On Monday I turned 48. For many people, the “milestone” birthdays (the ones with a zero in them) are the most traumatic, I suppose because the digit in the tens place changes. But that hasn’t proven to be the case with me. So allow me to walk you through the math of turning 48.
The first birthday that really hit me hard was 35. That was because I knew that 35 was the cut-off age for entering the CIA’s clandestine services. In other words, at 35, I was too old to become a spy. For a guy who owns every James Bond film ever made, and loves all things espionage, it was like watching a dream die. Not that I ever really pursued this as a career option, but in the back of my mind, I knew that the possibility was out there. Of course now I know that I would have made a terrible spy. Being a real spy is less about fast cars and gadgets and more about learning how to live a lie for the long haul. That would be way too stressful for me.
Anyway, it turns out that there was more to turning 35 than just letting go of my 007 fantasy. But I’ll come back to that in a minute.
Surprisingly, turning forty wasn’t that big of a deal. I could still think of myself as close to being in my thirties. Forty-one through forty-four were ok because I could tell myself I was in my early forties. When I hit 45, I had to admit that I was now in my mid-forties, but I could deal with that because at least I wasn’t in my late forties, and this lasted until last week. Even to the last day of being 47, I could say I was in my mid-forties (broadly defined), but once I turned 48, I’m now officially and undeniably closer to 50 than I am to 45. You know what that means… I’m now in my late forties. Damn.
So, the idea of turning 48 took some getting used to. But as I think about it, I’m actually more happy with my life now than I was at 35. A decade or two ago I thought getting older would be like some kind of downward spiral, where every year would be more of a bummer than the last. I thought time was running out. Now, at 48, I don’t feel like that at all. I think a big part of the reason is that at thirty-five I was in a job that wasn’t right for me. In fact, that’s what led me to come up with the Five Homes concept, and eventually write the book Spiritual Blueprint. I had to figure some things out in order to live intentionally, and take control of my own future.
You see, I was born in 1963. Most definitions of the “baby boomer” generation say that it includes people born through the year 1964. So that would make me one of the last baby boomers, which makes sense because it seems all my life I’ve been just coming in at the end of a lot of good things. When I was in high school, the great choir that won awards, had a reputation known around the state, and always put on an annual madrigal dinner, actually died out from lack of interest. For the students born after me, singing in a choir wasn’t cool any more. When I was in college, the glory days of the fraternities turned into the embarrassment of the hazing scandals. Many Greek houses folded. When I started doing youth ministry, I discovered that the model of youth ministry I grew up with (sit in a circle, strum the guitar, and talk about Jesus) was no longer working for teens raised on Sesame Street and sound bites. The world changed, literally right in front of my eyes, and it felt like I kept just missing all the good stuff. I call it “Generation Edge.” In some ways I’m a little bit of a hippie born too late, and in other ways, not so much. I love Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell and Hair, but I never tried pot and I can’t stand camping out. I love folk music in general, but I’d rather listen to The Cars than The Beatles. I like the idea of Kerouac’s “rucksack revolution” (Dharma Bums), but in the end I’m just not far enough to the left to reject all authority and tradition.
As Christians we’re taught not to be too attached to the things of the world. But the problem is, I kind of like this world, and life in it. I love to travel and see the world, and I love to eat all the good food the world has to offer. I even love my big screen TV. Don’t get me wrong, I believe heaven is better, but hey – that’s for eternity, so I might as well get the most out of this life while I’m in it. It’s like Peter Tosh sang: Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die (Equal Rights). We don’t want to get older for the simple reason that we don’t want to get closer to death. And we don’t want to die for one of two reasons – either we feel like time is running out and we haven’t done the things we want to do, or we are doing the things we want to do and we’re having too much fun. When I was 35, I didn’t want to get older for the first reason. Now I don’t want to get older for the second reason. What happened in between was that I figured out what it was that I really wanted to do, and I started doing it. Of course it also helped that I got a job in my field. But it isn’t just about the job (the home for my hands). It’s also about the writing and the music, and getting in shape (the home for my mind), having a good marriage (the home for my heart), making a good home (the home for my body), and finding the right church home (the home for my spirit).
These days, when I look in the mirror, I see my dad. I see what I remember my dad always looking like as I was growing up (he’s a very handsome guy). But it’s disconcerting to look in the mirror and see my dad – and if I try to double check by looking at my dad, when I look at him, I see my grandfather. Except that my dad still travels, plays tennis, rides a bike, plays the drums and dances with my mom. Now that I think about it, getting older doesn’t seem to have slowed him down, and as for me, I feel as good as I did at 35, and I’m happier now than I was then. So apparently, 48 is the new 35. Which means I give you all permission to subtract thirteen years from your age.
I’m glad I didn’t become a spy. In Spiritual Blueprint I talk about the stress continuum. The concept is that often the higher paying jobs come with more stress, so every person has to figure out for him/herself how much stress is worth the corresponding reward. Some people get stuck in a job because it pays well, but it slowly kills them from the stress. Many people would be better off (and live longer) in a lower stress job, even though it might pay less. Yes, making less money might actually make you happier! So for me, I now realize that being a spy would be too much stress for whatever rewards such a career would promise (yes, even those rewards). But that’s just me. Thank God for the people who thrive in that kind of situation, and consider it excitement rather than stress. But the point is that too many people just live with the status quo, passively letting life happen to them, rather than living intentionally and making the changes that will allow them to live actively.
So I guess the antidote to growing older is living intentionally. That means figuring out what you really want to do, and what’s really best for you (and those around you) in the long run, and making decisions that move you in that direction. In other words, live so that when you’re really old you’ll have as few regrets as possible. So, with that in mind, it’s time to get busy on my forty-ninth year.
By the way, I’m taking a break from the blog for a couple weeks. I’ll explain why when I post my next installment, shortly after June 1st. Thanks for reading!