On Turning Thirty (The Joke’s On Me)

I haven’t been taking the approach of my 30th birthday very well. We had grand plans for celebrating my birthday, but those plans got nixed. So in its stead, I’ve been trying to go for something low-key. I’ve been trying to tell myself “it’s just another birthday” and trying to convince everyone else to treat it as such, but I don’t know how successful I am. The last thing I want is all my friends giving me lame gag gifts of canes, bifocals, and such (though I must pay tribute to Jeremy Myers’ brilliant gift of System 360 Instruction Manuals. Very clever, Jeremy!) I don’t usually mind being the butt of jokes, but this one somehow seems to be hitting way too close. Maybe its because after the last couple of evening runs I’ve been feeling my age. People say “Thirty is only a state of mind”, but it’s also a state of aching knees, ankles, and back

I’m not sure why I’m so bothered about turning thirty. Most people moan about “oh, I didn’t get to do blah, blah, blah, or I never blah, blah, blah-ed”, but that’s not it. My twenties were pretty action-packed and were about as low and as high as I would care for them to be. I travelled all sorts of places, met all sorts of people, seen all sorts of things, and experienced all sorts of feelings. I’ve known what it’s like to be alone and I’ve known what it’s like to be the center of attention. I’ve won and I’ve lost. Sorrow, jubliation, anger, anxiety, surprise, and contentment. I’ve known all of these feelings. So, I’ve got no complaints. I’ve experienced about all of the twenties that I have needed to.

So if it’s not that, what is it? Maybe it’s the fear of the unknown. When I was a young child, I was absolutely terrified of growing old, fearful that my youth had been wasted and there was nothing left to look forward to. Well, when I was young, thirty seemed pretty old. Well, now there’s still some youth left and lots to look forward to, but I didn’t know that as a young child. Still, there is some fear of the unknown. What will the next ten years hold. Will I get another ten years?

I don’t know. Much of the early part of my twenties was tightly scripted for me, following the path of college student and much of the later part was essentially a free-form prose as I wandered from place to place figuring out what I was supposed to do with the rest of my life. Now, I’m living “the rest of my life” and it’s quite a scary concept. No wonder people are laughing at me.

The truth is, we are all the punchline of Mother Nature’s grand joke. Try as we like and hide it as much as we can, Nature is laughing at us as we age each day. We’re all looking like fools, trying to emulate magazine covers and appear ageless in a world that always wins the war with age. We are children desperately patching holes in our sand castles as the tide slowly erodes them away, and yet there we sit on the beach, throwing more sand on the distingrating pile. Why else is plastic surgery, or the Hair Club for Men such big business? Who are we trying to fool anyways?

Seen in the light of God’s Word, however, the joke rings hollow. Even the Time of Mother Nature is subject to the Eternal of a Holy God. The life of a believer is not tragedy after tragedy on a downward spiral until he finally expires. No, it is the story of a Redeemer who relentlessly pursues His child (even when the child stubbornly refuses) and a child who occassionally gets it right and shows appreciation to his Creator. Yes, there are parts of the story that are hard to read, but there is laughter and joy, too. The story that ends with the child, weary and beaten from a world that wrings him through trial after trial, dragging himself across the finish line and into the arms of his Father. The story is not a tragedy, but a triumph, a completion of every missing ache and longing in the world. We know the ending of the story, but there are still chapters left to be written between the now and the end.

Randy Stonehill wrote his song “Turning Thirty” almost twenty years ago, and even if the eighties are long past, the lyrics still strike a chord for me.

Turning Thirty
(Music and Lyrics by Randy Stonehill)

I’ve got a house down by the ocean
The rent is not too high
And I love to watch the ships come in
And hear the seagulls cry
And lately I’ve been taking stock
Of all that I’ve been through
Oh tomorrow is my birthday
Feels funny but it’s true
I’m turning thirty

Now I’ve got a wife who really loves me
She makes my life so sweet
And a little baby daughter
Who plays games around my feet
And my world is very different
From those lazy bachelor years
But if I had the chance to go back
I’d rather stay right here
Turning thirty, I’m turning thirty

And I have friends that care about me
They’re the best I’ve ever had
And they always stood behind me
Whenever times got bad
And I love to play my music
Through the road can be a trial
But every time I walk on stage
It’s worth each dusty mile
Turning thirty

Now thirty ain’t like fifteen
And it’s not like twenty-five
My back’s a little stiff
And there’re some lines around my eyes
But I’ve still got my energy
And I’ve got most of my hair
And I’m not too old to rock ‘n roll
And I’m not really scared
Of turning thirty

Oh, the eighties look like tough times
The world is turning sour
So I’ll keep on serving Jesus
And await the final hour
And though I’ve often failed Him
In these thirty rocky years
His mercy brought me this far
And His love has dried my tears
I’m turning thirty
I’ll treasure these years
I’m turning thirty
And that’s alright
I’m turning thirty

I’m turning thirty

…and so I’m grateful for thirty years worth of pages written in my particular book, and I’m grateful that, for at least now, there are many blank pages left to written. Whatever the thirties in my life will bring, I’ve got no other choice than to take it head on, so here we go. Hopefully, I’ll be able to look back ten years from now and have as much to talk about as I did today.

Jeff Holland