I recently turned forty and friends and family poured in their wishes in the most creative ways possible. Many took the opportunity to playfully remind me of this milestone with wishes like “Midlife it is!”, “Not so young anymore”, “Welcome to the 40s club” and so on. Well, in the words of the Psalmist, it is midlife indeed: “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures ….” (Psalm 90:10)
What a great moment to pause and look back, to reflect and look forward!
Transitioning out of the teen years to being a (responsible) adult, a graduate and post-graduate student, fiancé, wife, mother, friend, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, migrant to developed cities for opportunities, an intern, an employee, a manager, head of function, a colleague, team member, boss, professional, cook, cleaner, driver, counsellor, prayer partner, teacher, and ultimately, “ME”, has been interesting! It’s a mystery where dormant skills suddenly emerge to help cope with the ever-changing, ever-increasing demands of life.
Being a woman, each day, I play at least twenty of these roles in varying proportions. So as I turn 40 and try to identify myself, I could probably paint an inflated picture of myself. Yet, I end up noticing that my house has to be cleaner, my kids have to be better groomed, I ought to remember the homework schedules better, I should show up for the meeting at office earlier, I should speak more words of encouragement…another endless list. So instead of being proud at my ability to play multiple dynamic roles, I'm humbled that not one of them is perfect in my own strength.
My life lessons as I pause and reflect has been as follows:
Tuning in to God’s word, to desire to know Him more, hear from Him, and walk with Him. At my local church, we have the privilege of volunteers taking care of the children, while the parents have a dedicated time of worship. It was particularly noisy during church hours on a recent cold December Sunday with energetic tiny tots running around, dropping spoons, fighting with siblings, crying for food, playing with toys and enjoying their world. Lost in noticing these details, I missed some parts of the sermon and had to continuously bring myself back to focus on the preacher and the sermon. When I was mindful, I could hear the sermon well despite all the chatter around me. All of life has been quite similar to that Sunday experience - of being consumed by the overwhelming and then refocusing with a constant reminder and mindfulness to tune in to hear God’s directions.
Life has no doubt taught me lessons. But more importantly, it has been critical to unlearn as well. To let go of the past, to move on from what God has not meant for me, to embrace the current and adapt and change. I have learnt the importance of freeing up emotional space by forgiving the past, accepting shortcomings, acknowledging that the mortal me will never have answers to all of life’s questions, and that God is in control of my life’s past, present, and future. I have also learnt to respect different approaches to the same situations – to not blindly follow a role model or a childhood hero, but allow God to build the unique me that He intends.
FOMO vs. JOMO
Born in the late nineteen seventies, mine is a generation that has lived in two different centuries, two different millennia, five different decades, and is not even fifty yet. While technology has fast tracked the way the world works, there is continuous pressure to stay connected, be online, respond to emails, chat messages, comment on posts, brand one’s life story, like pictures, and just be present everywhere all at once, all the time. Yet I have learnt to transition from a Fear of Missing Out to embracing the Joy of Missing Out which has brought a sense of relief. I have learnt to enjoy the comforts of my own simple life, being fully present with my family and not monitoring someone else’s. I love the joy of missing out on all the miscellaneous and it helps put quality back in my own 24 hours.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 states: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Seasons in life have helped me focus on the role that is most critical in that phase and adjust my priorities accordingly. This is a continuous calibration exercise to assess the life stage I am at and moderate my expectations, stretch as needed, rest adequately, expand my horizons, and accept new challenges. It has helped to also accept that there will always be things that are less than perfect, tasks unattended in the checklist, and that’s okay. Prioritising helps me focus on my needs and the needs of all those whose lives are interwoven with mine.
Living with Gratitude
There are reasons to be thankful and there are reasons to be resentful. It is a continuous choice to view the glass as either half full or half empty. I have now learnt to seek out and consciously find reasons to be grateful for, find reasons to appreciate someone, find reasons to pay a compliment. I could either grouch about how life’s unfair to me, or make a choice to live in gratitude. The list is endless when I begin noticing the blessings that I take for granted.
Yet none of these are possible without the grace of God and His strength and providence. Looking at my life from an eternal perspective, my one prayer would be in the words of the Psalmist: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)