My vote for the most unusual television documentary goes to an interview 49 years in the making. The subjects are British citizens deliberately culled from various socioeconomic backgrounds who submit to being asked an assortment of personal questions by director Michael Apted every seven years. (He was in his early 20s when he first started chatting with this group of then 7-year-olds.) The latest installment of the series, helpfully called 56 Up, was shown on British television in 2012.
One of the participants, recently questioned on National Public Radio, described his every-seven-years date with Apted as “deeply uncomfortable.” I cannot know all the layers of that response, but it does not surprise me. I should think that being in that selected subset of humanity would feel like meeting your Maker every seven turns of the calendar, rather than just once like the rest of us.
It puts the question in your face on a regular basis, doesn’t it: “Account for what you have been doing for the last seven years.” That is to say, “Was it even worth leaving the studio in 2005 to come back and report in 2012? Did you get anything done?” That is to say, “Did your life amount to anything?” “Did you achieve what you wanted?” “Has life been all it’s cracked up to be?” “How did it feel when you rounded the bend at age 39 and realized you were not likely to go any higher?”
These are not the best questions to ask oneself, of course. There is one important question in life, to which all others take a backseat: “What did you do with Jesus Christ?” But if you are not aware of this question, or have brushed it aside, the others can produce a profound melancholia, like the feeling you get as you watch the apple tree and boy age page by page in Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.
Nevertheless, there is something in this protracted British survey that echoes God’s own salubrious exhortation to sober reflection:
“For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone and we fly away. … So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
If I may suggest a more profitable and interesting exercise for Christians than Michael Apted’s, it would be this: On a long scroll of paper, divide the span of years you have lived into groups of seven, starting at birth. Then taking the birth-to-age-7 segment, see if you can detect the unseen hand of God in your life during that seven-year period. Then move to the next group of years. You may be surprised to see His presence in events and thoughts and people and “chance” occurrences that you have not perceived before. You may not end up immortalized on the BBC, but I will wager that your faith will rise.