In just a couple of days, I will turn the big 4-0. As I approach this milestone, many people have asked me how I feel about it. “Well,” I answer, “To be honest, I am pretty much freaking out.”
Listen, I want to be able to say that I am feeling grateful and eager and confident as I start a new decade. I want to be able to write about how fortunate and blessed and happy I am (which is true) as I look back to what these last forty years have brought me. I want to be able to celebrate and anticipate the good things still to come, because I trust that God is always doing a new thing (which is also true). But it is also true that every time I hear about my upcoming birthday and the number that goes with it I cringe and want to put my fingers in my ears.
I’m not okay with feeling this way. It flies in the face of everything that I value. I believe that being an adult and gaining experience is wonderful. I find it frustrating that we live in a culture that idolizes youth, and feel that our obsession with being younger is both harmful and unnecessary. I think forty is a great age and that I should be grateful to reach it, because (as my dear sister used to say), what’s the only alternative to turning forty?…NOT turning forty.
So I need to suck it up.
And you all have my complete permission to tell me to suck it up, knock it off, and pull my crap together. I don’t need validation, sympathy or encouragement. I need to stop believing the lies that getting older is a bad thing. I need to stop weighing myself and my accomplishments against others and some idea of what I “should have” achieved by now. I need to see forty years as a blessing instead of a benchmark. I need to stop obsessing about the deepening wrinkle in the middle of my forehead.
I need what I think a whole lot of us need: truth tellers. I need people who will tell me this truth again and again – that I am as loved and valuable and whole at forty as I was at 20, 25, and 30.
That I will continue to be loved and valuable and whole with every decade I am given to live, no matter what I accomplish, create, achieve or complete. That I don’t need Botox for my forehead wrinkle because, seriously? Get over it.
Tell me the truth – that God has only and will ever only call me to follow Him one day, one year, one decade at a time. That he doesn’t have a rubric for measuring how I’m doing. That He doesn’t keep “top 40 under 40 lists,” and that He isn’t looking at the ones we make either.
Keep telling me the truth friends, and, if I whine a bit and say: “But forty!” “But old!” “But when did this happen?” you also have my permission to smack me (lightly) on the side of the head.
I’m guessing I’m not the only one that needs to remember this. I am finding myself thinking of two experiences of birthdays for me as a teenager. The first was a game we played at sleepovers (our birthday party of choice as soon as we all turned thirteen) called the “best and worst traits” game. We would go around the room and say everyone’s best and worst trait. (And, yes, this went about as terribly as you can imagine it would in a room full of teenage girls). Either way, we kept playing and I always got the same answers. “Your best trait is your honesty and your worst trait is your honesty.” What they meant by this was that I had a slight tendency to say things that did not need to be said, but that I felt obliged to say simply because they were true. It did not always go well. (Thank you God for giving me forgiving friends).
The second was that I always had the first birthday of the year. I was the first of my friends to turn 13. The first to get my license. The first to officially reach adulthood on my 18th birthday. Now I’m the first to turn 40. And on this occasion, I’m going to be the same Leanne I’ve been since age 13 and offer some unsolicited truth, whether you’ve asked for it or not, simply because I’m the first one to get here.
I know a whole lot of you are freaking out just as much as me. I know we don’t know how we got here or when we suddenly became the age our parents were when they seemed so ancient. I know that on the inside we still feel like those teenagers walking down the road to the arcade on a Friday night. I know our forehead wrinkles and grey hairs still surprise us when we look in the mirror. I know we look at our kids or our aging parents and we wish we could make time stop.
And I know we need to suck it up.
Our lives may not be exactly as we pictured or hoped that they would be. But we have 40 years for which to be thankful and, hopefully, many more years to come. To all the 1978 babies out there, let us, in our 40th years be people who speak and hear THIS truth: we are loved and whole and valuable at this age, and every age to come. Instead of lamenting 40, let’s celebrate it.
(And if anyone tries to tell you any differently, don’t invite them to the sleepover).
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