess of the Gospel. I do not wish to lose sight of the divine kingdom that turns the world upside down.
But in spite of all the concerns 20A would wish to raise with 40A, he would be quite pleasantly shocked beyond all expectation and hope that 40A was married to Miranda Waters, a girl who had caught his 20 year old eyes, and that they had brought into this world the four children whom 40A regularly fails but loves so dearly. Spending one moment with the five people now affixed to 40A, dogging his steps and adorning his life, 20A would probably collapse to his knees. The youngster would not know what to do with the PhD decision, the life in England, the academic pursuits… but he would certainly have some sense, I hope, that however a stranger 40A seemed to be, something beautiful and wondrous was underway in his life.
Something grand. And epic.