At the end of this month, I will turn 40 years old. It feels like such a cliché to be troubled by one’s 40th birthday. I’ve been surprised by the grief and angst that has come with this milestone. Perhaps it’s emblematic of our culture’s slowness to grow up, but in my mind, 40 marks the end of young adulthood. I’m finally supposed to be an adult, ready to face the grown-up challenges of our world.
I thought I’d be ready to embrace adulthood (and let’s face it, I have matured since graduating from college and from grad school). But the end of young adulthood feels like a loss. I suspect it has to do with the resources and opportunities afforded to me in my youth that I envision closing as I age. I’ll graduate from the Young Women’s Clergy Project. I’ve taken advantage of a ton of resources open to “young, first call pastors.” But with my forehead wrinkles and multiplying gray hairs, I no longer qualify for these opportunities.
Underneath the grief is a fear: a fear that as I age, I will be afforded less and less opportunities to speak, less and less opportunities to learn and grow, less and less opportunities for life-giving community. Will my denomination still care about what I think even though I’m no longer young? I don’t think my fears are totally unfounded, though age discrimination is usually directed against people much older than 40.
Still, what I’m left with is a question: Did I waste my young adulthood? Did I leverage the opportunities afforded to me in my youth so that I continue to have influence and voice as I age? It strikes me as a bit pathetic that I fear this as I enter my 40s, but it is indicative to me of our culture’s obsession with youthfulness and our societal fear of aging.
I also wonder what the next season of adulthood will be like. What will it be like to be in the middle of my career, living out, over and over again, the everyday routines of work and, in my case, parenting? What will it be like to get progressive lenses? What will my community be like? What new people will I meet who will shape and form who I’m becoming? Will age bring wisdom as is proverbially promised?
My hope in all this is that despite the grief and angst, I will embrace my age, whatever that age is. That I will remain hopeful and positive about what lies ahead, no matter what lies ahead. That I will indeed mature as I age and grow ever more comfortable in my own skin. That I will bless others and serve the community well, no matter how old I am. So, this is 40? Bring it on.
RACHEL YOUNG is the associate pastor of spiritual formation at Clear Lake Presbyterian Church, in Houston, Texas. She is married to Josh, who also serves on staff at Clear Lake Presbyterian as the director of contemporary worship and media.