Turning 40 was no big deal. My 42nd birthday, however, was more difficult. That's how old my father was when he had to retire because of Parkinson's Disease. I realized how young Dad was at the time.
This month my birthday odometer flips to 65. That's how old my father was when he died. I now realize just how young Dad was at the time.
Thinking on these things recently I pondered all that I have learned over the years. When I turned 20 I thought I knew a lot. I had an opinion on darn near everything and was rather smug in my understanding of the world around me.
Forty-five years later I realize how little I knew then and how little I know today. German satirist Georg C. Lichtenberg wrote, "We accumulate our opinions at an age when our understanding is at its weakest."
Over the past 45 years I have learned that God is much bigger than I ever imagined. We finite humans tend to stuff God into a box so we can understand Him better. The problem is that God cannot be confined to the human imagination and we shortchange ourselves by limiting our understanding of Him.
The Creator God I have come to know and love over the past 45 years is mighty beyond my imagination and yet yearns for a personal relationship with each of us. Go figure!
At age 20 I did not yet fully comprehend the depth of my parents' love and sacrifice for my siblings and me. Only when my wife and I had children of our own did I begin to understand that Dad and Mom gave up so much to feed, clothe and care for us. I also understand now that parents don't see that as sacrifice but simply as love.
I appreciated my parents back then, of course, but as I've grown older I have come to much more deeply appreciate the home life my parents gave their brood of six. We didn't have much in the way of the world's treasures but our parents gave us love, discipline and common sense nurturing. What an inheritance!
Back then I saw the world primarily in black and white. The past 45 years have taught me that the world and the people that inhabit it cannot be viewed in black and white. The Creation is of infinite hues. While there are moral absolutes the Ten Commandments, for example there are many questions for which there are no simple answers.
I have learned to fear less. There are many things to be afraid of today but I refuse to live in fear. The understanding that God is always in control in spite of what the news headlines may lead you to believe gives me confidence to look forward to each tomorrow.
Over the years I have learned to appreciate people who are different than I am. I have friends of multiple races and ethnicities, friends who are rich, friends who have very little, friends who are straight and friends who are gay, friends whose faith is quite different from mine and friends who don't believe in God at all. And I'm grateful for each of them.
Would I like all of my friends to see and believe the way I do? In many ways, of course. But that's not a prerequisite for my friendship.
Older friends tease that I'm still "just a kid." Younger friends kid me about becoming a geezer. The past 45 years have taught me to not complain about growing older. Too many friends and acquaintances have not had that privilege.
At 20 I thought real men didn't cry. I've learned the hard way that a real man can become ill if he doesn't.
I have been married for more than 43 of the past 45 years and I've learned a great deal from that experience. (Oh, have I learned!) In particular I have learned that marrying the right person is essential for a happy life. And I did!
I learned that being a parent can be difficult and expensive, but it's worth every minute of work, every ounce of frustration and every dollar of expense. My wife and our two adult children are the joys of my life.
I wonder what I'll learn in the next 45 years give or take a few years.