October is my birthday month. I love birthdays. But in recent years my own has become a little harder to face. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to grow older, and what it doesn’t mean. Is age really just a number? Thanks to my mom’s round face—which she told me I’d appreciate someday—most people guess me younger than I am. But still, there’s something about the digits 40-ish that say, over-the-counter eye cream cannot help you anymore.
In many ways, I’m content. Age brings wisdom and a better understanding of who I am according to God’s timeless point of view. That’s a reason to celebrate, amen? I certainly wouldn’t want to regress ten or twenty years in knowledge or stature. Truly, I don’t even need the baby-smooth skin or superhuman capacity to stay up past 11.
But you know what I do miss? My youthful courage. My old version of optimism.
Twenty years ago, I believed I could punch my stamp on the world. Every possibility was ahead of me. Sure, I was dirt poor and stressed out, with term papers to write and immature relationships to navigate, but I had something priceless in my pocket—potential.
It was exciting.
Fast forward now through two decades of blessings, trials, joys, disappointments, responsibilities, exhaustion and hard lessons learned, and my outlook is different. Somewhere along the way, my rose-colored glasses got fogged up. I wouldn’t say I’ve become jaded, necessarily, but I am cautious. Pragmatic. Weary. Maybe even a little frumpy.
I refuse to succumb to frumpy.
Is it possible for a 40-ish-year-old woman to look 20 again? I believe so—in the very best sense. Here’s how I plan to do it.
1. Dream. Between college graduation and retirement, my traditional career span is nearly halfway over. But is that halfway empty or full? The way I see it, as long as I’m still breathing on this planet, I have work to do for God. I ought to keep dreaming of ways to serve him, new goals to reach, new visions to cast. God gave each of us certain gifts to use for his purposes—some of which it took me the last twenty years to discover and develop—so I’d darn well better use them now and still when I’m 60, 80, or 100.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
2. Learn. At age 20 I was hungry for knowledge. Playing the student came naturally then, when life consisted of classrooms and textbooks and midnight Pizza Hut on speed-dial. Yet our world is an everlasting classroom if we allow it to be. There’s always more to learn. I want to reach out to mentors in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, and find out what lessons they can impart. They are no less valuable at their age than I am at mine.
“Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance” (Proverbs 1:5).
3. Laugh. Wow, have I ever become uptight in middle age. Where is that lighthearted girl who loved to giggle? She has responsibilities now, you know. Parenting, marriage, ministry, health insurance and property taxes—these and a hundred other grown-up worries weigh heavy on my chest, because life is not a game, okay, people? What are you laughing at? Oh. I still have a Hello Kitty sticker stuck to my butt, don’t I? Compliments of my first-grader. The 20-year-old me would’ve cracked up over that. I want to be like her.
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).
4. Open my eyes. When I was in my early 20s, I dreamed of meeting the man who would capture my heart. I imagined how happy life would be with children and a house and my own washing machine. Family life was something I aspired to then—and now? Now I complain about it. The laundry, the kids’ bickering, my husband’s socks on the floor. Yet if only I could see myself through the eyes of the girl who longed for this hectic, toy-infested household, I’d realize I’m living my dream. This is everything I wanted. And I am blessed.
“Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him” (Psalm 127:3, NLT).
5. Claim my space in the world. Youth comes with a funny mix of insecurity and cockiness. You can be clueless yet entitled—because our society values young beauty and talent. Up until now, I realize I wore my youth like a badge. The 20s and 30s are a safe zone for relevance, it seems. But I’m in my 40s now. It’s time to relinquish my membership. It’s time to value me for me, and not for the age on my driver’s license.
Honestly? It feels a little rebellious. Like freedom.
Like being 20 again.
So from this day forward, I refuse to allow messed-up American culture to boss me around. Magazines, TV, even some evolving church trends would tell me I’m less relevant at 40 than I was at 20. But do you want to know what the Bible says about that?
“Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a godly life” (Proverbs 16:31, NLT).
So whether you’re 20 or 40 or 80 years old—do not fear another birthday.
Not everybody gets to grow old.
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