I’ve always been a late bloomer.
I was late to have children (15 years after getting married).
Late to understand I was on the wrong career path.
Late to publish my first book (well after age 40).
Late to publish my second book (6 years after the first one).
Late to understand key things about myself that are necessary for me to function and thrive.
Late to have heart knowledge (not just head knowledge) of God’s love and healing power.
With Saint Augustine, I cry out, “Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!”
It’s a source of grief that knowledge of self and knowledge of God (insofar as this is possible) have come to me so late. I wish I were ten or even twenty years younger so that I’d have more time to live with these insights. More time to right wrongs. More time to live better. Wiser. Freer.
The Bible is full of late bloomers: Sarah and Abraham, Enoch, “Doubting” Thomas . . . all of these figures took a longer than average time (compared to others) to grow into what God had in store for them.
For me, the ultimate late bloomer is the thief crucified with Jesus, the one who addressed Jesus on the cross, saying, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). It’s usually assumed that this thief had a conversion, believing in Jesus just moments before his death. By tradition, he’s often referred to as the “good thief.”
When we lived in Belgium, my husband and I attended an international church. One of our friends, a young woman from Uganda, wanted to get baptized but couldn’t (just yet) because of possible reprisal from her father, who did not want her to embrace the Christian faith. Her father was powerful, and our church counseled her to wait. Despite our reassurances, she could not be consoled. “Scripture says to ‘repent and be baptized,’” she kept saying. “I have to get baptized.”
Finally, during one of our conversations, I happened to mention the “good thief” and what his story means. Without benefit of baptism—or any action at all—this man pleased Jesus. Within the span of one day, he came to belief and received the promise of Paradise. This story seemed to give our friend a bit of peace.
Can I find some peace in it, too?
The good thief saw the truth at the last possible moment. Or perhaps he saw it at exactly the right moment. Of Jesus and the two criminals, theologian Karl Barth said, “Don’t be too surprised if I tell you that this was the first Christian fellowship, the first certain, indissoluble and indestructible Christian community” (Deliverance to the Captives). And now this thief, this late bloomer, ministers to us, telling us what it means to be a Christian. Maybe even telling us more clearly than any of Jesus’ disciples or long-time companions.
In the end, I suppose there are worse people to resemble than the good thief – someone whose timeline Jesus honored, someone who grasped the truth when it was most needful for him to do so. Imagining myself in his company, I think on my life and conclude, maybe I’m late – or maybe I’m right on time.