It’s never fun when you are young to think about growing old and feeble. That time of life seems ages away, hazy and irrelevant to twenty-somethings in the prime of life and health. Alas, the truth remains, unless the FDA approves a magical elixir of youth and wonder, we have no option but to age, lose our hair and hearing and start using words like, “youngsters” and “fiddlesticks.” But, when sinful humans with consciences age, they accumulate something other than wrinkles—namely, regrets. Inevitably, we who are young will someday be old and look back to younger days and say, “Fiddlesticks! I regret some things about my life as a youngster (coughing fit).” Though these regrets are an inevitable part of being human, they can be predicted and, with a little determination, limited. The hope is that, years from now, when you are sipping V8, playing Bocce Ball, wearing a knit cardigan and reminiscing with your friends in “the home,” you never find yourself saying any of the following:
1. “Most of my spare time was sacrificed to social media.”
Collectively, Americans spend 100,000 years on Facebook every month. (Don’t tell Einstein, but it looks like the space-time continuum has been broken.) That means the average Facebook user chooses to spend six and a half hours of his or her month feeding Zuckerberg’s chubby brain child. Add Twitter, Pinterest and other social sites and multiple days of the year disappear like Facebook’s stock value in May. These are lost days that could be spent learning an instrument, writing, cooking experimentally, praying or even having coffee with an old friend.
Undoubtedly there are exciting, constructive uses for Facebook, Twitter and the other platforms, but there is a colossal difference between building relationships through social media and replacing them with social media. When you’ve spent twenty minutes on Facebook, are you satisfied deeply and are your relationships strengthened or are you just letting it fill the passing time—one of our most precious resources? Because time wasted now will be time regretted later.
2. “I knew more about celebrities than I did about my neighbors.”
Many people will protest this. “Tabloids make me nauseous!” and from the more dramatic “I’d rather die than follow Taylor Swift’s ‘love’ life!” But even if you distance yourself from the 3 billion dollar tabloid industry, you cannot escape “celebrity.” For in its pure sense, it has only to do with popularity among the masses, and, in the information age celebrities abound—celebrities of sport, celebrities of entertainment, celebrities of politics and even celebrities of the church. As with social media, the institution of celebrity in itself is not sinful or inherently bad, but, like social media, it demands that its followers invest large swaths of their time in order to feel connected. There are two troubles with this: (Run away! A list within a list!)
a. Much of the information learned about celebrities will prove untrue or irrelevant within your lifetime.
b. The relationship with a celebrity is one way and two-dimensional. In other words, you have no opportunity to affect their lives, only observe them.
Most of the time, it is simply not worth your time. Celebrities are people, and it is natural to wish to invest in people—especially pretty people. But why not take the advice of that frantic man on YouTube to, “Leave Britney alone!” and invest that time and effort in our neighbors and classmates. Make someone down the street your new “celebrity,” and change their lives.
3. “I was so set on buying things, I never got the pleasure of making them.”
We are the generation of pre-made pie crusts, instant streaming music, ready-made suppers, waterless shampoo, faux taps bugles, prewashed jeans and even click and grow plants. In many ways it is simply glorious. A colorful and reasonably edible dinner can be cooked and eaten in fifteen minutes so there is more time to apply pre-painted pres-on nails while watching the Do it Yourself (DIY) Network and sharing delicious recipe ideas on Pinterest.
In all this instantity we find ourselves falsely assuming the only reason for doing something is finishing it. But there is another truth that has obviously been shoved behind the microwave: The process of making something can be enjoyable and deeply satisfying. Ironically, we have more opportunity than any of our ancestors to “make for pleasure” and our conveniences make this possible. Instant dinners and dishwashers can make for longer evenings of carpentry, song composition, beer brewing or novel writing. If we pass up this unique privilege history has given us, we may be sorry.
4. “I wasted my life entertaining myself.”
The key word here is self; what Dickens called the, “Grasping, eager, narrow-ranging, overreaching self.3” As long as we are preoccupied with self-entertaining, we have little time for reflection on the needs of other people. And—because of a little invention called the computer chip—our available self-entertainment options are stunning. The gaming industry pulls in 10.5 billion dollars of revenue each year. Video games hold no charm for you? How about the 1.3 billion dollar romance novel industry or the 2.2 billion dollar college football industry? Now, the problem here is not video games, college football or romance novels, it is a matter of math. We have manufactured hundreds of new ways to spend our time, but found no substantial way of increasing that time. Every moment of our lives, we will be faced with the choice of self and selflessness. If we indulge the former, our lives will be wasted.
5. “I never found time to be quiet.”
Little needs to be said here, especially if this is being read aloud. Our lives are full of noises: humming refrigerators, buzzing lights, dripping coffee pots, roaring interstates, pumping earbuds, ringing phones, and chattering televisions. It is difficult to escape all this constant droning noise, but we need just that. And when we do, we’ll realize that silence isn’t really very silent after all; it only hushes bigger voices so we can hear the small. God spoke in a “still small voice” at least once before. Let’s not miss it when he does again.
It seems like every other singer-songwriter on the radio charges us to, “Live like you are dying,” But it might be more helpful—if less catchy—for them to sing, “Live like you were an eighty-year-old with a time machine.” Or “Don’t let the old you scold you.” Our generation has unprecedented opportunities for excellence and unprecedented temptations toward mediocrity. Let’s go for excellence and make our future crusty old selves proud.