Bible Study Tools / Aging

Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Age 21

by Robert Berendt

It is said that hind-sight is 20/20. Progress is made when the generation that is kicking itself is able to pass lessons learned on to the succeeding generation. For the largest part of mankind’s existence, we have to conclude that lessons are rarely passed on. Progress in the field of governmental skills, justice for all, freedom from fear and so on, is virtually non-existent. We have not learned to govern ourselves and we are badly failing the responsibility of taking care of this precious earth. Greed, uncontrolled power struggles, religious fanaticism and immoral conduct are rampaging through all lands.

Nevertheless, on an individual basis, each of us should do what we can to reach a hand to the next generation so that the same mistakes we made will not have to be made by them. Here are five things I wish I had learned before I was 21.

1. My health at 30 depended to a large degree on what I put into my stomach before I was 21.

When I was 13 or 14 years old, I had a job in a grocery store. One of the tasks was to come for a half-hour before school and stock shelves that were empty. Mr. Seaton, the store owner was a good boss, but every morning that I came I could choose any chocolate bar and a drink. My favorite bar was Oh Henry and I would rinse my mouth with Coke to clean my teeth! We had no dentist in our town and our family could not afford such extravagances. As far as that goes, we could not afford chocolate bars either, so this was a real treat.

The trouble was that I soon develop “holy” teeth! I had cavities in every tooth and I had cavities on the outside of my two front teeth that did not help my smile a whole lot! We did have a doctor in town who came straight out of the Canadian army. On my first visit, he pulled four molars (my mouth remained balanced because one came from each side top and bottom) and he had never heard of freezing! He just said “hold tight to the armrest” and produced a huge set of pliers. At age 18 when I first began to work, I spent the equivalent of $3,000 on fillings at a dentist in the city. This dentist was from Europe and was very good, but he did not believe in freezing the mouth. He said he could tell when he was getting near the nerve when the tooth was not frozen! Even I could tell that and I was not a dentist! Years have gone by and I still have my teeth. Thankfully, I inherited good teeth – but found that even a good inheritance can be squandered.

Today, there is an emphasis on eating less red meat and fewer eggs. Butter is avoided in many households and studies show that children are missing some vital ingredients of a good diet. Parents ought to take the responsibility of ensuring a good diet for their children. An adult mind ought to be able to out-think a child’s mind. We do know what is good for them. The health of a person does have a lot to do with what they eat before they are 21. It has been found that even a short bout of mild anemia, for example, can have permanent effects on young brains. Teens feel hungry and almost anything that is stuffed into the stomach can ease the hunger pains. It is usually Mom who makes sure that what is stuffed in is also good for building healthy bodies.

God tells us that bodily exercise profits us (2 Timothy 4:8) and that our bodies are the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16,17). We are to take care of ourselves. There are many instructions about healthy living in the scriptures.

2. Honesty is the only policy, not only in dealing with my neighbors, but also in dealing with myself and with God.

Children have many pressures on them and one is fear. I was afraid of what people would say, of what my parents might do, of consequences for my actions.

This in itself is a healthy fear because it causes us to pause and reflect before we do anything. Sometimes, though, young people are overcome by the fear and tell a little lie to avoid that which they fear. Little lies are usually successful when told to loving and caring parents, and the success leads to further lies until a habit of shading the truth or of changing the truth can develop. When a lie is uncovered, it hurts everyone and most often the people you love and who love you. Some people make the mistake of thinking that you need to “tell all” or never hold anything back. There are always times when we do not need to answer at all. Jesus sometimes refused to answer a question (John 19:9). Sometimes telling the truth is not wise. I recall a fellow’s wife coming back from hours at the hairdressers and asking, “What do you think about my hair?” It was horrid, but that would not have been a wise truth to say!

Many years ago, at age 16, I had a job in a gas pumping station. I also was able from time to time to drive my father’s old car. Since I had the key to the station, I could get gas late at night. We were poor and there were a few times that I could not pay for the gas. I made a mental note of that for the boss and myself would not have known that I owed for some gasoline. The small debt I had bothered me more and more, until, at the first chance I got, I sent a cheque to the man I had worked for explaining that this was for gas I had taken but had not recorded or paid for. The letter I got back was very warm and friendly and I could once more look myself in the eye.

Honesty in all things allows a person to have a clear conscience. It is amazing how little things we do as teens never really leave us. Our memories get better and better with age. Proverbs 12:22 tells us that “Lying lips are abomination to the Lord: but they that deal truly are His delight.” In Deuteronomy 25:15 we read that we are to have a perfect and just weight so that our days may be lengthened in the land that God gives us. Here we see a promise of long life for honesty.

