I imagine if had I been asked what to expect of life when I was younger I might have said something like the following:
Life? Well, it’s like this. In your youth you spend your time playing, then studying, finding friends and trying to figure out what to do. If you are lucky, you also find the right person with whom to spend the rest of your life. You find a nice house, get a dog, and maybe have kids. I’m sure there will be troubles along the way, but nothing more than what you can handle. As you get older your kids grow up, move out, get married, and then they have children. Like you, they will live in nice houses, have nice jobs, and generally live without too many troubles. Some day, late in your life, you will notice your body giving out and then it won’t be long before your kids take care of you. You and your spouse will realize your days are numbered and then one of you passes away. The remaining one will move in with one of your kids and then sometime in the next few years, you will join your spouse in the ground. Those are the important parts of life, the rest are just details.
Now that I’m older and able to look back on things, I think I would stick to the previous story, but I would change to the last line to read, “Those are just the details, but I’ve left out the important parts.”
I don’t think the story of a life has anything to do with the details of our daily activities or the children, the houses, the jobs, our successes, or our failures. I think the real story of a life is about where we choose to place our hope and where we choose to go to weather the inevitable storms of life. And while I cannot speak of your storms any more than you can speak of mine, for all storms come in different shapes and sizes, I can tell you that each of us must go to the same place to weather them.
Book II of the Psalms, which begins by asking the question “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (42:5,11, 43:5) ends by reminding us that God, the Lord of the universe, is our refuge, our fortress, our rock, and our hope (71:1-5). Psalm 71, the second to last chapter in Book II, tells the story of one who continually relied on God from birth to old age, even through the midst of troubles and calamities, the nature of which are not revealed. In other words, Psalm 71 tells the story of a life filled with perseverance in the face of constant troubles.
But what I find most interesting about Psalm 71 is that it is not theoretical knowledge, for it was written from the perspective of someone in the latter days of their life. It seems they understood what it meant to become marginalized and pushed to the side while younger and more energetic people filled the slots that society offers (71:9-13). But, unlike those who might live out their last days in regret and anger, this person has one simple request: to instruct the next generation about the mighty acts of the Lord (71:15-18). They don’t desire to pass on knowledge regarding some technical career, how to build a home, or how to have a happy marriage, even though each of those might be important. They simply want to share the wisdom of the Lord. This should, I believe, tell us what is really important in the story of a life: the knowledge of God’s mighty acts of salvation.
But instructing the next generation is not the last act in the story of a life: at the very end, hope stands tall. But this hope is not just that which longs for the end of troubles and calamities, this hope trusts in God’s promise to revive us again. Though the resurrection of Christ lay far in the future, the author of Psalm 71 knew that God promised to resurrect those who follow after him. The author knew that beyond pain, emptiness, loneliness, angst, unfulfilled longings, unmet expectations, and other such details of life, there stood a singular hope that someday we would live again (71:20). They knew that after this life of death and sorrow and after being buried in the ground, a life of honor and comfort awaits (71:21). Furthermore, the author knew in that life of honor and comfort there would be nothing to stop those who had been raised from singing of God’s greatness.
We will sing because we will be resurrected from the grave. We will sing because every longing we have, our emptiness, loneliness, and angst, as well as every unmet expectation, is fully satisfied in him. We will sing because we will finally know the important parts of the story of a life: God’s faithful protection and his steadfast love.