5 Thoughts on Turning 55

5 Thoughts on Turning 55 February 8, 2024

Mark Whitlock 5 Thoughts on Turning 55 Featured Image Forest Meadow Thunderstorm Rays of Light. Created with Microsoft Bing Copilot.
Rays of light always break through the clouds, no matter how dark the sky, no matter how violent the storm.

I celebrate my 55th trip around the sun this week. Like I do most years, I spent time reflecting on the relentless passage of time and how I have invested what has expired and should spend what remains on the scoreboard. Allow me to offer these five observations from my life. May they encourage you at whatever age you find yourself.

  1. Finish Strong
  2. Maturing Comes When You Least Expect It
  3. Have More Fun
  4.  Hold a Funeral for Regrets
  5. Remember: An Audience of One

Thought 1: Finish Strong

Dad turned 55 the year I turned 16. He had planned his retirement and was ahead of schedule. His finances were as rock-steady as Stone Mountain. He was dreaming aloud about the transition. He had hung up his coach’s whistle and instead was leading a team of teachers. His wisdom was sought. His opinion was needed. He was beloved.

Meanwhile, in the infinite ignorance of a 16-year-old, I was changing directions on what I wanted to pursue, how I wanted to finish high school, and which building my career’s ladder would lean against. I still wonder if I drove him nuts. After his death, I found a note I wrote to him during this season. I don’t know why he kept it. I shuddered in guilt as I read my handwriting after many years. How selfish of me.

What Dad didn’t know at 55 — and what I don’t know at 55 is — how many years are left. For Dad, it was only 15 until he got sick with the disease that would take his life at 73.

At 55, he knew the race he had to run and acknowledged the eventual finish line. After his diagnosis, he become laser-focused and intentional about how to end his time on the planet. He busted the tape knowing he had done everything he could have to finish well.

Lesson #1

I’m not at the same place Dad was, but it doesn’t keep me from looking ahead and preparing for the inevitable. For my wife. For my children. For my friends.

Like Dad at 55, I don’t know how many laps I have left. But as I look ahead, I will endeavor to speak more of Jesus, to anchor my family’s future, and to love well.

Legendary songwriter Don Koch recently passed at 62. I’ve thought of this song by him many times this week. Don finished well, and this song urges us to.

Thought #2: Maturing Comes When You Least Expect It

Like millions of others. I was captivated by Joni Mitchell’s performance of “Both Sides Now” at the 66th Grammy Awards. As I held my breath during the first part of her performance, I realized I didn’t remember the words to the third verse. After being fully enraptured at her delivery and the respectful and open way the incredible musicians around her (especially the keyboardist) allowed the song to breathe for Joni to remain at the apex of the presentation, I went back and re-listened to her original 1969 recording (released the year I was born, when she was 25), her 2000 personal remake (she was 56), and a repeat of her Grammy triumph (she is 80). The melody and the lyrics remained the same, but I listened to three different songs. Her maturity and life experience informed the renditions. For Joni, the third verse carries different weight in the three ages of her career:

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say, “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way
Oh, but now old friends they’re acting strange
And they shake their heads and they tell me that I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained

Lesson #2

I laughed when I remembered someone quipping, “Don’t write a book until after you’re 50, or else you’ll apologize for your earlier work for the rest of your life.” Now that I’m past 55, I have experiences to share. Some are cautionary tales. Others are hard-won wisdom. I will be intentional about sharing my life with others when appropriate.

Watch Joni’s performance. Watch it anywhere at any time, but at least once, please make sure you’re seated and can give it your full attention. Watch it on Paramount+ if you can; the quality is much better.

Thought #3: Have More Fun

Years ago, an older co-worker or the father of a friend held a 55th birthday party with the theme drawn from “I Can’t Drive 55” by Sammy Hagar. If my memory serves, someone, in an act of Hagar-ian rebellion, stole a Speed Limit 55 sign from the interstate for the party that was decorated with all manner of car paraphernalia and Sammy Hagar posters.

