Think about the last book you read. How did you feel at the end of a chapter as you turned the page to begin the next? No doubt, it depends on the book.
I’ve been reading Andrew Bonar: His Diary and Life, and the “chapters” are based on huge chunks of years at a time. I read only a couple pages a day, amounting to a year’s time in his diary. So when I’ve reached the end of a division, I’m just a little curious about how his next phase in life plays out.
I don’t read too many fiction books, but occasionally I’ve read a John Grisham novel—typically when on vacation. I usually have a hard time putting the book down at the end of a chapter. Something is left hanging, and I’m eager to get to the resolution.
From school days—decades ago now—I recall dreading the next chapter in an assigned text, only because there was one! The British Literature course I had to take in university stands out as one requiring works I didn’t particularly enjoy. So for whatever reason, probably my own immaturity, an assigned book didn’t interest me at all, but I had to read it…every single chapter!
In contrast to Brit Lit, I do enjoy reading biographies from just about any generation in history. Chapter divisions usually correspond to significant life phases, and the anticipation of what’s coming in the next phase generally leaves my interest piqued. For example, I read David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers and was always eager to get to the next chapter. Interestingly, the chapters after Kitty Hawk were as intriguing as those before.
I will also occasionally read books on something in history, whether history proper or historical fiction. And how I feel about the next chapter can be quite different between the two. I could hardly put down Jeff Shaara’s books on the Civil War! On the other hand, The Mayflower was a good read, and I enjoyed it, but I didn’t have the sense of excitement about beginning each new chapter.
Naturally, I also read a number of books related in some way to the ministry. Usually, at the end of each chapter, it’s pretty easy to put the book down. These works aren’t written to be entertaining page-turners. Instead they demand some level of intense concentration, following reasoning or a flow of thought. By the end of a chapter, I’m ready to set it aside, reflect a bit on what I read, and rest my weary mind. That said, I do want to get back to it to learn or be challenged some more.
Now I’ve gone through all of that not to talk about books per se, but about life. Life has often been likened to a book, with each day being a new page, each phase of life, a new chapter. When it comes to the book of life, how do we feel about the next chapter?
What’s got me thinking along these lines is my dad. He’s beginning another chapter, and he’s not particularly thrilled about it. That may be a tad of an understatement. The current chapter began about three years ago. He lives alone, and I got a call that he suffered a fall and ended up in the hospital. After a series of tests, he was diagnosed with late-onset Parkinsons Disease. From the hospital he went to rehab for a few weeks until he recovered enough strength to go home and sort of manage on his own once again. About a year later, the scenario repeated itself. With this episode, his doctor advised that he shouldn’t drive again—it was too risky. So I had to be the bad guy who took his car and sold it. But he still went to his home where he had a friend prepare some meals for him, check in on him every day, and so on.
A couple weeks ago, in the same day, he had a couple of falls from which he couldn’t get himself up. He has a “life alert” button and had to use it both times. The first time he refused to go the hospital. The second time, the paramedics didn’t give him an option. Back to the hospital for a few days. Back to rehab for a couple weeks. But this rehab stay ends a chapter. The new chapter for him will be written from an assisted living facility. Living at home alone is no longer an option.
When discussing his condition with his physician, I was lamenting the conversation I needed to have with my dad about the next chapter. I knew dad wouldn’t like what’s coming and expressed as much to the doctor. I wondered out loud why we tend to turn the pages to this chapter of life kicking and screaming. He replied, “Well, I’m sure we will, too.”
I get it. The older we are, the less we tolerate change. We’re comfortable in our surroundings, our routines, even our diet. This chapter messes with all of it! So most of us won’t finish the previous chapter with eager anticipation for the next. For the Christian, though, there are some thoughts we can dwell on to moderate our unpleasant feelings.
For example, the psalmist wrote:
“Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:23–26, ESV)
“O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” (Psalm 71:17–18, ESV)
And then there are these calming, settling promises for every phase of the Christian’s life:
“…be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear….”” (Hebrews 13:5–6, ESV)
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV)
I’m not naïvely suggesting that a good Christian will enter this chapter of life with enthusiasm and gusto, with great excitement and anticipation. In a very real sense, there’s some “death” going on in what is being left behind. There will be no going back to a familiar, comfortable place filled with memories and mementos — it’s being displaced by who knows what. A lifetime of accumulated things will mostly be dispersed. Some to family members, some to a garage sale, some to a recycling center, some to a landfill. A precious few will make their way into the next chapter.
Nevertheless, the Christian can face the uncertainty of this phase of life—this chapter—with the confidence of the Lord’s presence, the comfort of the Lord’s providence, the peace of the Lord’s purpose, and the joy of the Lord’s provision. Even in this chapter, he has a future and a hope.