When I turned 40, I had a lot of people coming up to me to tell me that they were surprised. I didn’t look like I was 40, more like early 30’s. Well, that was kind of them. I told them that it probably helped that I didn’t act 40 either. Of course, I’m not really sure what it means to “act 40.”
I’ve never been accused of having a baby face, but I guess I’ve done okay in hiding my age. Honestly, I’m really not sure how it’s happened. I have friends who have been gray for years. I ran into some family friends from my childhood and the mother of the family claimed that when she met her husband, he was already gray.
While I might not look 40 on the outside, I feel about 60 or older on the inside. The last few years have really taken their toll on me. The retirement of my parents. The move of my parents. The cancer diagnosis of my mom. The cancer treatment of my mom. My dad’s depression. My mom’s death. My expanding family. My seminary education. My church split. My dad’s death. My ordination exams. All of these things have helped to add a little bit of health issues to my ever expanding plate.
Whenever you hit a time like this in your life, it seems that everyone has a piece of advice for you. As well meaning as they are, it’s really hard to fully understand where someone is unless you’ve been walking in their shoes and looking through their eyes. I think Christians are the worst at this. They do it in awkward times of life, doling out advice when the simple gift of presence would suffice.
During this time, I read books that had come to me either through the recommendations of friends or through seminary classes. Cordeiro’s “Leading On Empty.” Scazzerro’s books on emotional health. Jerry Sittser’s “A Grace Disguised.” The list could go on and on. And for all of the books that I can list, there’s probably at least a dozen more that someone else would recommend.
My wife studied counseling in undergraduate and in seminary. We talk often about counseling practices. She’s a great resource for me, not only for helping others, but for helping myself. One thing that has constantly come up in our conversations over the last two years is what is controllable in life. Too often, we encounter things in life that are completely out of our control. Yes, I believe in a sovereign God and his willingness to hear my prayers, but I also believe in a fallen and broken world that is marred by sin until its redemption one day. That’s not to say that things are out of God’s control, it’s just stating the facts that our world is broken and every day we see the impact and effects of that in our lives or the lives of those around us.
More often than not, I have come to the conclusion that most of what I have dealt with in the last few years is out of my control. I can’t suddenly take control of the universe and make things happen in a way that is more acceptable and comfortable to me. I can only control a limited number of things around me, but more importantly, I can control the way that I react to the situations in which I find myself.
That’s so much easier said than done. I think I’ve always struggled with control. None of us wants to relinquish control and the thought of relinquishing it to a God who sometimes feels further away than other times can be just downright uncomfortable. The Book of Job is always a comfort at times like this. God was very gracious to Job in allowing him to ask questions, but then he counteracted all of his venting. His question to Job still haunts me, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?”
It’s easy to come up with excuses as to why we want to control the uncontrollable and why we neglect those things which are more easily controlled. I’ve done it. I do it. Breaking out of this doesn’t get easier, or at least it doesn’t seem to. Just like has been said about grief, you just learn to cope with it more easily every day.
Yeah, I might not look 40, but I feel about 60 or older. My body aches. My heart hurts (figuratively). I feel as if the past 2 years have aged me in dog years, or even in decades. But there’s nothing that I can do about what’s in the past. I can only control how I approach the future. So, what will it be? There’s no better one to be in control than the One who created everything to begin with. I don’t say that as a defeatist, but as one who understands his own aversion towards relinquishing control. Maybe it’ll get a little easier, but I can tell you, continuing to struggle can only successfully create additional frustration and feel more like I’m trying to push a mountain with my hands. That’ll make any 40 year old feel like they’re 60.