I’ve never been a Sammy Hagar fan. I’ve never been a Sammy Hagar hater either. But as I’ve approached my “Sammy Hagar Day”, I began thinking about how out of touch with reality the song feels compared to today’s interstate speeds of 70 or greater. It’s an anachronism. And I thought about how my life sometimes feels out of touch with living at today’s speeds. Am I becoming an anachronism?

Lesson #3 

An early mentor told me more than 30 years ago to, “Laugh… a lot.” I don’t laugh near as much. I will seek opportunities to laugh more.

Here’s the Song. Listen at your own risk.

Thought #4: Hold a Funeral for Regrets

I did myself a disservice the summer after I turned 16. I thought I understood what God wanted from my life. So for the last 39 years, I’ve essentially been disappointed and discouraged that I’ve never gotten there. I’ve looked at how far I’ve missed the mark and not at the fact I might’ve missed God that night in the summer of 1985.

At 55, I am slogging through another career transition. The role of a lifetime at an organization where my story and experience were a tailored-fit came to a screeching halt. I have felt alone, like a failure, and forgotten by God.

Then last night, as I sat in the dark waiting on my 17-year-old to emerge from practice, I wrote a prayer and hosted a funeral for my regrets.

Lesson 4

A Liturgy for Career Transition

To the One who holds all things together,

What did Moses feel before the burning bush? Did he feel sidelined and destined to never fulfill his potential?

Waiting is trying my heart. My frustration from the silence I continue to receive from cover letters, résumés, and applications quickly metastasizes into anger against You. I confess that I have grown weary in doing good. I have coveted the careers of others as I have worked for hourly wages. I have envied those who dined and laughed with friends at restaurants from where I delivered food. I have not rejoiced with others who received promotions, raises, and bonuses. 

Lift my chin, oh Savior, so that I can see the people standing in front of me. Empower me to serve them no matter the circumstances — broken in spirit or walking two inches off the ground, entering a season of joy or a winter of sorrow, holding two mites or flexing their net worth. Allow me in Your kindness to work as unto You in every task, no matter how small. And when I despair yet again, gently remind me of Your presence. 

Help me wait for You. Help me trust that You have not forgotten me. Help me believe that Your will for me is not over yet. Help me see You in every moment between now and when You answer my prayer—no matter the answer. 

Thy will be done.


Moses wrote a poem about three score and ten. None of us knows the number of days that are written in God’s book before one of them comes to pass. Therefore, I will strive to be more fully present and spend more time on actions that matter, including rest.

I’ve always been haunted by this song from Mark Schultz. It’s even more poignant now.

Thought #5: Remember, an Audience of One

The Danish theologian and philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard wrote, “In the theater, the play is staged before an audience who are called theatergoers; but at the devotional address, God himself is present. In the most earnest sense, God is the critical theatergoer, who looks on to see how the lines are spoken and how they are listened to.” This passage gave birth to the idea of “an audience of one.”

For more years than I care to admit, I have tried to impress everyone around me. I have performed. I have donned a superhero cape to try and come to their aid. And in the most self-destructive season of my life, I wore emotional masks so I could try to obscure the real me (I pretended (read: lied) to be someone I wasn’t).

Lesson 5

More than a decade ago, I tried to burn the masks and costumes so that those in my life, both strangers and those closest to me, could see the real me at all times. I likened it to a door with a chain on it. No matter who came to the door, no matter the amount of access given, the person knocking would get the real me. Everyone deserved to interact wit the man God created me to be. Not everyone would have access. Some would only speak through the door and hear my autentic voice. For others, I might open the door on the chain and speak to them through a sliver. They would see a piece, but it would be real. For some, I would open the door and talk in the foyer. Others would enjoy time around the fireplace or dinner table. Only the select few would get a guided tour of my basement and attic.

As I’ve tried to be “the real me”, I’ve learned even more lessons of how much energy I’ve wasted seeking the approval of others. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Many songs always speak to me about this lesson. Nichole Nordeman’s “Legacy”, Big Daddy Weave’s, “Audience of One,” and Petra’s “Godpleaser” all come to mind. But I’ll leave you with this song because it’s the hardest for me to sing.

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