40 years. That’s a long time to be on this earth. My memory isn’t what it was even a few a years ago, but I can still remember being a young child and thinking, “man, 40 is so old!” Of course I didn’t understand what old was back then. I only knew a childhood that was supposed to never end. That is how the world worked after all. Some people aged, sure, but it was not something that would ever happen to me.
I blinked and I aged. Man did I age. And here’s the kicker: I still don’t understand exactly what old is. The truth is there is a big part of me that simply doesn’t want to. But as the days go by it becomes harder to hide from those daily reminders. I am slowing down. My memory is getting worse. My hair is turning more and more grey.
Perhaps the most significant reminder of that number which is suddenly lurking around the corner came from a few years back. I will admit that I haven’t built much in the way of a career (the ongoing joke is that I am building a collection of useless degrees to hang on my shelf), but the closest thing I have to it is a career as a youth worker. Many of these years were spent in the role as a youth pastor. I have written in other places about how my most recent position impacted this career, emotionally, practically, physically and spiritually. I left that job with a big question mark surrounding my life and not much clarity in how to build my life moving forward. What I probably haven’t mentioned was that this is not technically my most recent position. In an attempt to find healing and clarity I accepted a part time youth pastor position a few years ago. Unfortunately I only lasted two weeks before having to step out (for a number of reasons). These two weeks would nevertheless go on to leave it’s mark though, as it was the first time my age really came in to question as they considered my qualifications. I left the job knowing that I still had a lot to work on personally, and that somewhere inside I still had a fire burning for youth ministry and ministry in general. But it left me with the cold, hard fact that, moving forward, this question of age was officially a part of the picture that I would have to wrestle with. Yes, I am old.
I have a confession to make. The march towards the big 40 caused me to have a breakdown this past year. I have a strong anxiety disorder, and sneaking past the 39 mark this past summer, without a lot of answers to the above scenario, pushed me towards a sharp downward spiral. I was not doing well, and the fears that dominate my anxiety had taken over.
I have another confession to make. You will probably never know how guilty I feel about having this sort of breakdown, of having these seemingly irrational and self-centred fears. Underneath I know I am privileged to be afforded 40 years. I am reminded of this every time I hear a story of a life cut short. Underneath I know that these fears fly against the promise of the Christian hope that I am supposed to carry, the kind of hope that I see so confidently expressed in others. Often times I wonder if my greatest weakness is that I hold on too tightly to this world, and yet holding tight is sometimes the only thing I know how to do at all.
A friend of mine recently started a blog to see if it could play a role in helping to publicly express her battle with depression. I was inspired to do the same. As 40 creeps nearer my anxiety is threatening once again. Thoughts of what I have managed to accomplish at this (supposed) mid-life mark are overwhelming. Look back far enough and I would have suggested an accomplished music career by the time I was 40. I ended up leaving that to my friends those who forged the way ahead of me. In the more recent past I would have suggested a successful and long tenure as a youth pastor. Circumstance forced me to hand that over to more qualified individuals.
Which brings me back to the subject of a career at the scary (and perhaps dangerous) intersection of 39 and 40. The truth is I don’t know where I belong. This is as true for the discussion of a career as it is for the realm of social obligations.
A friend of mine recently afforded me this insight over lunch this past spring. As I laid the story of my life out on the table, he suggested that I could see myself as a career care-giver. I have always been afforded the inherited titles of son/brother (which I wear with much failure), but as my life has developed I have grown in to the role of youth sponsor/volunteer, respite worker, youth pastor, husband, father, friend and now also a school bus driver. In all of these developed roles servant and care-giver has been the consistent denominator. It’s not flashy and it doesn’t pay well, but it is a title that I can choose to wear. Recognizing this was a part of the battle. The greater battle is that I see myself in all of these roles as less than capable. When I was interviewed for that youth pastor position that did not end well I had prided myself on the fact that I interviewed really well. If I had managed anything in my 40 years it was the ability to understand who I was. It would be in the dying minutes of that position during a final round table discussion that the Church would end up admitting that I had advertised very clearly as someone that they were now deciding they did not want. At the very least I could say that I have come to a good understanding of who I am. There remains a disparity though in understanding what this means for the world around me when there is always someone more capable, more experienced and more adept. With self-realization comes my strengths, but there also comes my weaknesses. and the truth of a “survival of the strongest and fittest and smartest” world only grows that much bigger with an anxiety disorder.
Perhaps, though, 40 is a time to reclaim an understanding of why I find myself consistently placed in to these roles as a care-giver, and to gain the confidence to live in to this role as best as I can and with whatever I have to offer in God’s great grace. Perhaps 40 is the time to finally step out of the rat-race, to stop caring about my capacity to make a difference, and to begin to trust that I actually have something to give that is worthwhile.
So that is what is this blog is about. It is not intended to be a woe is me. It is not intended to be an exercise in narcissism. It is simply intended to help keep me aware, to keep me honest, and God wiling, to keep myself from the sort of isolation that allows my anxiety to take over. It is a place to speak my thoughts about faith and life, and to hopefully make some progress on some of my writing (I always said I would write a book by the time I was 40). It is a place where hopefully I can interact with those who hold a similar love of movies, books and pop culture, and maybe open the door to share with others who struggle with anxiety/depression disorders. Mostly it is about taking the steps towards becoming a better version of me, a journey towards finding me at 40 exactly where God has me.