To be young in this world is a big thing.
For those of us who are young, we’re being told what to do, what it means to be this particular age, what being grown up is. We’re shown examples of what we should be, or at least aspire to be, and what we should compare ourselves to.
For those of us who are older, we feel keenly what we’ve lost, feel keenly the onward pull of time, feel regret as we look back and anxiety as we look forward.
I’d always had huge plans for my life, vaguely assuming they would be magically kickstarted when I turned 18. In movies and books, 18 was the threshold age when adventures began, princesses met their princes, ugly ducklings became swans, and hidden young talents were discovered and shot to fame. *cough*
It was rather traumatic to hit 18 and realize that nothing had changed. I found myself trying desperately to live up to the expectations I’d had of this period of life. I was constantly blaming and disappointing myself when I saw glimpses of my ideal in other people or the media.
There’s something I didn’t do, have to do, should have done. Did I waste those years? Am I wasting my time now? These were punctured by brief moments of pride over achievements, tantalizing if destructive comparisons.
Basically, I went through both extremes (all before I was 21–I suppose I should be prepared for my mid-life crisis now.) The insecurity and anxiety associated with youth, trying to handle getting older with the baggage of expectations and ideals; and the insecurity and anxiety associated with losing youth, trying to handle getting older with the baggage of unfulfilled expectations and disillusions.
This was not the way I wanted to live, and this was certainly not the life Christ had died to give me.
What is age to you? Developing your own fashion sense? Earning your own income? A specific number of digits? Being seen as an adult by others? Finding likeminded and supportive friends? Starting your own family? Establishing a career? Having certain privileges?
Or on the flip side, having to face responsibilities? Having to make your own decisions, and be responsible for the consequences? Dealing with grief, disillusionment with people and relationships? Losing hair, losing health, feeling like a failure?
I would like to challenge you instead to see growing older–whichever way you see it now–as growing in grace.
For the Christian, growing older loses the all-consuming finality (and therefore, significance) that it has from a secular perspective. In a secular perspective, growing older is–understandably so–an increasingly ominous reminder that life is short and life will come to an end, and what you have done with it, as it slips relentlessly through your fingers like a bar of soap.
But in our perspective, a perspective of eternity, growing older is a phenomenon that is limited to our life on earth where time exists. The time we have here is the first stage of a journey towards sanctification, a journey defined by grace. Age is merely our reminder that we won’t be staying in this level forever.
And if that’s the case, then even unfulfilled expectations, even disillusionment, lose their sting. How we handle them becomes more important; they in themselves become less important. The challenge of knowing God, of obeying Him and reflecting Him, become the consistent underlying theme.
I want to be able to stop worrying so much about my past and my future, to stop trying to control my life with five-year plans and self-improvement programs, to stop being obsessed with whether I’ve fulfilled the expectations of myself and others for this age.
The next time you see old photos or look at birthday candles—ask yourself:
Am I humbler?
Am I kinder?
Do I trust more?
Do I reflect God better, with less of myself?
This attitude towards getting older is humbling because it’s such a high calling. It is a much simpler goal to retire before 30 in comparison to manifesting the glory of the Creator of the universe.
Yet on the other hand, since we know that our complete sanctification will not take place here, and that we can expect to keep making mistakes until we finish this stage and ‘level up’–it is also empowering. No need to feel insecure or anxious, knowing that each mistake we make is covered by grace and is in fact a means for us to grow.
No need to feel we’re failing expectations, because in fact, Christ’s death for us marks God’s recognition of how we have failed and how He has made up for our failure.
Getting older, for the Christian, should be experiencing more grace, and growing in grace.
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