Early last week I finally admitted to myself that I am having my own mini mid-life crisis. Not an “I’m going to run away or have an obscene amount of plastic surgery” mid-life crisis. But there is a subtle – yet mildly panicked – recognition that while I’m not old, I am not young either. And I never will be again. It’s a time of evaluating the past, and anticipating the future. Making the necessary adjustments based on the chosen, as well as the unexpected directions life has taken. Mourning what has ended and embracing what is yet to come. It explains the start of running, blogging, and defining my vocation. All reflections of trying to stay close to Jesus and navigate through this season in constructive and healthy ways.
During this time, I think what has surprised me the most is how much the signs of aging to my physical appearance bother me. I have never felt vain, or overly concerned about my appearance – at least not in my adult life. And yet when I look into the mirror these days, I feel a twinge of despair that my youthful glow is gone, random tiny wrinkles and faint age spots are appearing, and my hair is no longer silky and shiny. I suddenly find myself in a very vulnerable demographic to promoters of skin and hair care products.
I am not using my blog as a public forum to fish for compliments. If you know me personally – this is NOT a plea for you to comment on my appearance the next time I see you! I am talking openly about these thoughts because I think within church communities there is some pressure that spiritually mature, godly people should not be bothered by these things. Our outward appearance should not matter because “Man looks at the outward appearance, and God looks at the heart”. Well, I am realizing that the changes to my physical appearance matter to me very much, and I do not think I am the only forty-something struggling with these thoughts. We need to give each other permission that it is okay to be bothered by by the outward signs of aging because how we feel about the reflection staring back at us matters. And I think the challenges of every season of life are less burdensome when we realize that we are not alone.
During Easter week I read through Isaiah 53 each morning. I know what I am about to say is a bit of a stretch – because this passage primarily speaks to the physical torture and pain that Christ suffered during His crucifixion so that I could be saved and redeemed. But in addition to the enormity of that, there is also something that resonates in me with the emotional humiliation of his appearance. Naked. Exposed. Disfigured. And this Easter I found some comfort there. Because there is nothing unsettled or despairing in my heart that Christ does not understand. Nothing that he has not experienced. Nothing that is too small or insignificant or silly for me to talk to him about.
And as Christ so often does, he’s been replying to my concerns and questions through the faces and words and presence of my family and friends.
Last week I attended a memorial service of a close college friend’s father. I was there with mutual friends from college, and we all wept as Bill shared a beautiful tribute to his dad. He spoke so sincerely and so eloquently – with a crack in his voice, a quivering in his chin, and tears in his eyes. And as he stood transparently before everyone who came to honor his dad and support his family, I also noticed some faint gray patches of hair at his temples that I had not seen before. We are indeed getting older together.
My heart wrenched for him as he spoke. And the emotion came from a special place deep in my soul that seems to be reserved for those whom I have known and loved for what feels like my whole life. The people that shared the carefree joy of youth with me. The ones who have celebrated and grieved with me through the beginning and end of every season that has come and gone since I was a 19-year-old transfer student at Point Loma Nazarene College. I was filled with a profound sadness for Bill and his loss at the service, but I also experienced a deep sense of gratitude that I am getting old while sharing life with the friends who were there – as well as my husband and other beloved people not pictured in these photos. What a gift.
And when I look at the whole of my life, rather than just the recent inner struggles, I realize that I love being in my forties. I will always miss my youthful appearance, and I am glad to admit honestly that I am struggling a little bit with the reality of that. But it is also so good to remember that I certainly would not trade the depth of relationships that this much life allows me to treasure for a younger appearance.
When I am feeling discouraged about the aging reflection in the mirror, I need to look at their faces. What I have gained because of time, rather than what’s been lost. Hopefully we are all just barely halfway there. And the best is yet to come.
It matters. All of it matters very much.