I am excited about 50. My big goals for 50 are to not take myself so seriously, take other people seriously, and be a delight to my Lord. It’s fun to write this because it’s a relatively recent development to say it.
Several years ago, in fact when I went into ministry and became a senior pastor, I noticed something particular to Christian leaders. Around this age some kind of crisis comes. It is something that is both outside of them and firmly anchored in their particular character, scars, and demons. I noticed that some – those that let themselves be broken and remade – get a second wind and find the next stage of life fulfilling. Others, however – those who fight it or blame or victimize themselves – get stuck in a slow slog to irrelevancy and bitterness. But it’s one thing to see things in others. It’s another to live it.
I have to confess that up until a few weeks ago I think it was a bit up in the air for me. The past two years have been quite a transition. All good, but with considerable amount of inner-demon hunting. To be honest, there were times when I knew I was lost in it all. I think on certain days I even manifested clinical symptoms. But in it all were faith (even if I was fighting it) and family/friends. In particular kids who just wanted their dad around, and a wife who prayed and gave space and encouragement. It also helped that she makes laugh…a lot. These kept me walking forward not taking myself too seriously. Then in the last two weeks (on Jan 10 and 12 to be specific) came the “ah-ha” moments.
First was a prayer walk on a retreat at Red Top state park. I found myself longing for the type of faith walk I had a long time ago as a young Christian when everything seemed so vital and important. As I continued to pray what I found were more shadows, my shadow – a lifetime of regrets, failures, broken relationships, character flaws, inadequacies, fears, abandonment… I asked the Lord about it, and as I did it suddenly occurred to me that this shadow was MY shadow. I was looking at this shadowy outline of myself and saw…myself. But I wasn’t afraid or morose or overwhelmed. It wasn’t all of me, but it definitely was me. Instead of spending so much emotional energy in regret, I needed to find acceptance for what was and what is – with who I am. As I did there was peace. A profound peace that led to thanksgiving, and more prayer, and worship.
Two days later, still thankful for this new sense of peace, I was preparing a lesson for the youth group and I remembered a time with my oldest son. He was maybe five years old, and I was taking him a glass of water before bed. He was on the top bunk and I raised up two glasses, one big and one considerably smaller. I knew he would reach for the big one and as he did I said, “Do you trust me, buddy?” He looked down at me with those big eyes and a creased, questioning forehead. ”I want you to trust me because I love you and want the best for you. You are free to take whichever cup you want, but I think you’ll be happier with the smaller cup. Which one would you like?” He took the big cup. And got maybe a sip of water. There was barely any in it. I then took the cup back and poured the almost completely full little cup into it and handed it back. I said, “I love you with all my heart, C. Even if it doesn’t look like it to you, know that the decisions I make and the things I want to give you are for the best, OK?” He nodded, jumped out of bed and went to pee.
I remembered that story, and thought about all that the Lord has asked of me over the years. All the ups and downs, career changes, salary changes, location changes – the downward trajectory my wife and I joke about, and I laughed at the small cup I was holding. But this cup was plenty full. Because this cup had names and faces, births, marriages, funerals, tears, laughter, deep thoughts and stupid ones. Decisions made for one reason only – following Jesus. Later that same week one of the girls we have known since the very first day of our ministry in the new part of town that is now my neighborhood received her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals petition that we had worked on. With that news my little cup starting pouring over the sides. Every decision, sacrifice, regret, and fear was worth this moment, this opportunity, in her life and – Lord willing – others like her.
Me, my shadow, and the cup that has been handed to me are pretty happy right now. There is still a lot of life in front, and I am excited to live it all. Not because I have anything figured out really, but because I’m starting 50 with a renewed sense of faith and intimacy with the Lord that I haven’t known in a long time. A Lord whose grace and mercy and faithfulness – even when you have to take the small cup – are all for the best. It’s not the size of the cup, but it fullness. So thank you to everyone who has filled it up and allowed me by pouring a little into yours. Life is good.