I have never freaked out over a milestone birthday. When I hit thirty, I didn’t even flinch. Forty? Pffft. Not even a dent. Then 50 rolled around. I’ll go ahead and admit it, it did a number on me. In all fairness, it is kind of a big deal. Now that it is here, I’m not sure what I was so panicked about.
I kind of agree with Victor Hugo when he said, “Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age.” Thanks Victor…I think?
Sure, there is a sense in which I’ve realized “Wait, this train isn’t stopping…or even pausing”. There is something sobering about hitting half a century that makes you realize like never before that time is a disposable resource.
Two days into being 50 I will say that I’m happy I made it. Honestly, it sure beats the alternative. Sure, I still look ahead of me, not knowing how long I actually have or if I will make it 50 more years. However, the benefit of getting this old is that it gives me pause and makes me assess if I am doing all that I could be doing to steward this gift called “life” well.
It reminds me of a verse: “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12).
Isn’t that good? When you look at the days that you have lived and the ones you potentially have left, it IS sobering but it makes you look at the days ahead of you and manage them well.
So, upon reflection of what I have experienced up until this point, I had a few take aways, things that have learned through years, that I want to share with you and make sure that I am living into. Here are just a few:
Don’t Act Your Age. Some of my favorite people don’t act their age. To be clear, I’m not talking about someone who won’t take responsibility for their life or who says rude or offensive things to people claiming naïveté. I’m talking about people who have a young attitude. They haven’t lost hope or sat in bitterness so long they’ve lost their “joie de vivre”! Yes, I know French words. These are people who still think their best days are ahead of them and are, as my step dad used to say, “movers and shakers”. Sure, they have a few gray hairs, maybe even less hair (as is my case), but age is just a number to them and they have acknowledged that attitude is what keeps you youthful. People like the great Bob Goff or one of my personal favorites; Steve Martin are great examples of this. Every time I hear these guys speak, they exude joy and you can’t help but smile.
You can’t help it because they have made a choice and that choice is joy. I’ve made up my mind that I don’t want to waste time being hateful or angry, except in traffic…I know it isn’t right but I’m working on it. I mean seriously, what is there to be happy about in traffic?!! I mean, there is a fast lane and a slow lane. What’s confusing about that?!! I’ll move on.
If you want to take advice about acting your age, take it from comedian George Burns who was pretty old when he said, “You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.” Preach it Georgie! By the way, George Burns lived to be 100 and he never got old.
You Do You – I know this phrase is overused but it really captures the spirit of what I’m trying to say. A friend of mine said this to me one day and I was like “Yeah! I think I’ll do that. What choice do I have!?”
By nature, I’m a people pleaser. I’m not proud of that and I wish it wasn’t true but it is. So I’ve spent a good number of years on this planet trying to make other people happy. After 50 years in existence I’m happy to say, I’m done with it. I’m retiring the jersey, I’m turning in my people pleasing badge and my gun that shoots bubbles. I have seen how this process plays out and it isn’t pretty. Not to mention, it is an utter waste of my time and yours. Instinctively, you know why this is a disaster waiting to happen. Your parents already told you the reason, “Because you can’t make everybody happy.” I know, I hate to say it, our parents were right on this one. The second you make one person happy, you’ve pissed another person off. Right?
Let me free you from this conundrum. Just be yourself. I know you’ve heard that platitude one thousand times and only in fifty or sixty Disney movies but maybe you’ve heard it so many times because you need to hear it! Here’s the deal, God only made one of you for a reason. One reason is, the world can’t handle another one of you. The time space continuum would collapse and not even Dr. Strange could repair it.
The second reason is, you are a gift to the world around you and when you don’t live into who God made you to be, you deprive the world of the gift that is you. I’m not kidding on that last one. It is so tragic that many of us spend the entirety of our lives just trying to fit into molds that we were never meant to fit into.
God created you to make a difference that only you can make.
Forget the Box – I am a weird mix of talents, interests and personality types. Let me give you some examples. I love coffee, Star Wars, sushi, writing, comic books, learning about spiritual things, lifting weights, westerns, Marvel movies, American football, Ted Lasso (which makes me want to like the other football), documentaries, being around hilarious people, watching stand up, time with friends, time away from friends, time unplugged from technology and binging my favorite TV series. Within that list you saw similarities and paradoxes. At times I am a walking contradiction and other times I make total sense. I’ve been that way my entire life. I have never easily fit into categories and I’m not sure God ever intended me to.
So I’m just going to forget the box.
Yup. I’m doing away with it entirely. I hope that didn’t throw you into a tailspin. I know some of you LOVE your boxes. Instead, I think I will just take the things I know God has put me on this earth to do and lean into those things. At 50 years of age, I know the things I am terrible at. There is another category of things that I am mediocre at. Then, there are the things that I am good at. There are things that it is quite evident to me and the people I love, that I am gifted and geared for. Those are the things that are worthy of my attention. The hard part is that sometimes those things don’t seem to go together because (ahem) they don’t fit into a box that is easily recognizable. What I am saying is, I am tired of worrying about that and I will let God sort out those details. “I’m going to use what I got to the best of my ability.” That last sentence was a quote from my Dad. Props to Jasper Snellings for that nugget.
When I use what I have to the best of my ability, I live into the purpose that God put me on this earth for. There is only one person in the world with that set of gifting, passions and interests. In case it wasn’t clear, that’s me. Moving on.
Live and Let Love. Because time is a limited resource, I don’t want to waste it doing things that don’t matter. I know I said I wanted to do away with boxes but in all fairness, I also said I was a walking contradiction so…there’s that. The box that I want to put everything into is…drum roll…love. I don’t have time to waste, so why would I spend it hating people or people groups? Since time is of the essence, why wouldn’t I tap into the most powerful creative resource that we have at our disposal? I want everything that I do to be in the direction of love. The Great Command that Jesus gives us is:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31
This is the answer that Jesus gives a Scribe who is asking “Which command is the most important of all?” After that, it says that the Scribe agrees with Jesus. Jesus responds by saying “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
In John’s Gospel, right before Jesus goes to the cross, He says “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
Now I realize that there are other commands that Jesus gives. He tells us to seek first HIs Kingdom (Matthew 6:33), repent (Matthew 4:17), forgive (Matthew 6:12), focus on the truth (John 8:32) … and the list goes on. I happen to think that all the other commands that Jesus gives fits underneath loving God and loving others. It is clear to me, according to these verses, that Jesus came up with that idea in the first place. If this is true, I don’t want to get distracted by a bunch of other sideline issues and let me tell you, there are plenty of those these days. The problem with that is when we focus on a variety of sideline issues, we aren’t living the life that Jesus wants us to live.
When we love God and others, it takes us in different directions. It calls us to action. Sometimes that direction and action puts us at odds with people who claim to believe the same things we believe. That’s okay. If I draw my hope and confidence from my faith and living as Jesus lived (1 John 2:6), I can take solace in that. For me, that is enough and it is a life worth living.
This reminds me of another quote, this time from poet Samuel Ullman, “Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.”
Love is a creative force that never wrinkles the soul.
So that’s it. Just a few nuggets from a 50 year old who feels like he’s still 20. As many of my friends have said in the last few days, “Age is just a number.” That is absolutely true.
I think I’ll end this with a quote from actress Helen Hayes, someone that I didn’t know existed until I googled “age quotes” but here it goes none the less:
“Age is not important unless you’re a cheese.”