I start with a confession. I've been in a mood as of late. And not a godly mood. Not everyday and not all of the time; but building for the last couple of years since I was at a graduation party and someone pointed out that my brother and cousin were turning fifty years old. And in the final days before my own 50th birthday, last week, this mood left me weepy and fully self-pity and entitlement.
This same thing happened as I was turning thirty. In both seasons I was first triggered when my brother hit the milestone a couple of years ahead of me. Knowing I wasn't far behind, it was shock to see a horizon for which I felt ill prepared. When turning thirty, I grieved that I was not married and not even seeing anyone. I was a year and a half out from my broken back and couldn't conceive of someone who would be able to love me. I knew others who were planning big adventures to celebrate their 30th and I couldn't image something that would make me feel better. I even told my friends that I didn't want any kind of party out of a fear that nothing would be "big enough" to fill the hole in my heart. I made reservations at a nice hotel and added in a spa day and golf lessons. It was fine.
Turning 40 didn't seem to be as big of a deal. For one thing, I felt silly about how poorly I handled 30 and didn't want to do that again. An even bigger factor was that I was married. And there was someone that knew well all of my broken parts and loved me anyway. Plus, I had changed careers and was, generally, just more comfortable in my own skin. Not in small part was this settling into my identity a result of the fall and broken back, which as the verse says, shook everything and all that remained was not to be shaken.
So why was I so out of sorts as 50 approached? I've never been happier than the last 5 years. Since going back to church and really leaning in to the Lord our lives have been drastically changed for the better. Finances, relationships, and a general worldview with less fear and more love have led us to often say a line from a Christian song, "It's better this way."
So why the underlying, but increasing discontent?
For one thing. Health. It seems like there's always some part of me in need of medical care. I take a fist full of pills everyday for a variety of maladies and have something come up every year or every other year requiring urgent care. This trend seemed to be accelerating as the clock ticked closer to my birthday. Various diagnostic tests and even a surgery for an injury incurred 30 years ago and also completely forgotten. It was so discouraging.
Similarly, menopause became an official reality. Not only adding to the sense that my body was struggling- more tired and weak- but it was the official end of the improbable but possible season to have a child. We'd been pregnant once and lost the baby early- probably because of the aforementioned health and medicine; and it was devastating. I still cry if I think about it for too long. However, to be perfectly honest, in general, we are both okay with our nieces and nephews and our ministries being our source of joy. I was spared the daily heartbreak and devastation felt by many women dealing with infertility. Still, it's an undeniable reality when the season ends and the door closes, ending even an outside chance.
A third issue is, simply put, that 50 is old. Or, the beginning edge of old. Although one's perception of age changes throughout life, there comes an age when you have to face the fact that human bodies have a limited shelf life and you are well into your sell-by date. Maybe we get 100 years; but with the aforementioned health problems...it's best not to plan for that. This one is the most obvious; but also the one most thoroughly addressed by my faith. I do look forward to my new body being incorruptible for eternity with my Lord. But first, I need to be a good steward of this Holy Temple- and I haven't done as good of a job with that as I should have.
And finally, a fourth irritant I found myself dealing with was the ongoing concern about whether I had done enough. What else should I be doing? As I feel older, more tired, and weaker...how can I also do more? I had friends whose 50th birthdays were celebrated on Facebook with hikes and trips to Hawaii 5-0 (which I thought was very clever); meanwhile I felt like I was limping into 50 and it made me sad for the causes that were not my fault and ashamed for the damage I have done through my own terrible choices.
Many might read all of this so far and have a pat answer for me. "Age is just a number." "You're only as old as you feel." "Blah, blah , blah." To that I say, "Yes. but I've gone around the sun 50 times, and while grateful; it doesn't erase the compounded concerns listed above. There was no cliché or pat answer that could sooth my discord soul.
I prayed about it. Asking forgiveness for what I knew were not godly thoughts. But I didn't know what else to pray for, specifically. It was just this toxic feeling that grew as the date drew nearer. I was very concerned about how emotional I felt. Every time I had the thought of turning 50, I welled up with tears. My very thoughtful husband had made reservations for us for a fun getaway and I worried I was goin to ruin it because I would get so emotional and overwhelmed.
Finally. Blessedly. Gratefully. The night before we left, two days before my birthday I had a terrible dream. The gist of it was that I was back where I was years ago and it was the worst version of it. And it was awful.
I woke up knowing that I had to get my eyes onto Jesus. Onto my Creator, my Elohim. Not on me. Not on what would or could or should be. But what is. The great I Am. That's all that matters. He formed me in the womb; He redeemed me; and He has sealed me for salvation. Yes, I have made mistakes and He has let me live the consequences. But He is sovereign, so I am working out what He has worked in me. I woke up in peace. The fussing and the fighting were gone. I didn't earn it. I didn't deserve it. But He sustained me and brought me through the rebellion that threatened to cause me to stumble.
That was 6 days ago and I haven't felt even a tiny itch of the mood. The weekend was lovely, truly lovely. My birthday was filled with generous well-wishers, including being absolutely spoiled by my wonderful husband. My heart was full. My heart is full.
Today, I was reading a bible study and was convicted that I needed to listen to the Word more, considering how much time I spend listening to audio books in the background. So I listened to the final sermon in a series on Nehemiah from the main pastor of my church.
Nehemiah oversaw the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its wall; with the caveat to his King that he would return when the work was done in Judah. Nehemiah went back to his king and when he returned he found that the people had backslidden in multiple ways. One of them stopped me in my tracks.
First, starting in verse 4:
Now prior to this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, being related Tobiah, had prepared a large room for him, where formerly they put the grain offerings, the frankincense, the utensils, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil prescribed for the Levites, the singers, and the gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests.Nehemiah 13: 4-5
Nehemiah goes on to explain that this happened while he was gone and when he came back he found this evil had been done.
Evil. He called it evil.
How can this little family favor be evil, you may ask. It's evil for a couple of different reasons. First of all, this holy spot in the Temple had just been hard-earned by everyone rebuilding; but this man takes it upon himself to rent out the room to his relations. And it was a particularly holy room. It held all of the tithes and offerings. That leads to a third evil. It caused people to stop bringing tithes and offerings because they saw the corruption- causing all of those who were supposed to be supported through those offerings to have to go find other work.
And then my pastor asked, "What rooms have you rented out? You're the Holy Temple now. Are there things that need to be thrown out, as Nehemiah did with the priest and his relative?"
Why yes, Pastor, there is. The Holy Spirit immediately brought to mind the time, emotion, and energy I'd rented out lamenting my 50 year milestone. Those resources are precious. Not to be used for self-pity and naval gazing.
I repented and praised the Lord for bringing me contentment even before the repentance. He knew today was the day I would have to process all of it and He brought the victory early on the day I needed it.
And then, when I went back to the original bible study I was working on, I ran across this gem, and the Holy Spirit did a healing work in my heart:
And it came about, while He said these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice, and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breast at which You nursed."
But He said, "On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the Word of God, and observe it."Luke 11: 27-28
It seems like everywhere I've turned lately I keep hearing about how motherhood is our highest calling and what every woman should aspire to. That's pretty discouraging to a woman in my situation. I hadn't really ever been made to feel less of a woman; but lately, that message seem to be everywhere.
This verse reminded me that it was the pagans who were consumed with the womb and fertility.
Every culture esteems moms; and they should. Bearing children and/or raising children is a high calling. But it isn't the only calling.
Whereas we are all called to hear God's Word and observe it. I'm woman enough to take up that challenge. I'll stumble and fall; but He's made a way for me on that road.