Turning 40 is one of those milestones that sneaks up on you. It seems like only yesterday that I was causing trouble at youth events and my twenties were still ahead of me, and it’s hard to believe that this was decades ago.
There were a few things I noticed leading up to the day itself. One was the way in which we’re encouraged to see anniversaries like 40 or 30 as a time to take stock of what we have achieved so far in life. Even if we don’t see any real difference between 39 or 41 or 40, the people around us won’t let us forget that it’s meant to be significant!
Another was the tendency of people to ask whether I was feeling old now that I was approaching my 40th. The truth is—and I don’t think I am alone in this—I don’t really think of myself as being old. In my mind I am still in my twenties, and the occasional reminder of my age can come as a surprise.
It’s made me reflect about what it actually means to be getting older. Is it a physical thing, the touches of grey, or the fact that our bodies aren’t capable of the same things or take longer to heal or bounce back from being sick?
Is it a mental thing? We’d hope that getting older makes us wiser, or gives us a better sense of perspective on the world around us. And from a young age we are told how important it is to grow up, to stop being childish.
But we can be so focused on growing up that we lose our sense of fun and stop enjoying life as much as we once did. We can start to believe that it is more important to act in a mature fashion than do things that bring us pleasure.
This mindset is reflected in the way in which we use the term childish as a negative or tell people to act their age. It’s a shame, because while we can’t control the physical effects of aging that we complain about, we don’t have to become old at heart if we don’t want to.
When Jesus was preaching, people around him tried to stop children from bothering him. Instead of agreeing that what he was saying was beyond the children, Jesus held them up as an example to emulate, saying that his followers should instead try to be more like them.
People often read that as meaning we should have a simplistic faith, or not question things. But, to me, it means we should try to continue to see the world through young eyes—that we should be open to new experiences and knowledge.
It means we shouldn’t let being worried about how we appear to others stop us from having joy in life, or being so scared of looking stupid that we aren’t willing to be honest about what we don’t know.
If we can do that then getting older doesn’t have to be scary, and even if our bodies show the signs of age we can stay young where it counts—in our hearts.