The Freedom of My 50s
I’ve just celebrated a milestone birthday—my 50th. As I survey the landscape, it’s looking like pretty fertile ground for gratitude. There are some hard-won interior victories that have allowed me to see progress in areas of my life where old patterns remained for far too long. I lost years of joy by allowing other people’s opinions of me to dictate my sense of self-worth. My mood and self-esteem would fluctuate according to how this or that person saw me and treated me. It was a seesaw life emotionally. But after some deep soul work, I have been tasting freedom in this area. I’ve been better able to live for an audience of One, getting a little closer to being able to say along with St. Thomas More, “I do not care very much what men say of me, provided that God approves of me.”
Some of my favorite things about starting this new decade:
- Freedom to rest in imperfection
- Freedom from people-pleasing
- Deeper awareness of what matters and what doesn’t
- A new level of spiritual intimacy and abandonment
- The joy of seeing adult children launch into life yet come back home
- Friendships that stand the test of time
- Family ties that anchor and hold me
- A husband who sees me and gives me a safe place to just be
A friend of mine read my list, and asked me to help her brainstorm a list for her. She, too, was celebrating a milestone birthday, but said that, while she wished she could just take my list and run with it, her story was unique. There are challenges she is facing that are different than mine. I suggested the following, with hopes that she’d use the list as a springboard to personalize it, tweak it, and come up with her own ideas:
- Simply being here. Being alive at this age is a privilege that many people do not get.
- Knowing I have far more wisdom today than I did in my 20s.
- It is what it is. By this I mean that things are not likely to drastically change, which gives me the opportunity to ponder the question, “What if this were enough?”
- After spending years measuring my worth in all sorts of ways, I now see that at the end of my life God will look at how I have loved. That’s it. How I loved Him, and how I loved Him in others. This means that every hard place where I am asked to love sacrificially is a defining moment for me.
- The freedom of choice to practice daily gratitude. What if I only had tomorrow what I had thanked God for today?
- The gift of finishing well and not shrinking back in my service to my aging parents.
- Having learned the lesson that life can change in an instant, I should never miss an opportunity to say, “I love you,” “I’m proud of you,” and “I’m grateful for you.”
- Having learned the gift of silence, I no longer feel the need to fill every awkward space with chatter.
- A greater awareness of places I need to surrender control to God.
Getting older brings all sorts of things we don’t want (failing eyesight, colonoscopies, and overall sagging, to name a few), but there are a number of things that are undeniably better if we have been good students of life. Suffering can make us more mature or more bitter; it’s up to us which we become. Gratitude factors in here in a big way. The perspective we choose is critical. If we are continuously on the lookout for disappointments, failed dreams, inadequacies, and times that people and life have let us down, we’ll find ample examples. Focusing on them will feed the heaviness. But if we will do the work of finding the good in our current set of circumstances, if we thank God continually for those things, we’ll start to notice all sorts of other small and surprising blessings.
How about you? Can you make a list of your favorite things (lessons learned, victories achieved) as you head into this new decade? May gratitude serve as a catalyst for happiness in 2020 and beyond for each one of us.