Walking Backward into 40
40 days ago, I graduated with a doctorate. Once I realized the biblical number connecting this milestone to my birthday, I made some decisions about how to spend this time. You can read about it here. The time was intentionally reflective and a choice to abstain from sweets and adult beverages provide me with daily prompts to slow down and take it all in.
I’m a big proponent of reflection. After struggling with it for years, I have worked hard to get more comfortable and regular with the practice. This 40 day journey helped me gather my thoughts about where I’ve been and where I’m going. I’ve learned that part of the key to having something to look forward to in every phase of life is to first learn from where you've been. So, I started with my 20s and made some observations.
(Did I have a life before my 20s? Sure. But I’m choosing to start with a time that first allowed for some autonomy in my choices, not to mention a fully developed frontal lobe.)
The best thing that came from my 20s were relationships. I had the healthiest and closest friendships I’d ever experienced. I met and married my husband. We made our peace with organized religion and participated with a church that helped heal old wounds and shape our ecclesiology.
While I was healthier mentally and emotionally than I had been in my adolescence, I was still healing. Most of my 20s were haunted by the threat of my own darkness and capacity for destruction. I can’t explain how my friendships survived my mania, but I’m eternally grateful for them. My community was KEY to my continued growth.
Vocationally I was nowhere. I didn’t know what I wanted, how to get it, or where to start. Just this constant burning for more. A drive to achieve and an insatiable appetite for learning. Just nowhere to aim it.
My faith was still plagued by anger, dissonance, rebellion, and frustration. But I was able to stay honest and dogged. And God was relentless in His presence and participation, even in the shouting matches and dark nights of the soul. It was late in my 20s that my breakthrough finally came. After so much time clinging to a thin hope, I finally found a faith foundation I could actually put my feet on. I didn’t know it then, but this would be instrumental for the next phase of my life.
Everything shifted. With the start of seminary, a move, and a new job, this next decade would be marked by a steady growth of vocational identity. My faith matured and strengthened. God led me to things I would never have dreamed or dared. I got ordained. I built on each successive year of experience ministering to college students. I finally figured out the things I do well and the things I do not. I learned margin and found the value of rest.
I got serious about taking care of myself. I learned how to prioritize exercise, meditation, and
healthier eating. The insecurities of my 20s were squashed by a newfound comfort in my own skin. There is a special freedom when a woman ages-out of being a readily considered sexual object for young men.
But my relationships declined. I won’t elaborate here. This explanation requires its own space. But sufficed to say, a palatable lack of peer community and local church took its toll to the very heart of our home-life. It took almost the entire decade for this lack to do its damage to the point where we finally woke up and realized we needed to make some urgent and direct changes. So we did.
Here we are. My hopes for my 40s start with personal goals. I want to build on the successes of my 30s by continuing to take care of my body. I want to be more intentional about what I put on it and in it. I’m excited about flexing my vocational muscles in new and fresh challenges. My doctoral work opens up brand new doors for me to create content for the students I love so dearly. I want to write, speak, podcast, and publish while continuing to minister directly and regularly with emerging adults.
We see the Lord already restoring relationships. I am optimistic about the new and renewed circle of friends who are like family to us. Its a smaller circle, but the depth is exactly what we would hope for. I plan to stay on this course to maintain and nurture these relationships. Through the struggle, the Lord has been showing us what is truly important in this next chapter. We have shifted our lenses so that we can be ready to prioritize healthy, intimate community, simplicity and sustainability, all while using our gifts to serve in the spaces we’ve been placed.
The downside of reflection is that it is deceptive in its ego-centrism. It would be very easy to make the focus of my goals all about what I want for myself. However, I have come to realize that I want my 40s to be more outward facing. Time is becoming more and more of a precious commodity. I know this will not resonate much with my younger readers, but it is a reality for my time of life. I was speaking with a friend the other night and she was remarking how time really is different when you are young. Sure, the amount of an hour or day is not changed and it still takes 365ish of them to get around the sun, but remember when you were little and it seemed like FOREVER until Christmas? My friend noted, "It kind of was forever because when you are 5yrs old, a year represents 20% of your life." As a young person, a year qualifies as a much larger percentage of time on terra firma. So for me at this stage of life, a year represents a much smaller slice of time. And time is precious.
So for me, I don't want to just focus on my skin, body, hair, and clothes. I want to focus on these things so that I can not focus on them hardly at all. I no longer wish to spend copious amounts of time and mental energy on getting ready in the morning, or insecurities, or cultural lies, or personal projects that feed my ego. I want to spend as much time as possible facing outward at my community, my people, and the things I love. I want to serve and live well with the amazing people in my vicinity. I want to hear them and see them. I want to live in the third Act of the play "Our Town" and drink deep of every stupid, magical detail of life. And I want to show others the way.
So, I'm coming into 40 with a look back so that I can look ahead. But mostly, I want to just be present and focused on more than just myself. I've learned a lot already and this next stage of life is full of nothing but opportunity. Consider this your official invitation to come along with me.
"Night is drawing nigh. How long the road is. But, for all the time the journey has already taken, how you have needed every second of it." – Dag Hammarskjöld