A popular Christian pastor and author tells the story of a gentleman who converted to Christianity late in life and was overcome with grief that he had "wasted his life." Now I have no clue what kind of life this man lived before he became a Christian. He could have been a child abuser, alcoholic, tax evader, or even a Democrat. But did his being a Johnny-Come-Lately to our faith invalidate everything about his life up to the point he walked the aisle after an invitational hymn and gave his life to Jesus? Had he really wasted his life?
There's a lady I know who is not a Christian. She understands beauty and seeks it out. She celebrates and practices laughter whenever and wherever it can be found. She takes her work seriously, speaks of things like justice and mercy, and believes there is a spiritual aspect within all reality. The other day she made my heart open up and dance a little when she told me that when I carry a stack of Kyle's books she can see that I am still carrying a piece of him with me everywhere I go. She does not follow Christ. But is hers a wasted life?
There's a missionary in an area designated by many evangelicals as "World A" or "The 10-40 Window," where the majority of the population has never heard or been exposed to the Good News of Jesus. She has committed her life to spreading the gospel in this area. Last year her father died. Although she wanted to, and had the means, her mission agency would not allow her to return to the states for the funeral. Her family would have to grieve without her. She took seriously the call Christ gave his would be followers to let the dead bury the dead. But is this really the mark of a life well lived?
As someone marked as a follower of the Christ from Galilee, I must acknowledge that a life devoted to beauty and spirituality and justice and mercy, without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit is deficient and cannot save. The one I follow and worship is the Way, the Truth, the Life, and no one gets to God without him. He said that, so I have to buy it.
I also must recognize the great sacrifice it takes to make the difficult decision that, though both are important, the call to Christ supersedes all others-- even a devotion to family. And this call sometimes requires tough choices.
But, with that said, should we really be comfortable with insinuating that those who become a Christian late in life, or not at all, have "wasted" their lives? Is the spark of God that remains in all of us not capable of spreading life, even the God-life, into our little corners of the world? Does devoting ourselves to poverty and the spreading of the gospel, regardless of the cost, automatically validate our lives, no matter what else we do with them?