If you were asked to sum up your life to this moment in one brief statement of twenty-five words or less, how would you do it? What would you say?
Think about that for a moment. You have been living now for fifteen years, fifty years, or however long it’s been. Those years have contained a combination of good and bad, success and failure, fulfillment and disappointment. Now you want to summarize them in one brief statement. How would you go about doing that?
Admittedly, it would not be easy to do. Most of us would need quite a bit more time than these moments offered in order to compose such a statement. But some people have already done it, so there are a few patterns that we could go by.
For example, the famous American lawyer Clarence Darrow, as he came toward the end of his life said this: “The outstanding fact, which cannot be dodged by thoughtful men, is the futility of it all.”
In contrast to that, we have a summary statement from St. Paul in his second letter to Timothy. The Apostle, Paul, was an old man and knew that his life was rapidly drawing to an end. So, from his prison in Rome, he looked back across the years and here is what he wrote: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
What a contrast. One man looks back at life and sees only ‘the futility of it all’. Another man looks back and sees a good fight, a finished race, and a kept faith. If we had to choose one of those as a pattern for our summary statement, surely, we would all choose the latter.
And in a very real sense, we can exercise that choice. We cannot change our yesterdays; that is obvious. But we can do something about today. Someone once wrote, “The present is the past of our future.” Which is just a clever way of reminding us that the life we live today will be a part of the over-all life we look back on tomorrow. If we want to be proud of it later, we must do something good with it now. Every one of us has a chance to include in our lives those same great ingredients that made St. Paul the man that he was.
Let’s face it, life in this world is not a Sunday school picnic. It’s tough; sometimes it’s almost impossible, and the person who has little to no fighting spirit is ill-prepared for living. And I am not suggesting that a will to win is the total answer to all of life’s problems, but I am saying that without it, none of the other answers make very much difference.
Most of the things that are worthwhile are accomplished not by speed, but by endurance. There are no quick and easy methods to get a good education, or to build a beautiful home, or to rear a child, or to build a great life. All these things belong to those who pay the price day by day and year after year. Sometimes the way is hard, and we want to drop out. But we keep going, and one day we can look back and say with pride, “I finished the race.”
Then we too can say with St. Paul, “A merited crown awaits me. The Lord will award it to me… because I fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.”