When I was young (like, elementary school young), being in my thirties sound so old. Practically middle aged. Only parents are in their thirties. Being in your thirties means you're really an ADULT. An old fuddy-duddy. Until a certain point, in your late teens maybe, when "your thirties" take on a sort of futuristic glamour. In my thirties, I'll be settled, secure, stylish, confident. All the magazines say so. Oh, and rich. Definitely rich. The teenage years are for angst; your twenties for exploring and self-expression. But the thirties... by then, you'll have everything figured out. Right?
Reality check: I turned 30 six months ago. And I keep asking myself: have I hit those magical "thirties" yet? I think if I have to ask, then the answer is probably no. I still question pretty much every decision, from what I eat for breakfast to what clothes I wear and how I parent my children or communicate with my spouse. I'm still not quite sure what my personal style is, or even if I've decided what my favorite color is. Today. Because, it could all change tomorrow or next week. I do recognize in personality a bit of a romantic penchant for reinventing myself, and I'll just chalk up to my artistic soul, but it certainly doesn't help when I decide I'm old enough to really figure out who I am.
But the more I ask myself these questions and look for where I'm fitting into that "perfect 30" mold, these less confident I feel in how far I've come. Because, in 30 years, I'm bound to have figured out something.... right? HA If I have to ask, the answer is probably no. I still have many of the same flaws I've struggled with since youth; I still have a hard time saying 'no' (I'm a chronic people-pleaser); I struggle with focus and clarity in decision-making; and I'm always better at starting a project than finishing it. Am I confident in what these traits make me as a person? Nope. And I don't think I should be. I think life is about striving for better. Not necessarily more (the flaw of the American dream), just better. Because that is what God calls us to be.
"For it is written: be holy, because I am holy." 1 Peter 1:16
Sounds like it gets a lot harder, rather than easier. Like running a marathon, rather than a race. And there's a lot more humility before the finish line than there is confidence. So, the magazines were wrong. I know my flaws better now than I did when was 20, though I'm not quite sure that makes me any more secure or successful as a person. So are we really surprised that Cosmo got it wrong (again)? Not really. A magazine will never give you a standard higher than self. If anything, I've lost more of my "self" than I've gained in the last few years and that's truly a positive. As we die to self, leaving behind the trappings of the world we were born into, we become more alive in Christ (1 Timothy 4:7, Galatians 3:27).
It's still so easy to get caught up in that dream self-image -- the sexy, confident, beautiful reflection we long to see. But it's also easy to get bogged down in the failures. The ways we don't live up or our dreams don't pan out. Our calling is beyond both of these. Learning and growing in Christ, not just in the ways of personal style, or parenting expertise, or artistic mastery. All of those things are well and good, but a full life will never be found solely in them. Falling out of love with self, and in love with Him is our life's purpose. And it's hard. It probably will continue to feel like I'm struggling with my sense of self and decision-making. I will probably still be wondering 10 years from now (in the dreaded "fourties") if I've finally found my place. But I'm pretty sure all that questioning, struggling, and striving just means I'm doing it right. Losing the battle of self means relying on the Lord for answers. Trusting in His providence above all else. And that's thriving.