3. The folly of not taking older peoples’ advice.

I was 19 when I met my first grandparent. My grandmother was the only one of my four grandparents that I ever met. She was old when I met her and she stayed old for the next 25 years. She died in her 99th year of life. Here was a lady that had survived two world wars, a concentration camp, flights from invading armies, hunger and poverty. She had seven children and years of life experiences behind her. It was only after some years that I understood her greatest strength. She had learned to be content in whatever situation she was in. She learned to use her hands to massage away aches and pains of people in the camps, and she made soup out of scraps that most people would not think of eating. (I recall some of her soups in our home and thought she had got into the habit of making horrible soup.) She was content to eat dry bread and would eat the parts of the chicken that were normally thrown away, like the feet and rear end.

Paul speaks of this great lesson in Philippians 4:11. He writes “I have learned in whatever state I am in, to be content.” That is a wonderful lesson, and better yet, when learned early in life.

In 1 Kings 12:8 we read of Rehoboam, a young king, who rejected the advice of the elders of his land. God took Israel away from him (verse 24) and Rehoboam had the rest of his life to regret not taking the advice of older people.

Every young person has parents and grandparents. We all have family friends or relatives who are successful in life. Their advice and admonition is priceless – but only if we seek that advice and use it. If you know that before the age of 21, then you have gained a whole lot.

4. Parents do not live forever.

My father died in 1960 when I was 23 years old. During my teen years and earlier, my dad worked in the coal mines. He was buried by cave-ins and rescued. He went back to the mine though the threat of cave-ins was always present. He worked shifts, and for two weeks he would work day shift, then two weeks of afternoon shift, and then two weeks of night shift. I recall when he was ill he took a job as a night watchman. Sometimes, around midnight, my brother and I would go to see how he was. There were nights when we found him lying on the floor in pain and we would make his rounds for him. There were six children in our family and one person providing the income. When I started my first real job at age 16, my dad gave me his dress shoes to wear to work. It was then that I found out that the soles had holes worn through them and that he had put cardboard into the shoes. I used to sit with my dad during the last few weeks and months of his life watching a little wrestling and just being together. One night he slipped into a coma and was gone.

It is only later in life that I have fully appreciated what he did for me and for his family. I never did take the opportunities to say, “Thank you dad.” I don’t know why the words did not come out. They were in my heart and are there today. I sometimes sit at his graveside and remember this great influence in my life. I am thankful that one day I will see him again and I will say thank you to my father. I wish I had said it earlier! God says, “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12).

5. The human mind does not forget the past.

We all experience conversations with our grandparents or older people in which they have a phenomenal memory of past events. I have overheard conversations about things that have happened 40, 50 and 60 years ago in people’s lives. It seems that the older one gets, the more clear and sharp the memories of our childhood become. I grew up in an isolated coal mining area of Alberta. Every five years we have a Coal Branch Reunion. People come from as far away as England, New York, California and from across North America to see old friends. I met people I went to school with 46 years ago. Memories, memories and more memories draw these people back again and again. To hear of stories of hikes, fishing trips, bonspiels, hockey games, school days in graphic detail is amazing. The human mind keeps all these memories. That is a wonderful experience, if those memories are good memories. It is a great gift that God gives to us and though memories may fade, they do not disappear.

I have been in the ministry for 29 years and have counselled many people who do not have such good memories. Sin is something that only God can totally forget and erase. We tend to plague ourselves with our past even when God has forgiven us. One reason is that we cannot erase these memories from our minds. If a young person realizes that, we would be very careful about the past we are about to record forever in our minds.

In 1 Corinthians 15:9 Paul slips back into some bad memories. He never was able to forget the look on Stephen’s face, or the anguish he caused to men, women and children through his foolish zeal. He said, “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Paul suffered much anguish over these memories.

I recently met a fine lady who was 55 years old and had just reconciled with her father after avoiding him for almost 50 years. Her parents separated and she thought as a little girl that anyone who would not love her mother must not be a very nice person. That thought acted in her mind through her teenage years and she did and said things that caused separation. Her comment was one of regret that she had lost so many wonderful years of love from a very wonderful father.

Our lives are made up of a mixture of good and bad memories, of memories that may not be accurate or that are skewed in some way. How much easier many of our decisions and actions would be if we knew and understood these things before we were 21? We would fill our minds and memories with the good and the pleasant so that we could recall them with joy and gladness.

These are only five things that I as an adult would like to have known before the age of 21. These lessons are learned in life, but often after much pain and loss. Our joy in living is decreased by the gaps and voids in understanding. There are many such gaps that people have. God’s people need to be busy filling in the gaps in their lives and learning to help others fill their gaps. One day we will be in God’s spiritual family, putting broken lives together, healing the sick at heart and helping to overcome bad consciences. It is better to start when a person is young so that the regrets are few and the ability to love and serve others is great.

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