I’m what people would call an “adult” now. Not a “young adult.” Just an “adult.” There’s a crucial difference.
People tend to think that growing older is depressing. And admittedly, it can be!
Birthdays are usually a happy affair, but there comes a point in your life when they are no longer that exciting. The 1st, the 16th, the 18th, the 21st — all milestone birthdays that celebrate increased freedom, growth, and expectation.
Then there’s 30.
On my 30th birthday, I’ve received constant renditions of “So, how do you feel?” from those around me, which I take as a nicer way of asking, “So, are you depressed?” It’s almost as if your 30’s mark the end of potential and your glory years as you know it.
But, that was three years ago, and I can confidently attest that my 30’s have been my best years so far. Sure, your 20’s have the draw of youth, adventure, and supple skin (gosh, I miss my 20-year-old skin). But I have, with great pleasure, discovered that my 30’s had so many gifts to offer.
The following is a list of some of these gifts.
They are what I have begun to acquire in the past three years, but, have, in no way, truly mastered. But because, in my 30’s, I have begun to live according to this list, I feel as if I have truly begun to live.
1. The Art of Letting Go
I used to be able to harbor negativity like it was my favorite purse. Bitterness, regret, shame, guilt…you name it, and I probably held it.
When you’re young, it feels like a protection mechanism, a fear-based wisdom to keep you safe. When, in actuality, it’s like befriending a thief who, at any opportunity, would rob you of all strength and joy.
One of the first coping skills that a child must learn is the art of letting go. Let go of that blanket, you’re too old for it now. Let go of that fall, it’s not as bad as it felt. It is an important part of maturation.
If you only lived a few years, losing that one friend is like losing your whole world. That first job rejection hits hard and the shame of it may last for months. Every criticism, rejection, and failure tend to linger in your mind for heavy periods of time if you do not acquire the skill of letting go.
Eventually, you learn that time gives and takes away. Sometimes, you lose. Sometimes, you fail.
And that’s okay.
I’ve come to live by this mantra — if it needs to go, let it go. Or even better — if they need to go, let them go.
When David’s illegitimate child with Bathsheba fell ill and was near death, David fasted and pleaded before God (2 Samuel 12). However, once the child died, the palace was surprised to see David wash his face and eat a meal. He knew when to let go.
Before my 30’s, I’ve mourned every opportunity lost and every person that walked away. But the wisdom of age has taught me that, in God’s grace, some things must go because they were never meant to be a part of your destiny.
2. The Discipline of Gratitude
“I could be miserable for the rest of my life,” — this is what I realized in my 30’s.
After dealing with maddening teenage insecurities, stifling college striving, and the instability of young adult angst, you eventually realize that there will always be a reason to be unhappy. There’s always — and I mean always — a reason to complain.
There’s something about youth that gives you this false impression that you have until forever to figure out how to be content with your life. But as you grow older, you realize that your time on earth is finite. There really is no reason good enough to spend a day without gratitude.
When I was younger, I saw gratitude as a sentiment that had to just come to me. I thought that I had to feel thankful in order to be thankful. Eventually, over the years, I realized that this particular sentiment rarely came so naturally. Gratitude is a mental muscle that needs to be intentionally activated, exercised, and maintained.
God commands us to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). It is because it takes the focus off of what He’s not doing, and it positions you to witness what He is doing. Gratitude allows you to see God in all situations of life.
No matter what I’m going through, I have to see Him. I have to see His goodness or I cannot survive. Gratitude is what allows me to do that. It protects me from the blindness of entitlement and the pride of privilege. It guards me from myself, and it keeps my spirit awake.
3. Self Awareness
If you are in your teens and you think you know yourself, you’re wrong. If you are in your 20’s, and you think you have yourself figured out, you’re also probably wrong.
When you hit your 30’s, you just begin to grasp the deep well of your heart, with all its pains, fears, and desires.
Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.”
I spent my 20’s beginning to have that insight, and once I got into my 30’s it was as if I finally began to understand how to work the stick and drive the steering wheel of who I am.
I have found that teenagers and 20-some-year-olds are in such a rush to determine their destiny and map out the blueprint of their lives without truly knowing what they want and need. The 18-year-old you will not be the same as the 29-year-old you because you are constantly discovering who that “you” actually are.
But, in time, the reflection on the mirror becomes clearer, and you know how best to handle yourself because you actually understand what you see. And although you don’t always like what you see, self-awareness was one of the greatest gifts to my marriage, my ministry, and even my parenting.
4. Forming a Vision
Life is more than just about who you marry and what line of career you choose. Funny enough, that’s all we tend to focus on in our teens and 20’s. It’s all about where am I going to live? Who am I going to live there with? What am I going to do? How much am I going to make?
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
You were created for so much more.
My 30’s was when I began to pursue more than just a steady paycheck, for I began to realize that I wanted more than a career. I wanted a legacy.
There’s something about moving further away from the starting point of your life that causes you to think more about how you want to approach the finish line. Perhaps it is because by this point in my life, I at least have a few decades of experiences, detours, failures, and losses to clarify what I want to dream towards.
You see, God doesn’t waste anything. The random odd-jobs you took up to make money. The frustrations over a certain school subject. The people you connect and even disconnect with. All the highs and lows. He uses it all to eventually begin showing you a blueprint for your destiny.
5. Understanding the Seasons
When you feel younger, your drive usually has a linear focused towards a future that looks bright and fruitful. Thus, every failure feels like doom. Every waiting period feels like punishment. There’s always an itch for breakthrough, an ache for more.
Then as I walked into my 30’s, I learned that life works in seasons, and every season is temporary.
Being single was just a season. Being a pregnant woman was just a season. Being in a job position that didn’t quite fit my passions in life was just a season.
Oftentimes, in our youth, we are eager for just one type of season– the one with least pain and most victory.
Yet, there is a time for preparation, and the waiting has a holy purpose. I’ve learned to honor those types of seasons as well.
Almost always, the waiting and the preparing feels longer than it should be. But, I have had the privilege of watching people experience breakthroughs in a timing that society may deem as “late.” That feeling of being “late” oftentimes shrouds a person’s perspective with doubt and anxiety. But, when the preparation period seems longer, the kingdom glory released afterwards is always that much greater.
No matter what difficulties the current season throws at me, I realize there’s always something purposeful that God is doing during it. You just have to allow Him to complete the purpose for such seasons.
Because, like all seasons, a new one will come. And with it, there will be new blessings. And, just like the branches of a tree must be strong enough to hold spring’s new bloom, you also need to be ready before that new season comes to pass.