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Being young was never what it was cracked up to be. Our media culture wants us to think it’s the greatest thing, but they’re wrong. If someone somehow offered me the chance to go back, I would say, “no, thank you.” Sure, I could stand to have my joints back in the condition they once were, but not if it meant starting over on everything else.

I’m not yet old—I’m in my mid-50s—and if my kids are right, I never will get old (and neither will you!), for they have a saying, “you’re not old until you’re fifteen years older than you are.” So far, though, this stage of life is way better than what’s gone before.

My wife and I have been through two or three seasons so trying we could only lean on each other and the Lord, and we weren’t even that much help to each other: we felt like a pair of cooked noodles trying to hold each other up. All we really had to lean on was God. Everyone has times like that, we’re not unique; in fact, as Americans with a loving family, food to eat, a house to live in, and freedom of religion, these seasons are less severe and frequent for us than for most people around the world. Still they are challenging when they come. We’re in another time like that now, with some severe illness in our extended family and enough health, work, and financial stress in our immediate family to make that larger issue all the harder to deal with.

I’m grateful this is not the first time.

I don’t know how it is for everyone; I can only speak for myself, and I think probably also for those who have been graced with a relationship with God. God is good, and his promises are sure. His promises were sure when I was in my 20s, and they are no more sure today than they were then—but experience has made me more sure of them. Sara and I have seen with our own eyes how God fulfills his promises. Faith grows like a muscle with exercise; and the fruit of such practice is greater confidence and a calmer assurance that the words on the Bible’s pages have genuine substance and reality. It feels less like being a noodle leaning on God, and more like having God’s own strength inside us.

I can see clearly how necessary it was to learn the lessons of one of those prior seasons, about eight years ago now. There is a direct link from those rough days to the vocation in which I am very happily and fruitfully engaged today: without that struggle, I would never have been equipped for what I am doing now. I can’t say the same so clearly for every tough time I’ve been through. Not all of it makes such apparent sense, except for this: I have seen God’s faithfulness in action, and I know him in a deeper way than I could have otherwise. That alone is very, very good.

I was probably about thirty years old when I first looked back at who I had been five years earlier and thought to myself, “I didn’t know much then. I’ve learned so much in these five years.” At the time, I told myself, “I’ll bet that five years from now I’ll look back at myself today and say the same thing again.” Sure enough, now when I look back at who I was five years ago, I can still say, “Man, I didn’t know much then.”

If I’m still around to take the same retrospective five years from now, I will surely say the same then, too. I still don’t know much today. The calm assurance of which I spoke earlier is far from complete; I do not know God that well yet. But I know him better than I did, and the knowing is good. I’m grateful for the years of opportunity to learn what little I have about God’s immense greatness, and how to live with a bit of wisdom in his world. I’m grateful for the additional strength that experience gives both my wife and me for today’s challenges.

And I’m grateful no one is asking me to go back and start all over again. Being young was great in its way, and I loved the life I was living, but once was enough. I can’t wait to see what else God has in store for the years ahead.

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