Howard Hughes was a talent larger than life. An inventor in his teenage years. A movie producer and aeronautical engineer in his twenties and thirties. And, a billionaire tycoon in his fifties. He produced some of the most famous movies of the twenties and thirties including Hells Angels and Scarface. He is perhaps best known for creating the largest aircraft at the time; the Spruce Goose, but he is also famous for surviving 4 airplane crashes, breaking the airspeed record, and flying around the world in a record breaking 91 hours. He also dated all of the famous women of his time including Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Ginger Rogers, and Katharine Hepburn. Very few American Icons have ever reached the heights of Hughes’ cultural influence and fame. To many, Hughes is more than an icon, he’s a legend.
But, that’s not the whole story. Unfortunately the most notable part of Hughes’s legend is the fact that he spent the better part of his last 30 years in seclusion. He would lock himself in his bedroom for months on end watching his old films on repeat and rearranging Kleenex boxes into towers. He wouldn’t cut his finger nails, hair or even shower. If you know the stories, he did even weirder stuff than this… all as a recluse, cut off from society, cut off from living. It’s possible that Hughes’s legacy is more infamy than fame. He went from thriving to merely surviving. He is the epitome of a fallen star burnt out on high living.
How would you characterize the last years of Hughes’s legend? There’s only one word that comes to my mind. Existing. He went from existing to live to living to exist. Though he lived into his 70’s he really stopped living in his 40’s. What happened? What changed? Well, there are tons of theories. He had chronic pain from his plane crashes, he had OCD, he had had enough of the limelight. Regardless, a switch got flipped where this larger than life icon decided to stop moving forward and basically give up on living. In his early life he woke up to make movies, invent radios, and fly around the world. In the end he woke up to watch movies and stack tissue boxes. In the end he simply lived to exist.
It’s a sad story. It really is. But if we’re not careful, Howard’s story can become our story. If we aren’t vigilant we could wake up one morning to realize that the life we’ve been living for the past decade has been of very little value. We, who once lived vibrant lives for Christ, who woke up ready to serve the needy, worship our savior, and fight the flesh, if we slip into a routine of simply going through the motions, may one day come to a realization that the life we now live is a mere shadow of who we used to be. I know that the Christian life can get long, hard, monotonous, and unexciting. In fact, for many the excitement only lasts for a couple days. When you first come to Christ there is a fire, and sense of elation, but as time wears on and temptations creep in and the frustrations of life stack up, that fire starts to flicker and burn less hot. It’s not uncommon to see many people come to Christ and then simply run out the clock for the rest of their lives, waiting on that train to heaven with a golden ticket in hand and very little fruit in their bag. Let’s be honest… most Christians, like Hughes at the end of his life, develop a weak mentality and choose to simply exist.
Jesus, using the book of Isaiah, warns of this in Matthew 13:14-15, where he says,
“You will listen and listen, yet never understand; and you will look and look, yet never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown callous; their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn back— and I would cure them.”
Simply existing is the result of a Christian who, for a myriad of different reasons, develops a weak mentality that leads from mediocrity, to apathy, and eventually to fatality. Christian, we cannot accept that. We cannot develop lives of mediocrity, and we can not allow apathy… or we will die. So many churches keep their doors open till the last person and the last penny are gone… merely existing, simply surviving for decades. Likewise, so many Christians call themselves believers, do the religious looking things which keep them in good standing, play the part, but in reality have quit on actually doing anything of significance for the Kingdom of God. They have become hearers only, forsaking doing. How could we ever pretend that this glorifies God? It doesn’t…not in the slightest. And so what is our response?
I say Resist.
Resist the exist with every fiber of your being. Don’t allow the circumstances of this life to weigh you down to the point where you don’t care about living the Christian life anymore. You need to do whatever it takes to resist the urge to give up, to run out the clock, to stop engaging, to stop praying, to stop serving, and to stop reaching. This is the furthest thing from what God has called you to. Nor is this the legacy Jesus died to pass onto you. You were made to burn hot, go hard, and live fiercely for Christ until your dying breath. So don’t you dare ever settle. Don’t you dare ever quit. Don’t ever give in to the whispers of the enemy telling you that you’ve done enough or that you can’t make a difference. That’s a lie, and you know it! As long as there is breath in your lungs, resist the exist.