Back in the day, there was an enjoyable sit-com called The Wonder Years. This show looked at growing up in the stereotypical, nuclear family. It gave the impression that there really are no dysfunctional families in the world and it ignored the fact that not everyone’s childhood was so wonderful. But the show was cute and endearing because it reminded us that in hindsight things usually look better than they did at the time.
Unfortunately, hindsight is not guaranteed to be 20/20 and it doesn’t promise to turn our blunder years into wonder years. There are days, sometime years, in the lives of all of us that we’d just as soon forget. We don’t need a television show to remind us of them. The nightmare runs through our minds in an endless loop playing in a haunted theater.
In the end, there are some things we’d like to put forever in behind us. When we try, we see that little sign in the mirror that reminds us “objects are closer than they appear.”
I used to look back on parts of my variegated past as “The Wasted Years,” those years where I was doing anything but seeking the Lord. There were days when my mind didn’t invoke His name. Months passed that I now wish would have never darkened the pages of my life’s calendar. Some memories embarrass me. Some shame me. Others mock me for my foolishness. Oh, the things I could have done for God had I only responded to His gracious call earlier.
Or, so I thought. Putting hindsight to a more effective use, I’ve since come to realize The Wasted Years weren’t wasted. Sure, they weren’t wonderful. They were sin filled and ignorance packed. I wouldn’t want to go through some of them again, if I had the choice and you paid me a million dollars. But, in hindsight, I’m not only glad they’re behind me. I’m grateful for the lessons learned in them.
In a past life, I was an Army Ranger. I’ve jumped out of airplanes. I’ve fired big guns. I’ve walked from here to eternity and back with 100 pounds on my back. I have the scars to prove it. Most of that time, I wasn’t walking with God. However, God has used those years and experiences to shape the man I am today. I can labor through any difficulty, I can climb any mountain because of what God taught me then. When God’s got your back, you don’t need to worry about who’s to your front.
In a different life, I spent ten years in advertising. Those were years spent in the pig pen with the prodigal. I was moving back toward God and faithfulness. I was rethinking my naïve faith, fighting the demons of my past and God’s call on my future. During these years God put me in a church that cared and trusted. I began to teach and preach. I learned that God can use someone like me, not because of who I am (though I wanted it to be that way) but because of Who He is.
More recently, I spent nine years cranking through a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a doctorate while working nearly full-time and pastoring a church full-time. How’d I do it? I didn’t. God did. He used The Wasted Years and all those hard lessons to carry me through by His grace. He gets all the glory.
Now, twenty years after I should have graduated from college, twenty-five years after I convinced myself I could never go to college, I’m teaching in college. The academic sluggard has become the professor. More than just 25 years worth of life experience that I can share with my students, The Wasted Years have become an object lesson for those who so desperately want to hurry through college to get on with the rest of their lives.
You see, The Wasted Years weren’t wasted. Just as God can create Adam from the dust of the ground, He can create useful servants from the dung of our lives. Just ask Jonah what God was able to do to him and through him because of those three days in a big fish when he was running away from God. Ask Peter to explain the valuable lessons learned during those painful hours of Christ’s trial and those three days waiting to see what was going to happen next.
God doesn’t waste years. God uses our pasts, however dark they may have been, to glorify Himself. The Wasted Years prove all that we accomplish for Him is because of Him. The Wasted Years, it turns out, are really The Wondrous Years. Thank you, Lord.