Today is my fortieth birthday.
Really, I’m not sure how this can have happened. Because last year it was 1996, and we were all dancing to Born Slippy at the uni bar. Right?
But I’ve checked my birth certificate, and my mirror, and yup it’s true. I’m forty. No denying it. In fact, I’m proud to be forty.
Recently, I went to a friend’s thirtieth birthday dinner. She’d invited some slightly more mature people to share their wisdom or insight on living life well. It was one of those moments when it dawned on me that I was now classified in the “older, wiser head” category. As we shared our stories over tapas and wine, I was reminded that maturity is a beautiful thing, even though our youth-obsessed-Botox-loving culture would tell us otherwise. As we mature, we often become at home with who we are and what we can give to others; a friend once told me that stepping into her forties felt like stepping into her own skin, her real skin. We finally become at ease with the skin we’re in … even if that skin is a little thinner and a little saggier.
In the run-up to my fortieth, I’ve been considering what it means to mature well. What did all those women round the table that night have in common? Do we become wiser simply by becoming older? Or is there something more? I guess there are many factors. But here’s a key one:
All those women were learners. You see, to grow is to learn. And more specifically, those women were learners of Jesus. To be a disciple of Jesus is essentially to be a learner – learning from him all the time as we walk in friendship and love with him each and every day. We are on a lifelong journey of learning from him.
These women hadn’t simply coasted through life, trying one thing and then another without any reflection. No, they had chosen first and foremost to align their hearts and minds with God, and pattern their lives after Jesus, seeking God to hear his plans and desires for their life. And they had stepped out courageously as they followed God’s calling. And then, and here’s the key thing, when they made mistakes or when things went wrong, they didn’t just give up or try to pretend it didn’t happen and move on to the next thing.
Maturity learns from mistakes. Maturity reflects. Maturity asks questions like: What did I learn from this? What did I learn about myself? What did I learn about others? What would I do differently next time? What does God want to say to me through this?
I like to ask those questions through the lens of truth revealed to me in the Bible, so that I can hear the conviction of Holy Spirit, who always brings life. Otherwise, I’m prone to hearing and receiving condemnation, which always brings death. So I try to remember these kinds of truths:
- I am unconditionally loved (and I am to love others)
- I am created to worship God (‘the glory of God is a human being fully alive’ – Irenaeus/John 4:24/ John 10:10)
- I am forgiven through Jesus (and I am to forgive others)
- I don’t need to be afraid because I know the Prince of Peace
- I am friends with the God of abundance (and I am to be generous with my money, time and effort)
And maturity doesn’t just remain in reflection. Maturity moves to action.
Maturity asks questions like, What do I need to do? How do I need to go about it? What resources do I need? Who am I doing this with? When am I going to do this by? And then maturity … DOES something.
One of the simplest examples of this in my own life is around prayer. Years ago, I felt the prompting from God to teach our kids to pray. It could have remained a desire – ‘We really want the kids to learn how to talk to God’ – but unless we chose to step out and do something to help them, it would still just remain a hope, a good idea, and an unfulfilled desire. But then we chose to do something: we put a simple rhythm of prayer into our daily activity which we still engage with to this very day.
And the beautiful thing is that these two things – reflection and action – work in tandem. We can’t do one without the other. We don’t grow and mature if we don’t reflect effectively. And nothing will ever change if we don’t take any action. And we can’t do any of it in an eternally purposeful way without the friendship and empowering of Holy Spirit.
Maturation is rarely perfectly linear. Sometimes it feels more like a jigsaw puzzle. We can’t see how all the different pieces fit together.
But there is always a bigger picture.
It’s good to be forty.