This time last year, I marked my birthday with a blog post entitled ‘Help! I’m older than Jesus’. Now, one year older and still here, I marked it with a decision to stop going to events aimed at people in their 20s/30s. Well, that, along with a fun birthday dinner with some quality people.
So, I’ve decided to stop going to events for ‘people in their 20s/30s’, because they aren’t for people in their 30s at all. They are actually for people in their early 20s who still have the energy and enthusiasm to be the change they want to see in the world, but they are organised by 30-somethings who are reluctant to write themselves out of it. Sadly, however, events aimed at younger people no longer inspire and rejuvenate; they just make me feel old.
At the most recent event I went to – the one which prompted this change of heart – I reflected on the carefree enthusiasm I had ten years ago. Here I am, send me! Watching the soldoutness of those around me, I wondered how much of my younger self’s willingness to forsake it all to change the world was premised on a subconscious assumption that by the time I was my age I’d have got married, had a family, and bought a house. Not that those things were ever promised, but it’s probably fair to say that I’d secretly assumed that if I sought first the kingdom those things would also have been added by now. Much easier to step out in faith when you have a safety net.
With those thoughts in my mind, I watched the young people around me heartfeltedly affirming their heedlessness of riches, with arms high and hearts abandoned, and felt a rising panic. Partly out of concern for their wellbeing and partly due to cynicism, I wanted to chuck cold water over their burning zeal. Life is more nuanced and complex than you think! Don’t do it! Work in the private sector so that you can stockpile a decent amount of dosh for a rainy day. Marry the person you think you love at 21 so that, at the very least, with two of you a mortgage will be possible and you can get your feet on the property ladder. Insure yourself with a husband, house and savings and then make the world a better place for everyone. When the cabin pressure drops, put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others, right?
And it’s not just money, I internally shouted at them, it’s the other stuff that happens as age starts to weary and the years condemn. It’s dealing with sick parents and the relentlessness of treatment which depletes even as it fixes. It’s watching friends go through the ache of childlessness or grieving the loss of children whose lives end before they really begin. It’s relationships breaking down. It’s regret at your choices. It’s seeing justice not prevail, the captives not released, the hungry not fed, and the poor continuing to be oppressed. It’s the frustration that campaigning about these things doesn’t make a difference because as much as you reshuffle the cabinet, you’re essentially just reordering the same old mess. It’s seeing other people’s lives come together, sharing their joy while feeling left behind as the strands of your own life unravel and you hold on by a thread. It’s wanting to avoid every social occasion where you’re asked if there’s ‘anyone special’ then have to make trite conversation to keep your identity in tact under the weight of pity. Buried under carefully-constructed layers of ‘I’m fine, thanks’ and a façade of competence, it’s the pain and exhaustion of having to do all this alone.
Ok, so objectively I am not technically alone. I have many, many (brilliant) friends, colleagues, family, housemates, etc etc, but sometimes the community I turn to for a realignment of perspective doesn’t seem to help and I just feel even more deficient in relation to what I have, what I do, and what others think of me. If I go to church in the evening, I am surrounded by people in their 20s who seem to be simultaneously changing the world and buying houses. If I go in the morning, I feel surrounded by the same, only this time it’s coupled with marriage and kids. Ok, ok, so I know that everyone else has their stuff going on, but I can’t see if from my me-centred vantage point. I wish my life was perfect too. I project all my issues onto this adopted family that I’m a part of and find myself getting annoyed.
I get annoyed because, like a self-absorbed angsty teenager, I’m feeling misunderstood and lonely. If my tiredness was the result of having a baby, there’d be a meal rota to ensure that someone delivered me dinner everyday. I’m not dissing the fact that it’s exhausting having a baby, but sometimes I wish that it would occur to (the mythical) ‘them’ that if you’re negotiating life by yourself – coping with family, financial and social pressures – it would be so darned nice if someone decided to cook you a meal for the freezer.
And I am annoyed because even if there was a rota it would seem like such a clunky concept. Where has all the unpolished spontaneity gone? Sometimes this all just feels like a middle-of-the-road, middle class existence, airbrushed with a Christian gloss. Cossetted by worldly security, we – and I speak to myself as much as to anyone – masquerade as distinctive city-shapers while buying into the prevailing worldview and structures. We rationalise it as being essential to credibility and building bridges with our culture, as being in the world but not of it, and we deal with the tensions through (what was hilariously described in a meeting as) our ‘portfolio of social transformation initiatives’. But when did we become so boringly mainstream? When did our imaginations become so limited and our horizons so close?
As I crash into my mid-thirties and have no idea where to position myself any more, I wonder if it is possible to stay radical and hopeful without becoming an out-of-touch, eccentric hippy? For all my critique of the carefree nature of youth, I hanker after that simple faith that takes the word at its word and believes that it’s possible to walk on water if you’re called to step out of the boat. But in an effort to hold onto childlike simplicity, I have instead become like a toddler in a confusing grown-up world, having a tearful tantrum in response to emotions that are too complex to understand and articulate.
Welcome to my heart and mind, dear reader, floundering in mediocrity and tossed here and there through negligence, weakness and my own deliberate fault.
What is the upshot? Well, like I said, I have stopped going to stuff aimed at ‘young people’ and am having a self-protective mini break from the aspects of my community which stress me out. I don’t know if that’s right or not, but for now it’s all I can manage. On Sunday mornings, to stay connected, I get up super early and gather at church with a small eclectic group of people, most of them older than me, who appear to have learnt, through pain and joy, to live more maturely through the paradoxes. In this place I find respite from a noisy world that clamours for my attention and, in the silence, listen out for whispers of that still, small voice. In this place, I participate in a narrative that is bigger than me and my issues. In this place, beautifully-crafted liturgy reaffirms a true perspective and sends me out again in peace and newness of life.
And when that’s done, I meander over to a café to write, because writing my blog is cheaper than therapy and I’ve spent all my money on next week’s trip to China. Bring on the change of scene and the adventures that lie ahead.
Walking on, as ever.