For many people who have not arrived yet, “forty years old” is a phrase with almost no “juice” to it. It sounds like that great, somewhat boring, arid territory between 36 and retirement, when all you do is work, maybe raise children, and hopefully don’t get divorced, since you don’t want to find someone new at that age. (At least I have heard such things and more). For many who have arrived, fortysomething feels like broken dreams and broken promises piled up, a time of lost friends and difficulties with making new ones. (That can happen).
For others, the forties are a time of freedom (finally!), a time of new confidence to be one’s true self and a time to build something great on the foundation laid and the wisdom gained. If you are building a church (like we are!), the fortysomethings (and older) are often golden. They contain crucial gravity — deep and magnetic; they hold us together. When they offer themselves and often their leadership, they make a movement possible. Of course, if they sink into self-centeredness and merely survive, they are kind of a lead weight. (That happens too).
When I was 41, I moved to Philadelphia to put everything I had gained in service to the inspiration God gave me, and Circle of Hope was generated. I don’t regret a minute. The forties were great! Now I am watching a whole new collection of fortysomethings finding themselves as “elders” in our ever-young church. And many of them are inspired, just as I was.
I asked a random collection of Circle of Hope fortysomethings to give me some of their personal thoughts on this question: What is the best thing about being a Christian in my forties? Maybe you’d like to add your own response in the comments section below (I did not ask everyone I could have asked to share, so please add some more). I’ve organized their thoughts in some categories about what the forties are like for everyone, and for Jesus followers, in particular.
A decade for reckoning
The 40’s is a time of reckoning with life as it really is, in all its beauty and difficulty. The idealized dreams and expectations of the 20’s and 30’s are tempered by responsibility. We learn to bear the necessary losses.
The responses from my friends are in italics
The best thing about being a Christian…is the intimacy with Jesus! Once God began healing what feels like ancient wounds, then came the arrival of my innocence and ability to rest with Jesus and the Father as well as listen for the many ways they might communicate. The mystery and creativity are exciting and the journey is never-ending.
Faith in my forties has lead to a re-examination of the “rules” of believing and a greater dependence on grace. At this point many disappointments have occurred (many joys too) and questions have come up that can’t be answered (at least not in the way I want them to be). Grace is the only thing I can rely on. Legalism doesn’t work…and everyone tries to make it work, left, right and center. That grace I depend on for myself translates into trying to be more generous and less judgmental than I used to be when everything was black and white.
I also have a community of believers made up of people I probably would not be this close to otherwise…and it’s been great to shut up and listen to what they have to say.
A decade for settling into your true self
The 40’s can be a time of feeling settled about who you are and who you are not. We often have more confidence in the gifts and abilities we have. We are probably ready for contemplative prayer at a deeper level than we have been and it allows for a deeper sense of being beloved and being able to discern the spirits.
I’ve transitioned from worrying about fixing myself (to be the right kind of Christian) to doing the best I can with what I’ve been given–it’s helped me immensely in thinking about giftedness and what my gifts really are rather than chasing the gifts that I think I’m supposed to have or that others want me to have. This means that I’m much more able to say “no” to things than I used to be able to while at the same time saying “yes” to those things that fit my skills–and I can do that with very little guilt or angst or worry that I’m disappointing others (even if they are disappointed) or God. The 40s have also brought for me a new sense of peace with my own struggles, my thorns of the flesh, and a recognition that they likely are with me for life even as I struggle. I’m surprised at how this recognition has brought me grace and freedom.
A decade for honest reassessment
While there’s a sense of growing confidence, the 40’s can usher in a new crisis moment too: a time of reassessment and perhaps a mid-course correction. We have often learned to ask the right questions and live into them without needing all the answers.
In my forties, I’ve found that having my faith is like seeing the trail markers along a hiking path; I know that the path is marked, the paint lines are there even when they are somewhat obscured by wear, distance or confusing maps. I trust that the guideposts are there leading me through thick forests and up onto glorious vistas. I face many uncertainties, so many losses and changes but I find peace knowing that I will find the white mark on the tree — God is with me.
My life prior to 40 was a roller-coaster ride of education, marriage, career, parenting, moving, charitable work, and continuously trying to be the best person I could be. Life was always changing and required my full attention. But as 40 approached I realized I was completely, spiritually, physically, and mentally exhausted. I stepped back and it occurred to me that I no longer liked myself.
Fortunately, my husband and children are supportive, loving, and understanding and supportive souls who were patient with my crankiness. They let me rest when I needed rest. I exercised, picked up indulgent hobbies, and took time to be alone. But most importantly, I’ve stopped listening to the voices in my head that told me I was doing the wrong thing, or the bad thing, or the ‘socially inappropriate’ or ‘selfish’ thing.
It’s taken some time, but I’m turning 45 next year and I no longer care whether others approve of my clothing or my life choices. I know that my ‘chosen family’ is my husband, my sons, and my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I love you all deeply. Finally, I firmly believe that I am a beautiful and wonderful person known and loved by God, and from the center of that grace and peace, it’s much easier to consider all the rest of life’s stuff as JOY.
My immediate thoughts:
- experience (good and bad)
- sense of time and place
- sense of purpose / place in the world / mission / needs
- deep, long term relationships, local and long distance
- spiritual sense of scripture, not academic
- so much sin, so much forgiveness
“A man can accomplish anything when he realizes he is a part of something bigger – a team of people who share that conviction can change the world.”
A decade for contribution and opportunity
While the 40’s can be a time of difficult reassessment and crisis, the encouraging note is that they can be a time of hitting your “sweet spot.” You’ve had enough experience to develop your talents and abilities, and have lived enough life to offer wisdom to others. We often awaken to surprising newness that feels like we are following God, maybe for the first time.
Maybe you can have an actual sense of vocation when you’re 40, not before, not realistically. More than aspiration, more than aptitude test printouts, not some perceived potential to measure up to. Not something that just “worked out.” Instead: you have an actual track record (if you showed up along the way) skills (if you ventured out into difficulty at all) probably those skills are developed and useful for achieving the purposes of self and loved ones. If you survived to 40 and are reading Rods blog, you probably have loved ones. You might know your own limitations too, for self and loved ones, since you’ve had a long time to try hard at whatever. Probably by now you’re in a particular place and not looking for somewhere to go — so you can know yourself by being known over time. Probably by 40 you’ve needed real saving from some crisis or another. Salvation is known and made real in the emotional work of acceptance, that’s a 40s state of mind right there. Good to show up to a cell as a somebody knowing a little something, with a living gospel story not just a curious conversationalist. If you are paying attention you might even knowingly and joyfully exercise all this as opportunities present. All this makes 40somethings who’ve maintained faith over years really valuable to the community here. Hope we can get vocationed.
May you get to the ripe old age of forty in faith! It is not that easy. If you have lost your faith, then these people probably encourage you to look deeper and farther than the losses and heart-hardening influences that have taken you another direction. We are forming a community that has enough gravity to be sustainable in the harsh spiritual environment the world is creating right now. Maybe you should be a part. If you are in your teens, twenties or thirties, maybe you should get ready for what you will face on the journey ahead. As you can see, it can be full of real faith…and beautiful.