EBS10: How To Reclaim Wasted Years
Eric Butterworth Speaks: Essays on Abundant Living #10
Delivered by Eric Butterworth on May 8, 1975
Occasionally we hear someone talk about the wasted years of their lives. Even in this study of the new insight in Truth we can hear someone sincerely say, “Oh, if I had only known about all of this thirty years ago, how different things would have been.”
Of all the fine old fakes that have enslaved the human mind, there is none greater than the myth of the “good old days”. The ancient Greeks were subject to it, ever looking back to the fabled “Golden Age”. The Hebrews worshipped in the memory of Abraham who was dead, and made life miserable for Moses who was alive. And contemporary Christianity tends to look back to the time when Jesus walked the Earth—a time, some say, when “God was alive.”
During times of war or economic crisis, people talk about “getting back to normal.” But they don’t take into consideration that the seeds of today’s crisis were growing throughout the peaceful period that preceded it.
There is no getting back to normal, for what is “normal” is for life to change and for people to grow. There is no going back. The good days are over the next hill and straight ahead.
Joel tells of a most significant promise by God to man: “I will restore unto you the years that the locust hath eaten” (Joel 2:25). This sounds like a harmless scrap of Oriental poetry, but on analysis holds a secret and a promise that can really stir up a new interest in life and living.
He refers to the “wasted” years on which so many persons dwell: years that were consumed with futility and despair, unexpressed dreams and ambitions, ugly years of vacuity and nothingness. Often we wish that we could turn back the clock, “If only I had known this when I was young.” We assume that it’s too late to profit from that period, and we see the past with nothing but regret.
But Joel is saying that a ladder to the skies has been formed by all of the experiences in your life, even if you are not always aware of it. As it says in Ecclesiastes, “God requires the past” (Eccles. 3:15).
When you throw a log on the fire, the entire past of the wood from acorn to tree must go in order that the new experience of heat and light may take place. It’s the same in your consciousness. If today is to be fired with enthusiasm and light and the heat of creative action, the past must be consumed. We must let go and face forward calm and unafraid.
The locusts in Joel’s statement are negative thoughts. No tragedy or failure that has once harmed you can take a toll of life for you today unless you imbue it with thinking negatively about it through regrets, fear, bitterness, etc. We have the choice of holding past experiences in our consciousness, or, like the butterfly giving up its cocoon, we can awake to the fact that we’ve been holding onto an empty shell.
If you have lost someone close and dear to you, you may be looking back in grief and sadness, in memory of other days of companionship and closeness. But you must know that all the blessings of that relationship were right in their time—but through change you have come to a point where “all things come to pass,” and something new and wonderful is unfolding for you. You must let go of your cocoon and accept the greater blessings that are prepared for you.
Joel’s word “restore” means to fulfill, to make whole, to make meaningful, to make complete. In the modern sense, we need to learn to “recycle” our past. The promise is that you can get the vision to behold the meaning and purpose of all that you have experienced and make your past work for good.
It may seem that the years have taken a terrible toll of your health—that it is too late to be restored to youthfulness. The promise “to restore” doesn’t mean that you can once again have the body of a teen-ager. You can’t return to the physical vigor and attractiveness of youth. But in the process of a true “restoration”, comes a new self-image and a changed consciousness and a mature approach to life in which you radiate the attractiveness of spirit. As Emerson said, “The central wisdom, which was old in infancy, is young in four-score years, and, dropping off obstructions, leaves the mind purified and wise.”
All of us have years behind us that we feel were lost or wasted. Looking over the transcript of my own college work one day, I felt great shame, realizing that this was a nearly wasted experience. I used to joke about the fact that “I majored in athletics and took a little studies on the side.”
These years were almost wasted for me, but not really. For these years were restored as I came to realize that all that I had done, and all that I had experienced, was a part of my development. We all need to take this attitude. As Joel says, “...and my people shall never be ashamed.” No matter what the experience, we must not get bogged down in it. We must go forward, armed by the blessings to be gained from every experience. We can’t change the past, but we can change the effect it has on our self-image. We can restore it by making it a vital part of our spiritual unfoldment.
A wise Frenchman once said, “The past is always present.” This is true, because it is out of the past that we are built. It is out of the past that we unfold.
Consider a child who burns his finger on the stove. Would we really want to change that experience? Was it wasted? Today you see the adult using fire in work and industry with great respect and skill—and the past is present in his skill. Wisdom helps us to “restore” the child’s experience in light of his future years.
We may be tempted to say about Viet Nam or World War II, “Oh, if we had it to do over again, we would have saved so much unnecessary violence and waste.”
Or, “If we had just done away with Hitler before he went on the rampage.” But think again. Do we really want to surround ourselves with a mantle of protection?
Some of the earliest animals on Earth were the dinosaurs, and many of them were as big as animals can be. They had thick hides and defensive armor to protect themselves. Yet where are they today? All extinct. All were beaten in the struggle for existence by little animals with nerves on the outside, but with the greatest heart and intelligence on the inside. Today, the best-protected animal is the clam, and the least protected is man. Don’t try to be a clam! Don’t try to always find ways to shield yourself from life’s challenges. As a preacher said, “Pray not to have easier lives, but pray to be stronger men.”
The very fact that you may feel that past years were wasted indicates that you are on the verge of their “restoration”. Waste no time in regret. Give thanks that “all things work together for good.”
It doesn’t matter how old in years you may be. Whether you are 20 or 70, you can still know God, and you can restore the wasted years by finding their meaning and purpose in life.
No, you can’t have the years back. But you can let them be consumed in the power of today. As Paul says, “Forgetting that which is past and reaching forward to that which is before, I press on to the high calling of God.”
© 1975, by Eric Butterworth