My birthday is in the first week of January, so the start of each new calendar year coincides with the start of a new age for me as well. This year, I hit not only a new decade, but a new era. That’s right, folks: I am officially middle aged. The big 4-0.
When I tell people this, I’m inevitably greeted by comments that I believe are intended to console me: “You ARE??! You don’t look 40 at all!” I even had an acquaintance emit a genuine gasp of surprise when I mentioned my age. Maybe these comments aren’t intended to console me so much as they are intended to console the commenter.
The fact is, we have been trained to believe that age is the enemy. And I get it, in some sense. A couple of weeks ago, my older sister and I were both rubbing our aching feet, wise-cracking about our age and what it’s currently doing to our bodies. Friends in my age range are familiar with the litany of possible aches and pains suddenly springing up like we’re leaky buckets. Backs going out, joints getting stiffer, feeling ourselves in great need of the energy levels we had in our 20s.
Despite these inconveniences of aging bodies, however, I maintain that 40 is a glorious new era. I submit to you, dear reader, that middle age can be an age of great fruitfulness and life!
When I think of my 20s, here’s what I remember: ghastly insecurities in friendships and work, lots of depression as I recognized (and was bowled over by) many areas of my sin for the first time, and great big learning curves for adulthood.
My 30s, which I entered with joy, held one of my life’s greatest treasures (marrying Nagib) and many, many layers of suffering and sorrow. Having learned the elementals of adulthood in my 20s, I moved into deeper waters of learning in my 30s – learning to love people who are different from me, learning to come to grips with my own story (even as it unfolded), learning to trust God in the midst of fire and flood.
So I enter my 40s with a significantly more solid sense of who I am, who God is, and what makes other people who they are. And let me just tell you: this is a glorious place to be!
I guess not everyone enters middle age having learned much about life. The truth is, we can choose to remain adolescent all the way into our old age. What a tragedy!
Married or single, parent or childless, there are those folks who are so concerned with having fun that they neglect life’s greatest pleasures: love, hope, faith, grace, the deepening of joy that comes with seeking to know God and finding Him to be the greatest treasure of all. When pain comes to people whose sole life purpose is to have fun (or to be “happy,” whatever that may mean), the self-centeredness that has always characterized who they are just gets magnified. Middle age is certainly a foe to this type of person.
But, if you’ve started learning how to press in to the Lord in your pain (instead of trying to drown it in the addiction of your choice), if you’ve started learning how to love other people (instead of comparing yourself to them), if you’ve started learning how to accept your own story (instead of ignoring what has so deeply and profoundly shaped you)… then middle age can be a time of tremendous fruitfulness!
I’m not saying all these things come easily, or are perfectly attained by the ripe old age of 40. No, indeed. It’s more that we don’t have to be afraid of aging because it can bring greater freedom instead of greater restriction. All those things you’ve started learning are working a glorious freedom in the depths of your soul, and from that freedom comes colorful, beautiful, abundant fruit in your work, your home, your relationships, your life! Middle age can be your friend, a welcome season of new life.
So middle age, here I am! Let’s do this.