By Mark A. Taylor
After Lewis Foster died several years ago, David Faust spoke of his last visit with him in the hospital.
“I read John 14 to him from the New International Version and then said, ‘It’s a little humbling to share this with you, because, after all, you translated these words.’” Then Dave told Dr. Foster all his scholarship had meant to him and how much he had learned as his student.
The professor looked up at Dave from his hospital bed and said, “You make it all seem worthwhile.”
Think of it. The great New Testament scholar, seminary administrator, author, and international Bible teacher was convincing himself after decades of service and just days from death that his life had mattered.
But maybe this is not so unusual. Psychologist Erik Erikson, whose system of life stages is widely studied by educators and counselors, says the developmental task of older adulthood is deciding that life has had meaning.
This summer The Wall Street Journal published an interview with Frank Sinatra Jr., the 65-year-old son of the famous crooner. The article recounted the younger singer’s performances across America and in dozens of countries, his current acclaim as a big band conductor, and his role in extending the successful career of his father.
The article quoted praises of Sinatra Jr.’s work from composer-singer Rod McKuen and the Daily Variety newspaper. It reported the surprising fact that Sinatra Jr. wrote a song for the U.S. bicentennial that was performed by the U.S. Air Force Symphony Orchestra and placed in the National Archives.
The writer ended the interview with a simple question:
“Is there anything you haven’t accomplished yet that you want to do . . . ?
”There was a pause. “Success would be nice,” he said. “Even a little you know.
”But what would it take for the younger Sinatra, who has already accomplished so much, to believe he has been successful? A Grammy award? A Hollywood hit? A bestselling book?
And would such success convince him in the end that his life has mattered?
The writer of Ecclesiastes looks at the pastimes that may occupy a life and decides all of them, ultimately, count for nothing. “Here is the conclusion of the matter,” he writes, after his survey of life’s meaningless pursuits. “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
There’s a verse to memorize and a principle to practice at any age. It’s a simple formula—although not an easy one—to help us sort through all the duties and disappointments and delights of our days and settle on a life we can know has mattered.