I was in 5th grade when Jack and Diane fell in love. John Cougar was an Indiana boy, and we didn’t know at that time he had changed his name or actually reduced it. His song of a young couple in love filled our classroom every day. One boy loved the little ditty so much that he played it over and over again on my boom box. Finally, the teacher yelled at him to “find another song.”
The other day the song came on the radio, and I listened to it for the first time in years. While I was initially drawn into the love story of two American kids growing up in the heartland, I now was caught by something else. The chorus is a depressing look at life and the years that lie ahead for both Jack and Diane. It declares simply, “Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.”
Now in my middle forties and having recently lost my dad the words of the song hit me like never before. Eventually, the thrills of being a teenager with a wild and free attitude disappear. I don’t really know the day it happened but somewhere the thrills of those years faded and a change came around that made me a man. Now I live in the place that I heard about so many years ago, I have learned that the thrill has actually changed into joy. Here is what this has meant for me –
1. Embrace Real Love. The song is basically about the infatuation of youth between a boy and a girl. One part of maturity is when we abandon infatuation and begin to look for something more. We move from the thrill of the moment into the joy of a lifetime. One of the greatest parts of growing older is that I give up looking for someone else to offer me some new sort of thrill. Now I enjoy the love of my wife who has stood by my side through some really tough times. I thank God for a great mother, siblings, and wonderful children who love me. The momentary euphoria of those teenage encounters has been replaced by the deep satisfaction of real love.
2. Use Your Gifts for Others. During those early years, for me at least, life was all about pleasing myself. Each day was a search for something that would make me feel good. As an adult, I have discovered that I feel the greatest joy when I serve others. The media had taught me the awesome power of climbing a mountain and standing alone with God. Real life has taught me that those feelings are nothing compared to looking in the eyes of a child when you give them their first gift. The thrill of self-gratification is nothing compared to self-sacrifice.
3. Find Satisfaction in Your Soul. Those exciting moments of youth often carry with them guilt and shame. The longer you live, the more the snowball of our mistakes grows into an avalanche. Slowly you become bitter and angry, or you slip into that place where our senses are dulled, and we feel nothing. I believe faith offers a better solution. Allow the work of Jesus to penetrate our hearts, and we can experience forgiveness. There is a solid reason that the older people get, the more they find comfort in faith. I am no longer restless about the mistakes of my life, rather I am filled with peace because of forgiveness.
I know it is hard to explain to a young person what John Cougar Mellencamp was singing about in Jack and Diane. Getting older seems like a scary and boring prospect. The reality for me is that my life is far better now than during those teenage years. I am thankful to God for the direction my life has gone since I live past the thrill of those days. My life is full of love, joy, and peace. I hope yours is too.