I still remember it, though the edges of the memory are cloudy after more than 50 years. I am sitting at the classroom desk, fat No. 2 pencil clenched in my six-year-old fist as I labor over my writing tablet. Our second-grade teacher was allowing us a few quiet moments of free time. I must have felt inspired to write.
That afternoon in 1966 I composed my first “ode to life,” if one can call it that, pencil point scratching against cheap paper as I poured out all that I loved about life. I loved my “mama and dada,” the birds that sing for us, the schools, the teachers too. I loved the whole world around me.
“But most of all,” I concluded, “I love God.”
The words of the six-year-old resonate deeply with one who has now turned 60. If only I could have kept that truth as the central pillar of my life! But like so many others, I suppose, as I grew up I began to move away from the simplicity of loving God to the complexities of loving the world, and consequently experienced all the heartache that entails.
I didn’t live a wild and dissolute life—not at all. My whole life was spent in what I hoped was sharing the Gospel message, first as an editor with Billy Graham’s “Decision” magazine, and then as a writer of inspirational fiction. And I never stopped loving God; He was in fact the love that would not let me go.
But the problem was this: As an adult I tried to build my life on the pillar of success rather than on the pillar of God’s love. After all, isn’t that what the world tells us to do? “Seek success. Be the best. Achieve at all costs. Be somebody!”
Years of senseless striving followed, filled mostly with feelings of intense failure. The very irony of trying to be somebody is that it blinds us to the fact that we are all born somebody simply because God created us and we are His. Our worth as men and women and the meaning of our lives are found only in Him.
Another memory: I am sitting by a roaring fire, singing songs with the Vanderbilts. Yes, the Vanderbilts of the Biltmore House. The great granddaughter of George Vanderbilt, the original owner of the Biltmore House, is a woman who goes by the nickname of Dini. Her father-in-law, also named George, is a friend of mine.
Some years ago, George invited Bob and me to a large gathering at his home outside of Asheville NC. While there, Bob and I joined George, Dini and others gathered by the fire. Dini offered me her chair, saying it was more comfortable than the one I had just sat down in. Someone had a guitar, and we all began to sing. Mostly gospel songs, like “I’ll Fly Away.”
Some glad morning, when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away, to that home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away… When I die, Hallelujah, by and by, I’ll fly away.
So there I was, with some of the most successful and wealthiest people in America, while my own accomplishments and worldly assets would barely fill a gnat’s ear. But what difference did it make? We all had the one important thing and we were all going to the same place.
George has told me this many times: “When you get the news that I’ve died, the first thing I want you to say is Hallelujah!” Certainly, George enjoys his kinship with the Biltmore House, but his heart is set on another Home.
Rubbish, is what the Apostle Paul called it—all his accomplishments, successes, worldly possessions. All rubbish compared to knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8). We all have work to do in this world, but work was never meant to be a means of self-advancement but a gift of service to God and others.
Another man of God, David Wilkerson, said this: “We are not called to be successes—to be free of all trouble, to be special, to ‘make it.’ Many are missing the one focus that is central to their lives: to become fruitful in the likeness of Christ.”*
Now at 60, I am fully back to the first love I knew at 6. Thank God and Hallelujah. There’s nothing quite like coming home. Peace prevails as I cast aside the thought that my life has to be a success story. Instead, I realize the one thing that matters is loving God most of all, and so I live my life as a love story with Him.
* God is Faithful by David Wilkerson, p. 349.