Updated: Jun 20, 2021
Yesterday was my birthday. Taylor Swift hasn’t gotten around to writing a song about this golden nugget of life yet so some of us are left to fill in the gap for all my 30-somethings out there. Birthdays are a key time to think about your age and phase of life, but I’ve got to be honest … I’m pretty indifferent to thirty seven.
I may be creeping towards forty but I don’t feel old. I’m at that wonderful age where my student’s parents still think I’m young but my students themselves would never mistake me for being a peer. Yesterday, my Wafflehouse waitress thought I was a college student but my students (who were with me) were quick to show their surprise at her assertion.
I gave her a big tip.
But I’m one of those strange, morbid people who often thinks about death so, of course, my birthday is a perfect opportunity for such a pensive engagement. I’m thirty seven and I still have so much life ahead of me. There are so many ambitions and aspirations ahead and as I think about them, I am filled with energy for all the plans, trips, and goals that lay ahead. Even in this revelry however, there is a persistent inkling in the back of my brain that says: "No one knows how long they will live."
At thirty seven, I have no idea when life will end. There is no way to say whether or not I will get to hit all my milestones or if I will have time to spare. As we get older, there is a lingering thought that we are inching closer and closer to that fated end. Even though thirty seven is young in the spectrum of life expectancy, I could fill this blog with stories of people younger than me who have lost their lives.
We just don’t know.
It would be easy at this point to be consumed by this notion. As each birthday passes, we can wear the mantle of age and death in such a way that we lose sight of the mystery and live into an perceived inevitability. What I’m saying is, there are two ways to look at this.
We can collect life or collect death.
In CS Lewis’s allegory, The Great Divorce, people are portrayed in the afterlife. One intriguing aspect of hell (which is just a dingy, gray town) is that the people in it don’t seem particularly different from people we know now. The genius of the portrayal is that the torment of hell is not some external torture as much as it is a growing of our deeply broken selves left alone to years of entrenched agony at our own hands. But this journey to hell does not begin after death. The amazing thing about the story is that it forces us to see those around us who are in hell already.
We can have bucket lists and ambitions piled on top of each other, but this is not really the essence of life. It’s not the superficial reassurance of that unfortunate country music hit that suggests we all go sky diving in order to demonstrate that we are living life to the fullest. We collect life or we collect death. We move towards a kingdom of light and love or towards the familiar chains of our own hell. Without knowing how long we have, superficial goals can’t be all there is to prove I was alive.
As I reflect on thirty seven, I am reminded that the kingdom of God is not so much of a place as it is a Presence. The way we engage that Presence and whether or not I am willing to submit to His work in me will determine what the next waking moments will be like. Collecting life is more of a surrender than a game plan. There is no telling how many years I have to do all the things I want to do and go everywhere I want to go. I will certainly try.
The real journey however is one of eternal life. Therefore, death becomes a different conversation in the long timeline of things. It makes thirty seven and any baggage with it a small consequence of breathing. It is so very good to be here on terra firma with all of you today. I hope my bizarre morbidity did not bum you out (too much). This blog often becomes a peek behind the curtain into my unusual mind and view of the world. Enter at your own risk. But for this birthday, I feel rather grateful, indifferent, young, old, and deeply deeply loved.