When I’m Thirty-Six

Gentle Reader,

This is a strange birthday for me. I can’t quite put into words why. I think I feel a little old. Sort of. But that’s not even right. Do I feel irrelevant? No, that’s not it. As I continue my journey in ministry, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more…part of something, and that equals relevancy. I don’t physically look any different than I did yesterday, and I’m determined to age with grace and flair. I’m pleased by the style and sense of fashion I’ve cultivated, so it’s nothing to do with wardrobe or makeup. Is it because of the pandemic and the never-ending anxiety? Maybe. Is it because I’m annoyed with myself, realizing that I should have been in this place spiritually and vocationally several years ago? Let’s not touch that one.

All I know for sure is that there’s an unsettledness about my spirit today. Which is great timing for the Enemy of my soul to come after me from different angles. It’s also great timing for me to have finished my read-through of the psalms.

I won’t lie: It was a slog at points. I decided to slowly and contemplatively work my through these pages after being challenged at the end of my first semester of seminary to consider approaching the Bible in a new way. I am all about in-depth study and nerdy discussion. I love context and history and original word meanings. To take myself away from that and shift toward something more emotion-oriented was challenging. To sit and read a few lines and then wait to see if the Holy Spirit drew my attention to a specific word or phrase pressed every impatient button I have. Some days, I allowed the impatience to rule and didn’t engage as I should. Some days, I skipped completely, and then had to play catch-up.

“Praise the LORD!” The final words of this collection of poems and songs. After most of a year in and among the lines, a frustrated feeling rises within me. Yes. Praise God. Is that it? Is that how this thing ends?

I sense God smiling at me. Of course that’s it. Of course that’s how this thing ends. Of course that’s how it starts, and how the middle goes. That is the point. That is the message. Praise God.

Be in relationship with God.

Orient your life around God.

Tell others about God.

Love as God loves.

I think we expect something grander or more complicated. Or at least I do. But the essence of our faith is astoundingly simple: Humanity fell and could not get up, so God came and helped us to our feet. We get lost in terms and theology (seriously, I love both of those things and fully believe that right doctrine is important), but the question that we’re left with at the end of the day is just this: Did I praise God? In my feeling, my thinking, my moving? In my interactions with creation, both human and non-human? Is my life oriented around the One who Saves?

That’s what the psalms do for us. They record the meeting of human and Divine in ways that move beyond logic and narrative and address the heart, where emotions rage and longings compete for attention. Over and over again (sometimes in frustratingly repetitive fashion), they tell us to praise God. Focus on God. Come back to God.

I wrote in my bible, at the end of this book:

Finishing out this read-through was definitely an act of clenched-teeth discipline. But I am grateful for the example of these authors choosing to turn to You again and again. They did not always get it right. In fact, they often got it wrong. They fell into ditches, sometimes by their own actions, sometimes not – just like me. They were in need of Your grace and love, as I am. They had to reorient, as I do.

God, You are faithful to draw me back to You, over and over. I want to be faithful to return, and better yet to not turn away in the first place. I want to be an agent of the grace and the love that I need so desperately. I want to spend my life in Your service, every breath and ounce of it. I belong to You. I am Your child, and I am designed to declare Your goodness and praise.

I am thirty-six today, and maybe the unsettledness I feel is a holy thing. Maybe the God who lovingly created me is stirring in my soul. Maybe it’s time for me to set aside comparisons and competitions and condemnations and just go.

That’s what I would tell you, dear reader, if you were to ask me if I’ve gained any wisdom at this point. Just go. What is God calling you to? Do that. Careers, houses, relationships, they’re all fine and dandy, but the only thing that will satisfy you, the only thing that will enable you to become the complete person God intends you to be, is to allow God to occupy the center of your life. I don’t know what that looks like for you. It’s a little different for each of us, which is exceptionally beautiful. You don’t have to be me and I don’t have to be you.

All the love another human has to offer won’t fill up your heart.

All the money in your bank account won’t secure your future.

All the best a contractor can build into a house won’t satisfy your need for a home.

All the positions and titles won’t soothe your longing for significance.

Again, none of those things are bad. They just aren’t the point.

The point is God.

Surrender yourself to God.

Always God.