This week, my full course around the sun came once again to an end. A birthday. 41 years.
Last year, turning 40 was a watershed moment. The decade birthdays, as a good friend told me today, are the most interesting because we are totally different people at those junctures than at the previous 10 year milestone.
Aging is one of those elements of being alive that seems defiant to any sort of spirituality. To age is an unstoppable force, raging rapids against the soft shores of our spirits.
Yet there is a spirituality – what I’d define as a sense of something beyond us that shapes our thinking, feeling, and acting – to aging. Certain “soul elements” characterize getting older, and even though I’m only just across what many call the “half way point” there are a few spiritual themes I have discovered in getting older.
We Know Less, Not More
If aging has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t know what I thought I knew. Also, the things I do know I hold far less aptitude for than I once believed. That thought is humbling. On my birthday Tuesday, I recorded a podcast interview and after a brilliant conversation I looked down and noticed that I hadn’t clicked the “Record” button.
I spent time on the intro, some questions, some understanding of what my guest brought to the discussion, and left out the skill it takes to push the stinking record button.
Aging shapes our hearts for humility – we live enough years to see our childlike naivete fade into foolish overconfidence.
Then we find Jesus gently inviting us to re-enter our childlike curiosity because we realize we don’t know everything. Perhaps that’s the center of the “unless you change and become like a little child” teaching:
the humility of children is, ironically, best present when you’ve lived long enough to become an amateur again.
The List of Things We Care About Shrinks
Holley (my wife) and I often talk about how we care about so much less at 40 than we did the decade prior. What changed? I don’t quite know. Perhaps the humility (see above) reminds us that we don’t need to posture as much? We don’t need to fabricate a better identity (a social avatar, perhaps) in public to hide that we haven’t accomplished all we had hoped, or aren’t as impressive, or haven’t made enough (whatever that means) of ourselves.We have accomplished a great deal, but not everything. That is okay. Not always, of course: there are times the salty voices speak about our unworthiness or how we missed it or failed.
In those moments we remind each other of our Belovedness and move forward knowing the threat of regret will not fade, but it can be muted.
We care less about perception: I go to the store in paint-stained pants having yet to shower. I don’t take invitations simply because I feel like I “should.”
We invest in friendships that are interested in our “deep down dark.” We let the superficial connections happily wave from a distance. Honestly, there are folks who want to know they are known by someone but not beyond a certain layer of the soul’s skin. So we wave and smile, but we cry with those who live in a shared darkness with us.
To say the list of what we care about shrinks is also to say, quite simply, we funnel our last energies. We put the juice we have towards the things that are of greatest consequence in this season, in this place.
Our Walls Turn to Hedges
I find that I open the door to more conversations now than ever. My longing has turned from creating boundaries between people, ideologies, and classifications. Now, I want to bring down my spiritual and intellectual chain link fences. Instead I want to install install green hedges with gaps in between. I need to distinguish the place where I stand, of course. The specific way the Spirit of Jesus has shaped me and the distinctions of the family I lead. Yet I also need common space to engage with those with whom I disagree or of whom I lack understanding.
The years behind me suggest that taking the moment to speak across chasms of disagreement leads, surprisingly, to an echo.
I don’t know if these reflections connect with you. Perhaps they’re helpful. Perhaps not. The life of following the wisest 33-year old in the world’s history is filled with realizations and graces. These are my graces for today.