Today I am 44 years old.
Today, I want to wane practical and wax poetic if that’s all right with you.
When I was about 10 years old, I had a very odd, very distinct thought that I wouldn’t live to be 23 years old. As a matter of fact, I was absolutely convinced that the world would end when I was 22 years old.
This is a tremendously dark thought for anyone, but especially for a 10 year-old. Whether it was my Phantom of the Opera neo-goth phase that had me thinking these things (it was 1987, after all!) or it was something less obvious, I got it into my head that in the year 2000, the world would come crashing to a halt.
Twenty-two, therefore, was as old as I would ever get and that was perfectly fine with me. The Jetsons had drawn a world in which I didn’t want to live. I didn’t love futuristic science fiction (although Jean-Luc Picard was a reassuring figure to me, with his confident “Make it so!”) and ugh, dystopian stories abounded. So, no thanks. I’ll pass.
As the years passed and crept closer and closer to 2000, and maybe the date seemed less scary to me, I got to thinking, “Who would I like to be with on that changeover from one millennium to another?” And the answer was that handsome young man I met at a bus stop in Montpellier France in 1997. Not because we were crazy in love, but because he got me. And to be understood was all I had ever wanted from anyone.
So we married in 1999. We watched the ball drop with my mother to see in the year 2000, and guess what? We all survived.
I’ve made it this far…
Growing up with the thought that I wasn’t going to live past 22 put some sort of weird limits on my existence. Instead of living in base-ten, I was, oddly, living subconsciously in base-twenty-two. Every single year, I was living an age that I could never have imagined.
It was that year that I started taking the Psalm that represented my age and making it my meditation for the entire year. Psalm 23 ain’t a bad place to start. Of all of the the 22 Psalms I have studied thus far, I think Psalm 27 was my favorite, but Psalm 34 comes a close second.
In this exercise, I allowed myself to plunge into the deep emotions of joy and hopefulness and sometimes tragedy that are expressed in the Psalms. There are some dark, dark, dark things that happen in those 22 Psalms. I believe that by experiencing that darkness with the Psalmists, I was prepared for my own darkness. I knew where to return to for comfort when I was belly-to-the-ground miserable. I am not alone in this, was a recurring thought.
A new year, a new Psalm
Cue my birthday this year. I am exactly double how old I was when I thought the world should end. It’s another tour of my base-22 existence.
I’ll be honest, I adored turning 40. Forty, for me, was a liberation. Forty years Moses worked in the backwoods of nowhere to prepare for his purpose. Forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert. Forty was like a door was opening to the Promised Land for me.
Forty-two, obviously, is the answer to everything. So that was a good year, too.
Forty-three was weird, honestly.
But forty-four? It’s like I’m starting over again, again.
So here is Psalm 44, my Psalm for this year (my takeaways are below):
We have heard it with our ears, O God;
our ancestors have told us
what you did in their days,
in days long ago.
2 With your hand you drove out the nations
and planted our ancestors;
you crushed the peoples
and made our ancestors flourish.
3 It was not by their sword that they won the land,
nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm,
and the light of your face, for you loved them.
4 You are my King and my God,
who decrees victories for Jacob.
5 Through you we push back our enemies;
through your name we trample our foes.
6 I put no trust in my bow,
my sword does not bring me victory;
7 but you give us victory over our enemies,
you put our adversaries to shame.
8 In God we make our boast all day long,
and we will praise your name forever.
So far so good, right? Well. Fasten your seatbelts. It’s about to get bumpy:
But now you have rejected and humbled us;
you no longer go out with our armies.
10 You made us retreat before the enemy,
and our adversaries have plundered us.
11 You gave us up to be devoured like sheep
and have scattered us among the nations.
12 You sold your people for a pittance,
gaining nothing from their sale.
13 You have made us a reproach to our neighbors,
the scorn and derision of those around us.
14 You have made us a byword among the nations;
the peoples shake their heads at us.
15 I live in disgrace all day long,
and my face is covered with shame
16 at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me,
because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge.
17 All this came upon us,
though we had not forgotten you;
we had not been false to your covenant.
18 Our hearts had not turned back;
our feet had not strayed from your path.
19 But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals;
you covered us over with deep darkness.
20 If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
21 would not God have discovered it,
since he knows the secrets of the heart?
22 Yet for your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
Argh. Not exactly how I was hoping think about the next year…but…okay.
23 Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
24 Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?
25 We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
26 Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love.
I’m not a superstitious type, and believe me, I don’t see this as premonitory in any way. But my takeaways are this:
- Telling the stories of how good God has been to me is crucial for those who come after me (notably my scalawags) so that they have stories to cling to when the going gets rough.
- Even the most brilliant and upright have bad times, and it isn’t because God abandoned them. It just feels like they’ve been abandoned because they can’t see any evidence of his presence.
- When bad guys prevail, it really really sucks. And while they may win for a day, their humiliation is assured. The pain of seeing them succeed serves a purpose for me: to dig deep and examine my own heart. Also: enjoying the thought that God is going to orchestrate their humiliation is not forbidden.
- Our rescue will never be because we deserve it or because of how awesome we are at keeping rules and laws. Our help will come because of the unfailing love of God.
Another turn around the base-22 sun
Well…I’m going to go enjoy that fabulous pink-ombré birthday cake I made for myself with my men, who suffered my Princess-y behavior all weekend (the annoyances of a Monday birthday are great!)