Thirty or forty years of commitment to a marriage, a vocation, or any cause seems like an awful -- that is, a truly "awe-inspiring" -- period of time. Indeed, once the fifty year mark is reached, we can say, for all practical purposes, it is a whole lifetime. And that is just the problem. For unless one is blessed with the unusually rare situation where every moment of those years is a joy, such commitment does not come easy. How then is such commitment possible?
In the forty-some years that I have thought about my own commitment to my calling, one thought keeps coming back. And it is that in terms of eternity, a whole lifetime is but a drop in the bucket. Conversely, for those who are unable to conceive of an eternity, committing oneself to something or someone for a whole lifetime is tantamount to "putting all one's eggs in one basket", -- so no wonder they hesitate. It is not so much the lifetime as such that is the problem, but whatever does or doesn't come after.
True, eternity, strictly speaking, is not just a long time: it is, literally speaking, completely out of time. So there is some truth to the oft-repeated advice, "you only live once -- so..." But still, if we believe that this "once" extends all the way into eternity, then no mere lifetime, no matter how long, comes even close to what lies beyond. And it is that conviction that how we live now, how committed we are, and how faithful we are to that commitment, that makes all the difference. Or as the philosopher Nietzsche put it: Given a sufficient why, we can endure any what!
Yet all this is hardly something easy. It seems there is a real paradox at work here. In fact, when one thinks about it, it is rather easy to make a commitment to something that is perceived as unchanging -- take God for instance (who is, as scripture says, "the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow"). God will never let us down -- providing we are doing our best. But again, even that is not always easy. Both times and people change, and unless we are able and willing to adjust to these changing conditions and relationships, nothing, and certainly no promise, not even one made before God, is likely to last. In fact, we can almost guarantee that the longer we live the more things will change. The only question then is whether we are strong enough to adjust to it. If not, then the firm "forever" of "until death do us part" will have been largely replaced by the easy ambivalence of "whenever". In this way, in our time, it seems, commitment has been largely replaced convenience.
The answer or antidote, of course, is "faith". Without faith, there can be no real faithfulness. But faith, which is at root "a loving trust" itself is a "stretch" -- a reaching out beyond our beliefs and imagined certainties toward what is, at least in this life, unattainable. Faith is then, at the same time, a risk, a gamble in which we wager the whole meaning of our life on what is not yet completely certain. For if it were a sure thing, indeed, what need would there be for commitment?