Turning 24

If you’re a longtime reader of my blog then you know that I’m not typically a big fan of my birthday. I’ve had this blog for my last four birthdays and have written about my disdain for the day each time (read: 20, 21, 22, 23). There have been two major reasons. First, I would rather be celebrated for something I do than for who I am. Second, the quality of relationship I experience on my birthday is generally very poor.

Recently, however, my views have begun to change.

It’s so hard for me to accept that someone would want to celebrate me. It’s much easier for me to understand why someone would celebrate some good thing that I did. But I’m starting to recognize that this is a terrible way to live. If I treat other people this way it says that I think you’re valuable so long as you’re on top of your game. As for me, if I really believe that I’m only worth celebrating when I do something that is deemed worthy by the masses I’ll become nothing more than a people-pleaser. I’ll also be miserable. As much as I don’t like to admit it, I’ve been known to fail from time to time.

You find this all over Scripture, particularly in the New Testament epistles. Romans 5:8 says that God demonstrates His love for us in that fact that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Nothing we did earned that. Yet because of who we are — creatures made in God’s image — God wanted a relationship with us and made a way for that to happen. God gave us the gift of His Son because of who we are to Him, not because of what we did for Him.

You see, when I earn my praise I feel like I’m in control. That control stirs up a strong sense of pride. But when it’s handed out freely I can’t lay any claim to it and I’m struck with feelings of humility. My flesh hates humility. Last year I challenged my readers to find a verse that would contradict my preference to earn my praise. How about James 4:6?

But it’s not just unearned celebration that digs at me. I also take issue with how I’m celebrated. If you’re familiar with the five love languages, the two that best describe the way I receive love are words of affirmation and quality time. This might lead you to think that I love my birthday celebration, since people typically go out of their way to give me attention that day. But on my birthday I often find myself having short conversations that never reach any real depth. Sometimes it’s with people that I typically don’t hear from all that often, so we’re just playing catchup. Other times it’s because the conversation is taking place solely out of some cultural responsibility the other person feels as though they need to fulfill.

I think this is another part of my American consumerist upbringing of which I’d like to rid myself. I discovered this, or maybe it just became plain to me, when I started looking for a new church last year. I was making my decision entirely on whether I felt like I was getting anything out of the experience. After all, I was looking for my church . What I began to discover, in my church hunting and in a number of other areas of my life, is that I’m a user. I’m very concerned about what I can get out of my relationships but not all that concerned about what I can put into them. The truth is I need to be looking to be a blessing to others at all times. In the church hunting case I need to pick the church that will feed my spiritual needs and where I can meet the needs of others.

This is true in all my relationships. I think one of the best ways to judge someone’s maturity is by the quality of relationship they bring to others. Frankly, my level has traditionally been low. On a day like my birthday when I’m interacting with so many people, how much more important is it that I make sure to bring my highest possible relationship quality? Tonight I imagine there will be a handful of people at Nav Night that typically don’t talk to me that much who will come around to say hello and wish me a happy birthday. Will I treat that person as just another well-wisher or will I do my best to bless that person in the limited time I have with them?

So, today I will allow myself to be celebrated and blessed by my friends, coworkers and family. In the midst of that celebration I will aim to bless them with the highest quality of relationship I can bring.

In the spirit of this new “let myself be blessed” revelation I’m going to do what any good birthday boy would do: provide you with a birthday list. This list is purposely filled with things that are a little less obvious. If you want to know what would honor me today here’s a place to start.

1) Show my blog some love. Now, I love Facebook as much as the next guy. It’s great when you post to my Facebook wall or send me a Facebook gift or comment on my Facebook notes. But I’m a blogger. All those Facebook notes of mine are coming from my blog over at jaledwith.com. I launched the newest version of my site last April and, to date, I’ve received one comment there (unless you count the nearly 600 spam comments Akismet has blocked). That’s really depressing. It’d be great if people would come over to my site today and leave me a comment. And not just on this post. Take the time to read something I’ve written in the past and respond to what I wrote. I know this blog stuff may seem a little lame, but I’m really passionate about it. It’d be cool if more people would read what I write, and even better if more would respond to what I write.

2) Show my home a little T.L.C. My roommate Luke asked me last Sunday what I wanted for my birthday. Without barely any hesitation I asked for a clean house. You have to understand that I’m a bit O.C.D. about cleaning and my roommates are, well, not so much. I’m dreaming of a white birthday: one where I’ll be able to see the carpet in my house.

3) Bean me. Honestly, I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t enjoy a soy peppermint white chocolate mocha on their birthday.

4) Throw me into Westcott Fountain. Go ahead, make my day. Actually I think it’d be cool to do a MeToday video blog of me being thrown into Westcott Fountain. I’ll need someone to volunteer to be my cameraman.

5) Give the gift of iPhone. I know one of you out there is just dying to part ways with five hundred of your hard-earned dollars. You know I’m worth it.

I’ll close with some general thoughts about this particular birthday. Twenty-four is an interesting age because it puts you halfway between eighteen and thirty. At the moment I still feel closer to eighteen, but even as I say that I know that the typical thirty-year-old probably doesn’t feel thirty. I’ll probably be that guy. After all, I know that the next six years are going to go by much faster than the previous six. I’ll be thirty before I know it.

It’s strange to think that I’m now in my “mid-twenties.” I feel younger today than when I turned twenty-three. Last year I felt like my life was in neutral, but this year I know I’ve been growing in a lot of areas. I think stagnation creates a weighty feeling that we come to associate with aging. This year that weight isn’t on me. I think that’s a direct result of living with purpose, mission and vision. Additionally, I’ve also had a stronger sense of my identity in Christ in recent months.

Getting older isn’t so bad, not if it marks another spent growing in relationship with God and the people around me. I think I’m going to like being twenty-four.

Finally, I need to give thanks. A heartfelt thanks I give to any and all who take a bit of their day today and bless me with it. I’ll do my best to return the blessing.

This post is part of an ongoing series of birthday essays. Each year since I began blogging I have written a reflective personal essay on April 3.

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  • Porter Williams

    Well I wish I had five hundred dollars to buy you an iPhone or maybe Steve Jobs in a head lock, but unfortunately I do not. I wish you a happy happy birthday. I enjoyed your blog you truly are a much deeper thinker. Praise God, because you can reach an entirely different group of people for God than I can. I like the insight on humility, deep. I hope you have an amazing birthday and you are officially on my Google Calendar as a birthday to remember for life. Take care, buddy.

    Porter

    P.S. What is up with Please add 9 and 4? 13, I think.

  • Samantha

    I read this and had to “give” you and Iphone. I just couldn’t help myself, I am sorry!

  • http://www.jaledwith.com/ Andrew Ledwith

    To recap the birthday wishes:
    1) Check!
    2) Check!
    3) Check!
    4) Nope (no water in Westcott Fountain)
    5) Nope (unless you count Sam’s iPhone photo she tagged me in)

    @Porter: The math question is to cut down on comment spam. It’s a new math problem every time, so I’ll only get comments from real people (who can do simple addition).