By Sherye S. Green
Don’t make Christopher Columbus’ mistakes
Italian explorer Christopher Columbus made four trips to the New World between 1492 and 1502. At the time of his death in 1506, Columbus believed he had achieved his lifetime goal of exploration to discover the Indies. Unfortunately, the explorer had been nowhere near his intended destination.
Amerigo Vespucci, another Italian explorer of the same time period, also made four voyages to the New World between 1497 and 1503. German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller first immortalized Vespucci by naming the southern continent in the Western Hemisphere “America” on a 1507 map of the world. Unlike Columbus, however, Vespucci knew with certainty at the time of his death that he had been where he thought he had.
Historians believe several facts contributed to Columbus’ misconception that he had reached the Indies, an Old World term often ascribed to China, India and Japan. First, he had limited knowledge of the wider world and he had inaccurate maps. Second, he miscalculated the distance between Europe and the Far East to be 2,300 miles when in truth it was closer to 12,200 miles. Third, Columbus was largely self-educated and might have believed more in his own bravado than in relying on the wisdom of those with more knowledge.
Now almost a full year into retirement, I find myself in uncharted waters not unlike those explored by Columbus and Vespucci.
This middle-age season can be daunting yet exhilarating, confusing yet confirming, scary yet secure. Even with the best guidance and planning, some days can feel like I’m adrift in the open sea, no land in sight, my sail hanging limp and listless.
The gift of unscheduled time has provided me an opportunity to ruminate about the years ahead. Even though I feel as if I’m in my 20s, a quick glance in the mirror and the stiffening in various joints remind me I’m not a spring chicken anymore. As much as I look forward to the future, it is sobering to think that perhaps more of my life is behind me than is before.
How glorious it has been to have an unscheduled day to spend as I please and yet, there will never be enough time to accomplish all the goals and dreams hidden in my heart. Former Presbyterian missionary Lillian Dickson shared this wise counsel: “Life is like a coin. You can spend it any way you wish, but you can only spend it once.” Living each day with the knowledge that this present life is so fleeting has encouraged me to invest in activities and relationships that have eternal value.
How can I avoid making Columbus’ mistakes? First, I must remember that I will always have limited knowledge this side of heaven. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror.” While my knowledge on any given subject is small and finite, my God’s is vast and limitless. It is to Him I must turn when the way ahead appears unsure.
Second, I need to make sure the “map” I am following is accurate. God’s Word is that road map. The book of Proverbs reminds me of God’s promise to keep me securely on the path He’s purposed for me: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5–6 NASB).
Third, I need to make sure I don’t miscalculate the time, energy or cost required by my particular journey of the moment. On many occasions, I’ve not completed the due diligence necessary and have rushed into an endeavor I thought would be fulfilling but instead left me empty and frustrated. Psalm 4:2 offers a caution about following after empty pursuits, especially those I may have miscalculated: “How long will you love what is worthless and aim at deception?” Only God provides the wisdom I need to help me answer the question of how to spend my time.
Fourth, I must guard against my ego and pride that rise up to congratulate me on some task well done, or goad me to engage in a project or task that I’d be better off not undertaking. “When you act with presumption, convinced that you’re right, don’t be surprised if you fall flat on your face!But walking in humility helps you to make wise decisions” (Proverbs 11:2 TPT).
Vespucci’s and Columbus’ lives ended very differently. Vespucci died knowing he had been where he thought he was — on the newly discovered landmass of South America. Columbus had based his career on misinformation and wrong assumptions and died believing a lie. He had never reached India.
For whatever period of time the Lord has planned for me, I want that time to be filled with meaningful relationships and activities that bring the light of His love to others and glory to His name. God has promised if I fix my sight on Him each day and ask for His help, He will always make sure I’m headed in the right direction.
Sherye S. Green is a Jacksonian and a wife, mother and grandmother. She has enjoyed two careers — one in business, the other in education. Sherye and her husband, Mark, are members of First Baptist Jackson. She is also the author of Abandon Not My Soul and Tending the Garden of My Heart: Reflections on Cultivating a Life of Faith.