Birthdays are something, aren’t they? Some have gravity that others do not. Our daughter, Evelyn, turned thirteen at the beginning of October. Going from twelve to thirteen is a big deal for a young person. The teenage years have a prospective orbit that the previous years did not. I turned fifty last Wednesday. That felt a little like making a jump into lightspeed and arriving at a completely different solar system altogether. I still feel like I’m in my twenties. Jennifer tells me I sometimes act like it.
Well, whatever. Sometimes a guy just has to dress like a stormtrooper before going to Walmart. It’s the way of things for someone who, for a good part of his life, has been unwilling to let the world around him do the steering—a guy who has an inkling of how bright-eyed an exhausted mom and her two kids can become after crossing paths with a Star Wars character in the cereal aisle.
I like that. And while they can’t see my face, they know I’m smiling, too.
I suppose any birthday brings an opportunity for introspection. Certainly, the older I get, the more I reflect. I’m guessing you do, too. I had one online friend, someone who cares, reminding me to slow down—to make the most of the days, reminding me not to burn the candle at both ends. He knows me well.
Interestingly, he used the phrase, “burn the candle at both ends.”
Do you know where that saying comes from? It’s from a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay. How do I know this? Because she died on my birthday. At some point, I remember learning she died back in 1950 on October 19. I don’t recall how I became aware of it; probably one of those radio segments talking about events in history. One of Millay’s claims to poetry fame was the lyric entitled “First Fig.” In it, she wrote:
My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—It gives a lovely light!
Millay had a Dickinson way about her—crisp and melodic with her words, all arranged in the best order and bearing something profound. Even this little verse speaks volumes.
For one, it reminds the reader of life’s transience. No matter the pace at which one’s candle wax is consumed, each day will end, as will the candle keeping the evening vigil. Interestingly, while her words are typically used to describe being overworked, that’s not necessarily her intention. In a simple sense, she means to say that she has a life and intends to do the most she can with it. She already knows she won’t live forever. Still, she plans for her light to burn as brightly as possible, producing a lovely light before both friend and foe.
I suppose birthdays are fertile moments to ask pragmatically, “Will any among us last the entirety of life’s night?” If the one asking the question is honest, his or her answer will be no. As the day ends, so will the night. And so, the lesson here? Give your utmost diligence to each of the clock’s ticks. Life is progressing. Its wax is being consumed. Live accordingly before your candle’s flame goes out.
This reminds me of something the Lord said to His onlooking disciples in John 9. It’s not exactly the same image, but it is somewhat similar. Before stopping and healing a blind beggar, the Lord said to His disciples, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” (v. 4).
Firstly, I think it’s interesting that Jesus used the word “we” instead of “I” when describing who would be involved in accomplishing the works of the Father in this world. It’s not as though God can’t do these things Himself—as if He actually needs any help. The Lord is also not saying that anyone will have any active part in the work required for salvation. Jesus will accomplish all of that. He will live perfectly under the Law. He will suffer and die for the sins of the world. He will rise again as Victor over sin, death, and Satan. On the other side of these things, He uses “we” to show He is including His disciples in the efforts of faithfulness born from His work. His disciples are believers, people recreated by the Lord’s sacrifice. Believers produce the fruits of faith, often taking the form of both witness and service. They are vessels—carriages—sent out to extend the message of what Jesus has done. They do this by both word and deed. In short, they live out the Gospel in the world around them in recognizable ways.
Admittedly, the Christian life is often passively unaware. In other words, faith so often creates fruits in us we don’t even realize are being produced (Matthew 25:37-40). On the other hand, the Christian life is actively aware, too (Matthew 24:45-46; 25:29; Luke 10:25-37; 1 Peter 3:15; James 2:18-19, 26). It stands at attention. It’s ready and willing to engage in service when required. Jesus demonstrates this by stopping and taking time to heal the blind man. He could have passed by. He certainly had other cosmic-scale things to do. Still, He stopped. He helped. Sometimes, Christianity requires that we stop and help.
I suppose, secondly, the fact that Jesus crams this Christological point into the image of a single day implies not only the urgency and determination He has for situating His Christians in the world in this way but also the divine stamina He knows we’ll need for suiting up and doing what needs to be done. Life is busy. It’s often experienced in a flurry. I can confirm this, and it’s likely you can, too. Therefore, the Lord reminds His listeners in the very next verse that so long as He is present—and He has promised He will be—we’ll have access to a light that empowers our labors (John 9:5). Even when darkness falls, He will be the fuel that keeps the flame burning at both ends, giving a lovely light through us to both friend and foe.
Knowing these things changes the trajectory of our earthly orbits in some pretty incredible ways. We know we can’t earn our way to heaven, but we also know we can’t sit idly by when a blind man needs our help, or a wearied mother in the cereal aisle could benefit from some cheer, or an unborn child needs an advocate for life. If we are not burning the candle at both ends—ever vigilant in our awareness and willingness to embrace each moment for faithfulness to Christ—we’re living a dimly lit life.
Lots of folks around the world receive this eNews each Sunday morning. The ones in Michigan know where I must go next.
Proposal 3, a ballot proposition that will enshrine abortion (and other atrocities) in the Michigan Constitution, is on the verge of passing. Barbara Listing, the president of Right to Life of Michigan, mentioned a few nights ago that other executive leaders for Right to Life in surrounding states are saying Proposal 3 can’t be defeated. They’re urging that Right to Life of Michigan change course, that we give up on fighting the proposal and begin putting all the coffer’s coins toward the campaign needs of pro-life candidates. In other words, the onlookers have already consigned Michigan to the title “Unrestricted Abortion Capital of the World.” But Barbara told her wobbly counterparts she wasn’t going to give up. She’s going to continue leaning into the fight, giving it everything she’s got. She’s going to burn her candle at both ends. I’m with her. I’m going to burn my candle this way, too. I will continue to do everything I can to see Proposal 3 defeated. I have a life, and here at this particular moment on the timeline, an opportunity to live that life to its brightest has appeared. Regardless of the outcome, I will light both wicks and burn my candle. I’m not going to live forever. And so, I will do everything I can with every breath I’m given to act—to stop and help the unborn who cannot help themselves. I’m going to fight for the preservation of parental consent laws, for religious objection laws, and for all the other Godly things Proposal 3 is designed to erase with a single solitary dot on a ballot’s page.
You need to be engaged against this devilry, too. You must vote “no” on Proposal 3, and on the same ballot, you should choose candidates who are committed to doing the same. To do otherwise is to be in contradiction with one’s own Christian identity, thereby living a dimly lit life. Now is not the time to be dimly lit. Let friends and foes alike see your flame of faith. It will be harder for some than others. Still, as a Christian, it’s a must. Let the flame of your faith beam brightly, burning at both ends, and with an unapproachable heat. Let it be a beacon in the darkness to those who would find it, and I dare say, let it be a forewarning of your resolve to those in opposition who’d dare try snuffing it out.