My back hurts almost all the time now. It starts when I wake up. I turn on my left side to stop the alarm from waking my wife and notice the slight twinge of discomfort. If I am not careful, laying there on my pillow with my head tilted the wrong way will prepare me for a day of nagging ache.

I suppose this is part of what it means to grow old. Pain comes more quickly—if it ever really leaves. Like the birds of morning and the crickets of night, the noise of pain exists in an ever-present state, sitting in the background of everything else going on. The difference, of course, is no one considers the pain beautiful. No one stops to listen to the pain. What’s the point? It only makes it stronger.

When I finally put that first foot on the floor and rouse myself from the warmth and comfort of the bed, the pain moves to my heels. When I sit down with my coffee to read in my leather chair, the back pain returns. It is dulled only by the thoughts racing through my brain of the upcoming day. The meetings, the problems, the conversations, the projects, all of it sitting on my shoulders. I am Atlas without the strength to bear it.

However, even a bad day for me is a better day by far than most in the world both now and before. I am, after all, starting my day in a warm bed and with hot coffee. I drive a nice car to a well-paying job with enough challenges for a lifetime. I am surrounded by people who require only my attention and effort. I go home to a big family with a good dinner. Seven months out of twelve, Major League Baseball is in season. It is not a bad life. Not by a long shot.

But the pain is still there. Life is good, but it is not easy.

The right attitude would help, I’m sure. Gratitude would make a world of difference, I know. I get there sometimes. I force myself into it. But it doesn’t remove the ache. It doesn’t solve the problems. Seeing the good side doesn’t make the bad side less real. It doesn’t shine it up enough to camouflage it from the rest of life. Even the best days have some bad in them. Even the biggest laughs hurt if you go on long enough. I am grateful for all the varied gifts each day prepares and delivers. I am not depressed—at least, I don’t think I am. I still know well the feeling of hope and joy. But the sun sets on the best of days. All things are full of good, yes, but also of weariness. Life goes on. We age, we hurt, we die, and nothing will stop that progression.

I have no doubt what I have said so far is true. We all feel it. If you don’t yet, it’s probably because you’re not old enough. Give it time. This world reveals itself for the broken thing it is.

Is there any wisdom in what I am saying? That is the real question. Do I see things as they are and live within those boundaries, or am I merely complaining about things that I have no reason to?

The Preacher of Ecclesiastes is my only hope in answering that question. As far as I know, I have not said anything he did not say. In fact, I have held back. I have not (yet, anyway) proclaimed it all meaningless (Eccl. 12:8). I have not (yet, anyway) made much of the vanity of it all. God knows deeper than I ever will the truth of the matter.

Perhaps you have felt the way I do right now. Where do we go then, when the days are an endless cycle of discomfort, and we look ahead only to greater pain in the future? Our best days, we sense in some way or another, may be behind us. I will never move the way I did in my youth. A good night’s sleep is something I’d gladly pay for if I could, but I can’t. A great restaurant will eventually disappoint. A sunrise in all its beauty only reminds me of the day ahead full of toil and trouble. What is the point of it all? When it ends up in the coffin, what can life amount to?

The answer is difficult to find. Hope in an increasingly hopeless world is shrouded in mystery. But it is there. It is real. It is available. It is a gift—and that is the thing we must all remember. Hope is not something we can muster up from within. Our greatest hopes are never enough for the bigness of our hearts. Life will always let us down. We must look beyond ourselves, this world, and all we see and touch and smell and hear and taste. The hope that props up the world is not visible to our earthly eyes. No wonder it’s hard to see.

Our only comfort in life is that we may belong to another. If we are our own, our demise is a welcome thing. Finally, the trouble is ended. The pain will stop. But if we are not our own, our problems lie in the hands of someone else. We have an end to which we are headed. There is a solution to all our problems. There is one who cares even when we struggle to anymore. There is one who makes it all matter, who gives it all deep meaning.

The Heidelberg Catechism is ultimately right. What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

My faithful Savior. Though everything else ultimately will, Jesus will not let me down. I am his, and he doesn’t fail.

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