I turn 31 in a few days.
We celebrate a lot of birthdays in NZ & Australian culture. 16, 18, 21, 30. All of these have a lot of meaning, but 31 isn’t generally considered a big deal. For me, that’s different.
You see, to me, 31 means I’m finally stepping out from my youth. Around the world, most people define youth as ending at 25, but there are some places where a person is considered a “youth” until they’re 30. So, with 31 coming around, there are no longer excuses available to me based on my age – because I’ve clung to that “youth” term for a long time! And many of my friends have already arrived at this milestone.
In reflecting on the lives of people I’ve grown up with, it’s incredible to see how diverse our paths have been. For some, life has been straightforward: School, university, professional career, marriage, house, children, or a similar pattern with a few parts swapped around. For others, including me, the path has been less smooth. Some dropped out of university, while others struggled with mental health issues or difficult relationships. As a society, we tend to have issues with things not fitting “the mold” as people grow up – and it’s little wonder when we place people who have had amazing success on such a pedestal and stand there craning our necks in awe. (Thanks, Mr. Zuckerberg).
But as I turn 31, I’ve come to realise that life isn’t defined by success in finance and fame. This is a change from how I was as an 18 year old, when I was swept up in the world of big church culture, and found myself chasing prestige and position instead of following Jesus by caring for the poor and oppressed.
Hard lessons eventually shook me out of my idolisation of church culture, and as my 32nd year starts, my prayer is that my youth will continue to give way to wisdom and love, not to cynicism and bitterness. I’ve watched many people growing up and facing life’s challenges, and I can now understand why the Apostle Paul exhorts us to “not let the world squeeze us into its mold“. Every year, I’ve faced challenges that have attacked my faith, and my ability to keep on going. There were times when I didn’t want to. This world seeks to break people, to squeeze life and love out of everyone – I’ve found my faith has been the cornerstone that has allowed my to keep going.
But as I pass 31, faith also becomes an issue. I’ve attended thousands of church services in my life, and there’s a temptation to believe that I can’t learn any more. It’s true that familiarity breeds contempt, and I could easily sit back and start waxing lyrical about my wisdom and experience being enough. But if Jesus, was prepared to humble himself, then I have no excuse. Especially as he gave the ultimate sacrifice in his mid thirties so that I could follow him with my life.
There’s a familiar exhortation in Ecclesiastes 12: “Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator.” Let’s take that a step further: Let’s not let our Creator be drowned out by the bitterness of experience, or by the cynicism of ageing. Let our belief in Christ as the Author and Finisher of our faith give us the grace to listen when He’s speaking to us. For me, I like to think that with every person that hurts me and lets me down, I’m faced with a choice to let it go and focus on the future. Being hurt doesn’t have to lead to more hurt, and Jesus encourages us to cast our burdens on him.
So the fact is that the message of the Gospel is only increasing in importance as I grow old. When once I was without influence, now I find myself with responsibility and authority. Where I was able to relax, I now have to be alert and work. In the business of life, Jesus’ message of reconciliation and loving one another continues to become more pertinent.
So 31, come at me. I’m pleased to meet you and face the future.
May youth give way to wisdom and love, not cynicism and bitterness.