When I die, I would have it said of me that I have lived a thankful life. I didn’t know that when I started out. Reared in the middle-class work ethic and on the American principle of individualism, I thought that I was supposed to produce something tangible–some kind of “product”–that would show I had been here and done my job, whatever that job was.
Obviously, as a female, I was supposed to produce children, including going through all the procedures necessary for doing that job legally and responsibly. (God knows, with seven children in our fifty-two years of marriage, Sam and I can check that one off the list as fully done.)
Then I thought as well that I was supposed to belong to some group or institution or profession to which I could contribute and from which I would receive some overt, demonstrable acknowledgement that I had lived, worked and, of course, produced. I suppose I did that, too, at least in so far as teaching and writing and the Church are professions and institutions. And I have loved it all. Heavens, I still love it all. But I don’t think I am because of any of it, or in terms of any of it, or even for the sake of any of it.
I should have known better right from the start, of course, despite the work ethic and the culturally-endorsed glories of individualism. I was reared Presbyterian, and I certainly was taught better.
I laugh now and say that I got over being Presbyterian when I was seventeen; and that is true. The first thing I did when my mother left me as an entering freshman in my new dorm room was to go straight to the student co-op and buy a pack of cigarettes. The second thing I did was to betake myself to the first Episcopal Church I could find and ask for instruction in whatever it took to learn to worship God that way.
I gave up the smoking years ago, but I have never looked back on the Anglicanism part. Yet even so, there are some things about Presbyterianism and those first seventeen years of being one that I am adamantly, sometimes even tearfully, grateful for, not the least of them being some sections of The Westminster Confession.
The Westminster Confession, Presbyterianism’s great statement of faith and doctrine, opens with the question: What is the chief end of man? It answers that question by saying: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
How as a child and then as a young adult or, later, as a mature one, I could have failed to perceive what those words meant is beyond me. But better late than never…and no more fitting time than the closing days of Lent to admit that in the closing days of a lifetime, I think the old Westminster Confession had it right all along. For all the Lents and years left to me, pray God I shall live as one who does indeed know at last that our chief purpose is to glorify and enjoy Him forever. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.