I’m going to be thirty-four in September.
I get it. As my mom points out, thirty-four is not “old” unless you’re talking to teenagers. Being thirty-four is nothing like being fifty-two, or eighty-six. But you know what? It is also, now, nothing at all like being sixteen, or twenty, or even twenty-four.
What I’m trying to say is that, with every passing year, I’m noticing that those years are informing my perspective differently than they once did. Because at some point – a point I can’t quite identify, but have noticed with increasing clarity in this past year – I started thinking very differently about the world and everything that belongs to it.
As a teenager, I lived in the perpetual moment. I believed deeply in God and was committed to Jesus, but I was also firmly entrenched in the right now. I had a boyfriend and friends drama and events to go to and homework to finish. My parents and relatives and the church members I knew were stalwarts of my existence: I knew they were human just like me, but it felt like they’d live forever. And, if I’m honest, while I knew I could meet Jesus at any time – either through death or through His return – I kind of hoped it wouldn’t happen for a while. I like the idea of heaven, I often thought, but not right now. I’d miss this too much.
I don’t think this is particularly abnormal. Maybe it’s natural when you’re that age to feel that life will go on as it is forever. And maybe that is why teenagers are always trying so hard to move forward, to get on to the next thing, to keep moving to all the awesome experiences and events that await somewhere over the horizon of adulthood. I remember vividly that during my sophomore year of high school, my greatest dream was to be able to drive my own car to McDonald’s to pick up a cappuccino before class. How sophisticated! How mature!
And then the years pass, of course. Those stalwarts, those live-forever presences in your life, suddenly aren’t. Over a span of years I lost my maternal grandmother, an aunt, a great-aunt, and then my paternal grandmother. Other family members suffered health crises. My husband lost his grandmother. Church members since I had known since my childhood suddenly weren’t there when I returned home for Christmas every year.
Other things changed, too. I found I needed glasses. We purchased a home. For the first time my husband and I started discussing career arcs and retirement plans in those moments we peeked far down the road ahead of us. I’m not ‘old’ by any means, but life has changed slowly and subtly and in ways that for the first time have started to show me a subtle truth:
You aren’t meant to be here forever.
That’s not a depressing thing. To my teenage self it might have been, but in the now and for the first time I understand it. Life is not meant to be perpetual. Like a car, it starts showing signs of wear the minute we take it off the lot. And if this life were all there is, then that would be awful…but it isn’t, and so it’s not.
The love that we have here will be there. The fellowship we have here will be there. The relationships I cherish now with my husband and my parents and other believers – and the ones that I miss with my grandmothers and aunt and great-aunt – will be there. The parts of my soul that make me ‘me’ and that God has known since before I was made will be there. And all of it without pain, suffering, hurt, or sadness. All with joy, redemption, praise, and wonder.
When you’re young, it seems that it’s never possible to lose anything because time feels like it’s standing still. When you age, in general, you begin to realize that as life passes you lose things as you go along. When you age as a Christian, you realize that nothing you lose really matters, and everything worth keeping you will always have.
There’s a beautiful peace in that, and I suspect it’s a part of the serenity I see in the believers I know who are much older than me. I haven’t fully experienced it yet and in some regards I’m still a baby, but they know the truth that we all share:
Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you (Isaiah 46:4).
What a blessing age can be!