Help! I’m older than Jesus

I am now officially older than Jesus. Well, of sorts. I’ve just had a birthday which has nudged me one year closer to oldness and means I’ve now been on the planet longer than Jesus was. I can’t help but feel that he achieved a bit more than I’ve done to date.

And if that’s not enough to prompt a bit of a crisis, then my god-daughter turning 10 has been a bit of a shocker. I remember her being born as if it was yesterday; that joyfully incoherent phone call from my friends at the hospital to say she’d safely landed. Where did the last ten years go? Seriously.

Wherever they went, I don’t think I mind their passing. Issues, angst and hopes aside, I’d rather be the me I am now than the me I was then. After all, I’m alright. I have kind of found myself. I sort of know what I’m doing. Sometimes I think I know what I think. Occasionally I even remember the secret of contentment. If I existed in a vacuum, I reckon I’d be ok.

No, my issue is not me, ageing as I am, measured against me. My issue is me, measured against my cultural contexts and their prescribed norms. The ages by which you’re supposed to have done certain things like get married and have kids, clamber with agility onto the property ladder, stop having housemates, spend Saturdays at B&Q choosing decking, become a manager, start your own company, earn a proper salary, learn to talk eloquently about petrol prices, and so on and so forth. Measured against my culture’s norms, I am suddenly feeling incredibly deficient.

‘What comes between youth and middle age’, someone asked deep-and-meaninfully after a couple of drinks at a birthday do last year (or was it the year before? I forget). Of course, none of us would own middle age for ourselves, but we are definitely no longer the youth of today. I mean, I work with ‘young people’ who were born in 1997. 1997? Surely that’s about 3 years ago. How can they be 16?

Anyway, some bright spark’s solution to the ‘what comes between youth and middle age?’ conundrum was the fact that the answer doesn’t matter because it’s all about ‘stage’ not ‘age’. You cease to be young when you do grown up things like get married and have children. (At that point, I smiled at the memory of my then 7 year-old god-daughter describing me as ‘like a grown up, only she doesn’t have children’). The marrieds and the parents nodded sagely while I felt too outnumbered to point out the flaw in this facile solution for those who’ve missed those rites of passage along the way.

So, what would that mean for me? Should I stick with my prescribed ‘stage’ and hang out with 20 year-olds who probably still assume that their lives will more or less follow the cultural blueprint? Should I frantically pursue husband and family (more foolish attempts to make love out of thoughts), or career progression or property, as a way of feeling like my life is going somewhere? Or am I simply to languish in an undefined limbo land between youth and middle age until I emerge in about 10 years time as someone of whom they say it’s such a shame she never married.

By no means! Right? I’m pursuing life in all its fullness now, not a life that is curtailed by regrets for the might-have-beens or put on hold in the mistaken belief that happiness and fulfilment is just around the corner, incarnated in a house, a boy, a job, or whatever. I know that I can act on maternal instinct and find outlets to parent without having children of my own. I know that I can enjoy family and community without being in a relationship. I know that I can show hospitality and experience settledness without having a mortgage. And enough married friends have generously opened up their lives for me to understand that marriage and parenthood, while being amazing, have their – er, how should I put it? – challenges, and definitely won’t fix me.

I suppose, when you think about it, the cultural markers of ‘ages’ and/or ‘stages’ have often evolved to express and capture those more fundamental things for which we’re made, like relationship, community, hospitality, security, peace, and something that lasts. It’s just that those things are abstract until they are lived out in a particular time and place. And as they come to life in a context, they morph into institutions and norms, and then those institutions and norms get mistaken for the ends not the means, and then we start pursuing them for themselves and feel like we’re missing out if we don’t have them.

Of course I want to break that cycle and reclaim what lies beneath and beyond, but sometimes it’s just so blooming hard to know how to fashion and articulate the reality of those underlying abstracts in alternative ways. Especially when I didn’t necessarily choose for it to be like this. Especially when the place I turn to for true counter-culturalism sometimes just seems to reflect society’s prevailing patterns. I want something more radical but need help to battle my default mediocrity.

Sigh.

D’you get me, Jesus?

Occasionally I wonder if one solution – other than hiding under my duvet all day (which I don’t actually do that often, I might hasten to add) – would be to change my cultural context altogether. I’ve just been on holiday in a Middle Eastern country where single women over 30 get disability benefit. AMAZING. Perhaps I am just living in the wrong culture? If I moved there, I could even wear a hijab to cover up all those grey hairs which I’m currently refusing to dye on principle.

At least I’m now old enough to know that jumping ship like that won’t save me. I’ll take that as a birthday gift. Onwards and upwards…

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6 thoughts on “Help! I’m older than Jesus

  1. Amiga, me encanta como escribes… A couple of thoughts to reply to your own. I have been pondering about the idea of mystery as opposed to mastery. The later is what the world wants the former embraces the idea that we cannot comprehend all but can rest in the One who does, and that is ok. The second thought is about the idea of embracing the sacredness of the present moment instead of allowing our thoughts and actions to constantly live in the future. The third thought is that “there is a time for everything” and that “He has made all things beautiful in his time” but more on that later… Live life to the full now indeed! Hugs and love.

  2. Thanks for this, Emily – it’s the first time I’ve dipped into your blog for a good while, but I always feel challenged, stimulated and (dare I say it!) helped by your writing. I remember sitting with a friend (also a pastor like me) when we’d both turned 30 (7 years ago now), and we were talking about the 19th century Scottish pastor Robert Murray McCheyne, who worked himself so hard for his church and for his ministry, that he died young at the age of 29. We looked at each other and concluded that we clearly weren’t committed enough to Jesus to have made it to 30…!

    “As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
    for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
    As for man, his days are like grass,
    he flourishes like a flower of the field;
    the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
    But from everlasting to everlasting
    the LORD’s love is with those who fear him…” (Psalm 103:13-17)

  3. Hi Emily, Thank you for another thought-provoking and original post. You sound like you’re in a very good place – which is ace. May I put a link to it on Facebook for others to read?

    Lizzie

  4. Thanks for all the encouraging comments. Feel the need to confess that I ended a rubbish day by writing a list of things I could do to make myself feel better – like improving my French, doing a counselling course or getting a qualification to work with traumatised people, studyig theology, or planning a two week trip to China over Christmas. Oh,how sorted I am!

  5. Hi, I have no idea how I got to your website, and I am not exactly a christian but I am enjoying your writing. I rarely comment on internet but felt the need to thank you for this refreshing perspective!
    Although married, I am in my 30s have no children and no great career. I am pretty much unemployed after years of doing many many low paid temp jobs in all sorts of areas. I am obsessed with thoughts of OMG what have a done with my life? I am such a failure. I should have a decent wage /children /mastery of something by now!! Comparing myself to people who I wen tto school and uni with.

    Reading this challenged me to think about success and my life in a totally different way and I feel good about things. Not sure how long it will last biut I wanted to say thank you so much and I look forward to exploring more of your blog 🙂

    • Hi Jo,
      Just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to comment and share your thoughts and experiences – it really made my day that you’d come across this post and found it helpful for where you were at with things 🙂 Thank you!

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