Commentary: An Exhortation for Young Adults
When I Was Young
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 15-Mar-14; 10 minutes
This commentary was brought forth by four elements. One is the impact of the series of sermons that I've been going through in Ecclesiastes for what seems like forever. In all my years of preaching, I have never had a serious study of a particular book have such a sobering and practical impact on me. What has impacted me most strongly is that even though Solomon never uses the phrase (even one time), his writing shows very strongly that "everything matters." Not everything matters, though, to the same degree. But what happens, and our response to what happens, matter.
The second element is the death from cancer—specifically, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma—of Amanda Allen. Although I never had a great deal of contact with her, I have had a small amount, and have known her since she was a young child. Amanda was 29. The non-Hodgkin variety, which promotes the degeneration of the lymph system, is exactly the same variety our daughter, Carol, died of, and Amanda went through almost the same cycle of health degeneration as Carol.
The third element is that we have such a fine group of young people here, especially our young adults. It seems now, anyway, that one is getting married every other week or so. That's wonderful, as they fall in love, thus setting the course of their lives together.
The fourth element is a song that I remembered from back in the 1960s. This song is, I believe, the most recorded song in the history of recorded music, probably because of the Beatles' version of it. But the Beatles' version, according to John Ritenbaugh, cannot hold a candle to many other men and women who recorded it. It seems to me to be a man's song, and the version that I like best was made by Matt Monro. Like the Beatles, Matt was a Brit. He was a very good-looking man, and he was seemingly blessed to have been given a voice made for singing love ballots. But this song is not a love ballad. It's a lamentation. Interestingly, Monro, too, died at a fairly young age of cancer—liver cancer. The lyrics were the product of three men combining their talents for remembering their wasted youth. Listen carefully to the lyrics, especially you young people, because the lyrics concern an older person reflecting on a wasted life. Its title is, "Yesterday When I Was Young":
Yesterday when I was young
The taste of life was sweet as rain upon my tongue.
I teased at life as if it were a foolish game,
The way the evening breeze may tease a candle flame.
The thousand dreams I dreamed, the splendid things I planned
I'd always built to last on weak and shifting sand.
I lived by night and shunned the naked light of the day
And only now I see how the years ran away.
Yesterday when I was young
So many happy songs were waiting to be sung,
So many wild pleasures lay in store for me
And so much pain my dazzled eyes refused to see.
I ran so fast that time and youth at last ran out,
I never stopped to think what life was all about
And every conversation I can now recall
Concerned itself with me and nothing else at all.
Yesterday the moon was blue
And every crazy day brought something new to do.
I used my magic age as if it were a wand
And never saw the waste and emptiness beyond.
The game of love I played with arrogance and pride
And every flame I lit too quickly, quickly died.
The friends I made all seemed somehow to drift away
And only I am left on stage to end the play.
There are so many songs in me that won't be sung,
I feel the bitter taste of tears upon my tongue.
The time has come for me to pay for
Yesterday when I was young
Now, the Bible—God's word—shows me clearly that wisdom is not a virtue associated with youth. Rather, it shows that youth is associated with a strong body, and at the same time, it seems to be going to last forever without really ever having to consider the end. But the end always comes because the piper must be paid.
The theme of the author's lyrics in the song is regret over not considering the end result of his attitude toward life. He relates throughout the song the activities that his careless attitude motivated him to involve himself in. The sum is clear: He made bad choices. Even before the lamentation begins, the author knows that life is over, and there is no time remaining to change what has been produced. He admits he has no one to blame but himself. We have a cliche that says, "Too soon old and too late smart."
Solomon exhorts young people,
Ecclesiastes 12:1 Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them”
For the songwriter, the fun was over. He had no future. The songwriter did not know, and therefore never considered, that everything matters. The air we breathe matters. What we eat matters. What we drink matters. The clothing that we choose to wear matters. What we do with our hair matters. How we drive our cars matters. What we choose to listen to in the way of music matters. What we choose to read matters. How long we choose to sleep matters. What we choose in the way of entertainment matters. The attitudes that we are allow ourselves to operate in matters. The people that we choose to associate with matter. Study and prayer matter.
Solomon opens Ecclesiastes by saying, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Vanity is anything that is meaningless, and meaninglessness is gradually defined within the broad context of Ecclesiastes as things, activities in life, choices that have absolutely nothing to do with God Himself, God's creative purpose, and His way of life. That's it.
Those activities may not only be vanity, but sometimes they are downright destructive. We might say that vanity is having nothing to do with godly love. And this, brethren, is what most people's lives are filled with. Of all of the things in life that matter, this is the most important one.
There is still time for you to dedicate your life to seeking God, and thus making the most of the life He has given you for His glory and for your profit and eternal satisfaction.