By Karen Swank
Oh when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Ya – I’d always wanna be there
Those were the best days of my life
Byran Adams, Summer of ’69
What’s the best age you’ve ever been?
Getting older (at least, once you’ve surpassed your 21st birthday) is the subject of much dread and lament in American culture, isn’t it? Talking about “the good old days” is a time-honored tradition here, and many a young person struggling through a hard day has been told in condescending tones that you don’t know how good you have it, and when you get older, you’ll only wish life was so easy.
We run from aging in this society…some might even go so far as to say we worship youth. No one wants to be labeled “old.” Many dread birthdays and freak out over “the biggies” like 30, 40, etc… Some won’t tell their age, as if somehow assigning a number will change others’ perception of them. Others actually lie about their age, which makes one wonder how honestly they deal with the rest of the world on important things, if they will fudge on such a small and inconsequential matter. Some would give everything to go backward…they’d sing like Byran Adams, “if I had the choice, I’d always wanna be there.”
As for me, though (and I’ll confess that I only have 42 years of experience in this aging thing), it continues to be true as it has throughout my life that the best age I’ve ever been is the age I am today. I wouldn’t go backward for all the money in the world.
It’s not that I’ve known no happiness in the years behind. I have favorite things from every age…
My passion for my horses when I was a kid was all-consuming. Revisiting that place in my mind that being horseback took me is deeply sweet and comforting.
My twenties were the years of having little kids. Little kids are FUN! I can remember holding precious moments with them so tightly, sure that the teen years could never hope to compare with the joy these tender young ages.
My thirties were the beginning of real self-discovery, and the glorious exploding of my small ideas about God. Knowing my kids as teens was even more fun than holding them as babies.
Do I sound like Pollyanna? Let’s keep the record straight here…
As a little kid, I was lonely and hid in my books, too socially awkward to ever feel like part of any crowd.
I gave my teen years to boyfriends who didn’t treat me with love or respect. My continuous pursuit of more time with them caused me to lie so much to my parents that I still am not sure of the truth of some parts of that phase of my life. Suicide came close to seducing me on more than one occasion.
In my twenties, I wrestled with demons of depression…at least when I wasn’t busy cozying up to them. I struggled with an utter lack of self-identity, searching for meaning in many empty places.
That “glorious exploding” of my ideas about God began with a complete and utter crushing of my self in my early thirties. There were about 3 years in there in the midst of my divorce when desperate tears and certainty that I couldn’t do one more day were my daily companions.
Somewhere around 35 I hit a new and totally different place in my life, a place I don’t suppose I would have found without all the necessary breaking in the years leading up to it, and I’ve been growing and reveling in it ever since. In this place…
…I have come free from the lie I believed so long, that insisted I was a “loner.” I enjoy people.
…I like me. That’s huge. And new.
…I am not defined by my intellect, nor by my worth in someone else’s eyes. Who I am, what I am worth…it’s all formed and measured by Christ, and it’s so much bigger and more beautiful than I had ever imagined. I have an identity, and it is good!
…Perfectionism has lost its icy grip on me. I can be transparent about who I am, where I’ve been, and the huge multitude of mistakes I have made…all without fear. Having screwed up is not a reason to hide or hang my head in shame, when I can see the treasures that God in His infinite mercy has pulled out of every single mistake I’ve made.
…I know love, more and more deeply as time passes. I no longer confuse love with need, or with romance, or with silly selfish emotion. I know it’s the hardest and the best thing we do, and it looks pretty much nothing like what is presented to us in modern pop culture. I know that the deepest wells of love are the places where we let God love through us, and I know the joy in that…a thing so immense it threatens to crush one completely and perfectly. I know that real love is always worth everything it costs, and the impostors that call themselves love are not worth a moment’s notice.
…I am learning acceptance, which is the ability to understand and deal with life and people as they are, not as I wish they would be.
…I am learning ways to stop causing myself and others pain.
…I know purpose. I have purpose. I live on purpose.
…I am happier than I’ve ever been.
Lest you think my life just got easier and it made me happy, rest assured: these last seven years of my life have contained immensely painful portions. No area of my life has been untouched. From finances to friendships to family to faith…I have known crises, need, guilt, dysfunction, and grief. I have made serious mistakes. This is not a tale told by someone who finally hit “easy street” and got everything right at last.
It’s a song sung by someone who found the “secret place” with her Lord, and in so doing, discovered everything that really matters. Dwelling in this place, how can I not look forward to 45…50…even 60?
If you haven’t met Him there yet, may this be the year you get there.
Oh praise the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.
Karen is from Aledo, IL. She went to Monmouth College and studied Latin and English. She is a biological mom of two children and surrogate mom/friend/advocate for a whole host of children. She would like to meet every wounded soul that I’ve she’s ever known… as a child, before the “damage was done” so she could tell them how much they are loved.