Lesson of the Decade
Updated: Aug 10, 2021
I have been a teacher since 2005, but that doesn't mean I ever stopped being a student. My 40th birthday last month prompted me to inventory the major lessons the decades have taught and to think about what I have yet to learn.
AGE TEN: EFFORT > TALENT
At 10, I woke up to the exhilaration (and deadly seriousness) of youth sports. I quickly learned that natural talent is just the floor of the gym. I learned that if I wanted to improve, I would have to trust the coaches and to pay more attention to my mistakes than was comfortable for me. Most of all, if I wanted the ball, I would have to hustle to get it.
TWENTY: ADULTS ARE DEPENDENTS
At 20, I expected to feel mature. By now, my decisions would be so respectable that my grown-up status would be undeniable! Nope. Plan B: I figured out that I would never really be truly autonomous, and that's okay, as that is actually God's Plan A. He built us to depend on one another, and we should lean in to our interdependence. Independence is a false idol. And as my mom says, to ask someone for help is to give a great compliment. (She is a much complimented woman.)
THIRTY: CHESTERTON'S FENCE , or CONFESSIONS OF A MEGATEEN
At 30, at long last, I began to recover from the classic ailment of the megateen years ("megateen" = ages 20-29, dubbed thus by my astute son), i.e., the unacknowledged assumption that all established structures, institutions, and social conventions would benefit from my innovative, incisive, and wise suggestions.
FORTY: BOTH NECESSARY AND UNNECESSARY
The Christian life is one lived with death daily before one's eyes. The glory of God may be a person fully alive, but "alive" is an infinitely bigger reality than temporal survival. I have learned not to take survival for granted - 40 might very well not be the midpoint of the line segment that is my earthly life. In gratitude for the days I have been given, I must live as if I am necessary to my children, husband, friends, and community; I must fulfill the vocation I meet in them each day. In humility, however, I must believe myself to be ultimately unnecessary to God's work in the lives and hearts of all the people I love. The tension between these two points of view is strange and difficult to abide in, but I must acknowledge it and live it as I walk with Christ toward and past my death.
THE NOT YET
The way things work for students/disciples means that I can't really say what I have yet to learn. I do know that the hardest virtue for me to cultivate has been the theological virtue of hope. To truly trust in Jesus, to rest in His love, to place all my happiness in Him, to subordinate everything else to the desire to be in heaven with Him, to give Him the care of my beloved ones, to turn off my ship's computer and rely on the force of His faithful love.... I have no reasons standing in the way of all this, and yet, to paraphrase the famous line: Lord, I hope; help my un-hope. The spiritual imperative for my imagination, as it seems to me, is to move God out of the category of referee/umpire and into other categories - the coach, the parent in the stands, the teammate, the fan.
As a side note, I used to say that I would never dye my hair, and that I would go grey with pride. Oh, the hubris of youth! One never quite knows what one will do on the battlefield until the battle is joined.