Yesterday, January 26, Wayne Gretzky turned 50. Can you believe it’s been almost 12 years since we’ve seen him play!? So what did “The Great One” have to say about turning the big 5-0? "I thought 40 was old when we were kids," Wayne Gretzky told ESPN.com last week with a chuckle. "It just seems like yesterday I was turning pro at 17 and on my way in my car to Indianapolis," Gretzky said. "You kind of wonder where all the time goes and how quickly it does go by and how valuable life really is. It seems like you get to 50 a lot quicker than you think you're going to get there."
Sports Illustrated claims that Gretzky’s “career may be the greatest body of work in sports history, and his record for career points will last several lifetimes.” The Great One is generally regarded as the best player in the history of the NHL. Upon his retirement on April 18, 1999, he held forty regular-season records, fifteen playoff records, and six All-Star records. He is the only NHL player to total over 200 points in one season—a feat he accomplished four times. In addition, he tallied over 100 points in 16 WHA/NHL seasons, 14 of them consecutive. Gretzky's jersey number, 99, has been retired by all teams in the NHL. (“Wayne Gretzky,” Wikipedia)
One of the standards in greatness in hockey, a record set by the Rocket Richard in 1944-1945, was to score 50 goals in 50 games. Gretzky shattered that record on December 30, 1981 when he scored his 50th goal that season in only 39 games! Thus, on Gretzky’s birthday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, “It’s fitting that Wayne is turning 50 but only looks 39.” Cute, eh?
Given his incredible (but past) accomplishments as a professional hockey player, it makes me wonder what Gretzky’s outlook is today. Does he look back and yearn for those good ole days? Wouldn’t it feel great to pull on that No. 99 jersey one more time? I don’t have nearly the accomplishments of Gretzky, but I do find myself looking back and missing some of the best years of my life. I’m going through a rough patch these days and sometimes it’s hard to stop yearning for the past. Sometimes I puzzle over whether the future will ever be better than my past. The Old Testament prophets actually speak to a group of people who have trouble living in the present because of their fond memories of a better past. During the second building of the Temple, God spoke to his people who kept remembering the good ole days and were convinced the future could not be as great. Through the prophet Haggai, God said:
‘Who of you is left who saw this house [i.e. the Temple] in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’ (Haggai 2:3-5)
They were so occupied remembering the good ole days that they could not see what God was already doing in the present. And so his Spirit is at work in us today, producing fruit, developing character and preparing us for something better. With God, the best is always yet to come! That’s the message of the prophet Haggai: the past is history, the best is yet to come! For us today, we know that in Jesus Christ, God is building his kingdom here on earth and nothing will prevail against it. “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose,” says the Apostle Paul (Philippians 2:13). Like the apostle, we can be confident that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). So even when today doesn’t look so good, when I’m uncertain of the future, even when the past seems better, when I’m in a rough spot as I put it, even when we suffer, we can know that “all things work together for good to those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). With assurances like these, how can we conclude anything but this hopeful truth: the best is yet to come!
Just before Jimmy Carter turned 70, he was interviewed by Barbara Walters. She asked a question that we might think we could answer easily on Carter’s behalf, “Mr. President, you have had a number of exciting and challenging careers. What have been your best years?” Easy, right? Surely he would say those four years he served as President of the United States of America. Or, maybe, since his presidency was challenging, maybe he would say those years in the navy when he was the commanding officer of a nuclear submarine. Perhaps, being nostalgic, he might say those years he served as Governor of Georgia. Want to know how Jimmy Carter answered? “What have been your best years?” In his own words: “After a few moments, I responded with absolute certainty: ‘Now is the best time of all.’”