By Marlene LeFever and Karen Mains
“I want to sit beside the old lady!” a first grader in Marlene LeFever’s junior church announced. “Then she pushed all the other children out of the way and plopped down next to me!” said Marlene.
“In her six-year-old eyes, all those birthdays I’ve had made me ancient indeed,” Marlene observed. “Yet to me, all those birthdays have provided opportunities to enlarge my vision and work at becoming more Christlike.”
We both turned fifty last year. We have learned from experience that another year in age doesn’t always equal another year of growth. Here are some of the questions we asked ourselves to guarantee that, after all the “Happy Birthdays” have been sung, the maturing process and the delight of being Christian adults will continue.
1. Is my relationship with God healthy?
We challenge all Christians to periodically return to their spiritual birthdays. Remember how you felt when you realized that the God of the solar system loved you? Remember the tears that stung your eyes the first time you heard the “Hallelujah Chorus” or “How Great Thou Art"? Recall the feelings you experienced when, for the first time, prayer and the Holy Spirit helped you overcome temptation.
The spiritually maturing still thrill at the basics of their faith. They are still filled with awe and gratitude at the incredible, undeserved privilege of being God’s child. Is it time to ask God to restore the joy of your salvation (Ps. 51:12)?
2. Are my relationships with others characterized by growth?
Check your relationships with both Christians and unbelievers. “I looked at my life several years ago,” Marlene said, “and realized how tied I was to the Christian world. I had Christian friends, a job with a Christian company, and I tithed my time to Christian organizations. Christ was depending on me to salt the world, yet my life could have been labeled ‘sodium free'. That year my birthday adjustment for God meant joining a secular group that provides housing for abused women and children.”
Birthday-check your Christian friendships, too – the friendships that allow for, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “naked personalities.” A new year is the perfect time to ask:
- Do I have a trustworthy Christian friend with whom I can share my struggles?
- Do I have a Christian friend I’m losing because I haven’t taken the time to nourish our relationship?
- If you have no deep friendships, ask yourself what you can do to develop them.
3. Am I allowing my own brain police to limit my creativity?
Too often, we tell ourselves that we simply can’t do something new or different. And, sure enough, we set in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy. The older we get, the more difficult it is to be a novice again. We want to be good at what we do. It’s hard to climb out of the comfortable hole we’ve been improving for years to dig a brand new one. We want the walls of the new hole to be as straight and deep as the familiar hole. That’s not unrealistic. Unless we are willing to dig at least one new hole a year, we are limiting our creativity, and in the process, limiting our future.
4. Is Christ challenging me to radical, rather than simply incremental, change?
Have you seen the road warning, “Choose your rut carefully. You’ll be in it for the next ten miles”? Some people have been in ruts for twenty, thirty, or even forty years. Birthdays give us opportunities to examine the things we have always done. Some of them are good and should be continued. But some are simply habits or ruts we stay in because it’s work to evaluate them and raise the possibility of a change.
Examine your job and ask if this is the way you want to spend the next five years of your life. Or ask, “Am I still excited about being a youth sponsor, or am I now ready to get involved in a hospice ministry?”
Challenge your conventional wisdom about the way you’ve always done things. Ask yourself, “What ‘impossible’ thing could I do, with the Holy Spirit’s help, that would revolutionize my Kingdom contribution?”
5. Are my barns too big?
Is it possible that our love for Christ, and for the poor over whom He was so concerned, will be judged by the accumulation in our attics, basements, garages, and closets? “My rule,” said Marlene, “is that if I haven’t worn it in a year, I give it away.”
“For a time in my life,” Karen said, “I went on a shopping fast. That included grocery shopping. I made a list, went once a week, and that was it. I was finding it too easy to dash off for milk and come back with a bag full of things that I could have done without. That fast saved money, and, more importantly, I saved time for the quality tasks God had called me to.”
6. How can I simplify the physical tasks in my life so I have time to do what is genuinely important?
Karen simplified by evaluating just how much a mother can do for her children before it becomes counterproductive for her and them. “As a young mother, I was constantly chauffeuring children hither and yon,” she said. "I finally had to ask myself if they really needed to participate in three different sports practices a day. We decided to limit our activity so we could most effectively use our God-given energy.”
This birthday, stop your perpetual motion and ask yourself what really needs to be done. Cut back on the tasks you do because of unrealistic expectations or because they’re urgent rather than ultimately important.
7. Who do I want to be ten years from now?
Too many of us let birthday after birthday go by, more concerned with maintaining than becoming. We just want to get through today. We have no long-term objectives, or we do nothing that will help us meet our objectives. What happens in this new year will determine in part who we will be ten years from now. Complete the “On Your Own” in the box and start planning how to make your goals come true.
8. Do I act my age and enjoy my age?
In some ways, we’re all like trees. The older we get, the more rings of experience we have and the more meaning those experiences can bring to our lives. Our trunks grow stronger and can better withstand the pain that will come as we mature.
We come to terms with the myths we believed as youths and replace them with the realities of life. “I know now, for example,” said Karen, “that I will touch a few lives in a significant way. But I will not change the course of history.”
Each life stage has its own joys. The maturing Christian finds the uniqueness of each of life’s passages. “In my twenties,” Marlene said, “I could work on a drama for church until midnight or later, night after night, and still be fresh at work the next day. There is no way I can do that now. But the tradeoff is that today I have the maturity to mentor younger people, who bring their energy to the church program. I can encourage, help finance, and share the wisdom of my experience with them. I didn’t lose my edge by aging; my slant simply changed.”
Happy Birthday! Enjoy the presents. Sing along with the special birthday song. Accept the wrinkles that didn’t show last year and the gray hair that has appeared – prematurely, of course! But most of all, celebrate what the Lord has done in your life and what He wants to do in the future.
On Your Own Take This Decade Exercise:
- In ten years I will be _____years old.
- By then, I would like the following adjectives to describe my relationship with God:
- However, if I make no changes in my current patterns, my relationship will be more honestly described by the following adjectives:
- An area of intellectual interest (for example, biblical archeology or Spanish) that I have never taken the time to explore, but would like to, is:
- I could develop this interest in the next few years if I:
- An area of ministry that I have never taken the time to explore, but would like to is:
- I could develop this interest in the next few years if I:
- Finish this sentence: In ten years, when my best friends describe why they like me, I would like them to say: