I chose not to review my previous birthday posts before writing this one, so I could be wrong when I make this claim. But I’m pretty sure each year around my birthday I dwell on the same questions. Do I feel older? Am I really any wiser? How am I using the days I’ve been given? What’s my direction, and did the past year’s direction take me where I thought it would? I become very introspective (and even a bit emo, I’m ashamed to say) whenever my birthday roles around. This year is no different, so let me pull back the curtain a little bit and tell you what I’m thinking about here on my 25th birthday.
Answering the question of whether or not I feel any older than a year ago will shed light on the rest of my annual inquiries. This question has received a different answer each of the last two years. I felt older than dirt when I turned 23, during my first year out of college, after having worked full-time for about a year. I was weathered and worn, and I remember telling some of my friends that I couldn’t imagine living like that for another forty years. A year later my life had changed significantly and I felt much younger as a result. Dave Wirgau, my good friend and former mentor, told me it was because I had been working as a campus minister. “Working with young people keeps you young,” he told me. Maybe so, but as I was celebrating my 24th birthday I had already made up my mind that continuing in that line of work was not in my immediate future.
But here at 25, working a job for the university that graduated me, serving as the old guy in the room for the ministry that raised me, and studying in graduate classes for the career I hope one day will have me, I feel remarkably young. And I owe it to nothing short of the grace of God. I mean that sincerely, not as some overspent clichÃ©. It is my hope that this season, difficult as it sometimes is, will refine my character and not give rise to bitterness. Bitterness is the result of unresolved anger and is bred when a person believes they have the right to be angry. It masquerades as a desire for justice, but is really nothing more than an unforgiving, prideful heart. After two years out of college, having tried out a couple of different paths with little to show for it, all the while watching my peers begin to find answers to some of their questions, the conditions were perfect for my disappointment – my anger – to embitter me. And everything I know about myself tells me that I’m not a strong enough person to have prevented that from happening. I can only conclude that God, rich in mercy, fought the fight to protect my heart even while I was indifferent.
I think Dave made a good point when he opined what was keeping me and him young, but he may have been seeing the trees and not the forest. I now conclude that it’s a sense of joy and a sense of purpose that keeps a person feeling young. When Dave told me that being a campus minister was the cause he was right, because much of his joy and purpose come from his ministry. In truth, I too found instances of joy and flashes of purpose that year, which I think accounted for my newfound feelings of youth when I turned 24. But, as I’ve seen over the past twelve months, there were pieces missing.
At the start of 2009 my friend Andy Farina sent out an email to many of his friends. He encouraged us all to ask ourselves the following questions:
- Who am I? (Or, who has God truly made me to be before I started to seek to mold myself for others approval or to make myself feel valuable/powerful?)
- What do I want? (Only a dangerous question if I am not connecting with God with a willing heart overall.)
- How bad do I want it?
- (Ultimately Key) Am I willing to rearrange my life for what my heart most wants?
- Which spiritual practices and relationships have seemed to be most powerful in meeting the desires of my heart?
Without having ever put them into so many words, I had been asking myself these questions and living out the answers. Since my last birthday I’ve spent more time exercising my primary gifts, namely writing and teaching, and less time trying to fit square pegs into a round holes. I’ve also spent far less time caring about what other people think of me. One of the ways I’ve done that is by giving more time to reading Scripture, letting God tell me who I am. Furthermore, last summer I developed a two-year plan for my life and, so far, I’ve stuck with it. I’ve always been the type of person who is encouraged by steady, measurable progress toward my goals. I think a plan like this was a major piece missing from my life when I first graduated.
These things, and more I’m sure, have contributed to an overall sense of contentment. I say this while looking at the past year as a whole. I still had my down days, no doubt about it. Frustration and doubt continue to haunt me. But if this is my State of the Andrew Address, what I want to communicate overall is a profound sense of hope and peace.
I’m tempted to think that I’ve stumbled upon a formula that, if duplicated year after year, would lead to a lifetime of fulfillment. But I know that a year from now I’ll be staring at the end of my two-year plan, and I really don’t know if I’ll have a good answer for what should come next. I know that as I get older and the weight of my responsibilities increases, it will be necessary for me to take on roles in which I have no experience and perhaps no gifting. And, of course, the temptation to be a big shot in the eyes of those around me will always be there. So years like this past year, one in which a lot of the pieces seemed to line up, might be rare indeed. And I can’t help but wonder, supposing that a year like this may be the exception to the rule, what future season has this present one been preparing me for?
A simple question about how old I feel today gave me insight into my other concerns, like how well I’m spending my days and the direction in which I’m headed. And, if I may be so bold, I think some of what I’m learning about life, identity, and purpose is turning me into a wiser man. I still feel like I’m much closer to being 20 than 30, though that will not technically be true starting tomorrow. I hope this coming year will be filled with as much joy and purpose as this past one, but I understand that what likely awaits me are challenges I’ve not yet encountered or previously overcome. I look to this, my 26th year, with eager anticipation.
Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits- who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
~ Psalm 103:1-5