3 Birthday Truths - On Being Thirty
I don’t know about you, but sometimes around my birthday, I can get all mixed up feeling-wise. And I’ve experienced this with other people too - we can start to have feelings we didn’t even know were there. Some people can have very negative feelings about their birthdays, whereas others (like me) have mostly good vibes! Neither is bad necessarily, feelings just are. But as with all feelings, I believe it is what we do with them that matters. So, today, on the beginning of this 30th birthday week of mine, I wanted to share a few truths I’m learning and trying to remember:
1. There is room for both grief and gratitude.
This is a truth I have only really learned in the last year or so. As an extroverted enneagram 7, I tend to be pretty optimistic and joyful on the regular, but I have days like anyone else where life just GETS to me. Sometimes I find myself grieving over not having a life partner to share my adventures with; or over certain losses in my life - friends, loved ones who have passed, skills, seasons of life -; or over big issues like mental health, homelessness, lost people, or just the general sin that exists in the fallen world we live in. And yes, there are even other times, that I can’t even identify why there is grief in my heart, but it’s just there. I bet you know that feeling too, especially after a year living with a pandemic. You see, I think as a human, this is all pretty normal.
The thing we all have to be honest about though is this: these feelings don’t take a vacation during one’s birthday - they are ALL still there and demand not to be ignored. So, instead of ignoring those feelings or acting like that we don’t feel them, let’s just grieve. I am learning (albeit, slowly) that this is healthy and normal. To grieve is okay and necessary. Sorrow is natural and part of how we live well in a fallen world. We bring our sorrows to God and He meets us there. So, as a believer, there is room for grief, even around your birthday.
But you know what else there is room for? Gratitude! Again for me, personality-wise, it can be easy to be ALL in whatever emotion I am feeling - good or bad. So, when I sense myself in desolation (a state of moving away from God, in the grief, aka “getting lost in it”) I’m learning to recognize that, observe what’s going on, and move through the feelings. One of the ways I move through feelings of grief is to intentionally practice rhythms of gratitude. I don’t want to make negative choices by leaning into excessive eating, drinking, or working; no, instead I want to practice consolation (or ways of moving toward God’s true presence). Some things that have helped me practice this way of gratitude are: listening to music/making playlists, writing down ways God has been faithful to me, recalling to friends verbally how God has shown up in my life, or writing cards to people in my life I’m thankful to God for.
I wonder, what are some ways you practice gratitude during your birthday?
2. Happiness can matter in the celebration, but it can’t be ultimate.
For a Christian, there is a key difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is a feeling that is evoked when good things are happening around you - the feeling you get when eating a yummy cheeseburger, blowing out birthday candles, or maybe receiving presents from a loved one on your special day. I like how author Meg Bucher describes it, “happiness is a reaction to something great. Joy is the product of Someone great.” Joy is rooted in who God is and it comes from the Spirit of God. There are a few things then that we can take away from understanding the difference between fleeting happiness and sustaining joy in Christ.
First, even if you don’t feel “happy” around your birthday, you can still choose JOY because Christ never changes, even though your feelings may. Second, don’t put an unhealthy expectation around making your birthday super HAPPY. Celebrate, sure, I believe that brings honor to God. But remember it is a day filled with curveballs, interactions tainted by sin, and your own imperfections all the same as the day before. I am learning it can be good to plan things for something like a birthday, but also too much expectation can hurt my own heart and my relationships. Instead, this year I am aiming to be truthful about my hopes for fun with my friends and family, while also holding the day with OPEN HANDS. I don’t want to be anxious for the day, I want to be anticipatory for how God will show up and bless me.
I wonder, what are the ways you intentionally choose JOY on your birthday?
3. Present over perfect is the best way to live.
This leads me to the last but very important truth I am learning in this season of my life. Being present where my two feet are today is MUCH better than fixating on the past (good or bad) or fantasizing constantly about the future (good or bad). I learned this phrase at camp many moons ago and it still anchors me to this day: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s SO true, even when it comes to birthday celebrations! Whether it’s about particular birthday activities or about the events of the past year, it doesn’t do me much good to focus too much on the past. And same for the future. I don't want to get so fixed on what could be for my actual birth-day or about the next year. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s bad to plan, dream, or hope. In fact, I think we should all question a bit if we don’t do some of that. But for some people (like me), it can be very easy to get so obsessed with the past or the future that the present becomes disgusting, discouraging, and disappointing. I don’t think that point of view honors God and what He is currently doing.
Instead, I am slowly learning to be where I am. I want to be fully WITH the people I am around in this season. I want to be ALL in on the job God has given me now. I want to use my gifts to the best of my ability NOW. I want to choose gratitude for the things I have in my life TODAY. And I hope the same is true for you!
I wonder, how do you practice being present over perfect?
At the end of the day, here’s what I know:
God is sovereign enough to hold ALL the feelings you and I have.
God is good enough to hold ALL of the things in your heart and in mine.
God is wise enough to know ALL of us and bless us, for His glory and our good.