I was at a doctor’s appointment the other day, and I filled out all the forms, writing my age as “31.” Then a few hours later, I said, “Wait a minute,” remembered the year of my birth, did some counting on my fingers, and realized I’m 32. I’ve reached the age where I can no longer remember how old I am.
Since I plan on living till I’m 96, I’m really only a third of the way through life, but I have learned a few lessons along the way, so I’ve decided to write one of those “I’m old, so I can give advice about life” lists. Here it is, in no particular order:
1.) Stop trying to gain self-worth from other people’s opinions of you. Promiscuity, perfectionism, and people-pleasing are just different paths that begin at a very desperate place of insecurity and unworthiness, and lead to a place of a whole lot more insecurity and unworthiness. It becomes easier to get off of those paths when you realize that you are already more loved than you can imagine.
2.) Commit yourself to God. You’re never going to solve all the mysteries of the universe, or maintain a constant feeling of joy and peace. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t explore and accept the tenants of your faith. There is nothing irrational or inauthentic about committing to something bigger than yourself simply because you can’t always feel it, or understand all aspects of it. If you could, it wouldn’t be bigger than you.
3.) Cut back on the drinking. We all struggle with moderation at times. Unfortunately, if you drink heavily enough, often enough, your regular self will start looking more and more like your drunk self, until eventually you become a stranger. When we are drunk, we numb our real feelings. We trade authentic connection and our powers of reasoning for sloppy, artificial sentiments and unnecessary confusion. We trade our treasures for trash.
4.) Don’t do drugs. See above.
5.) Feel your feelings. We don’t like to feel things like disappointment, guilt or anger, but feelings tell us important things. Guilt tells us when we need to change certain behaviors. Anger or fear tells us when we need to protect ourselves from further hurt or turn down our stress levels. Sadness tells us we have lost something we loved, and we need some time to grieve. I’ve done crazy things to ignore reality, and not feel my feelings. It has never led anywhere good, so I’m learning to walk through those valleys, knowing that eventually those things that feel unbearable now, will become bearable, and then become merely uncomfortable, and eventually they will become wisdom.
6.) Understand that love is not a feeling. Falling in love is easy. All it takes is some romantic music, a sexy outfit, and plenty of alcohol – just watch The Bachelor sometime. But actually loving someone is hard. It’s hard when there are little ones running around, and jobs, and so much to do, and it’s hard when someone acts unlovable, as we all do from time to time. And it doesn’t always feel worth it, either, despite all our platitudes. But then again, actual love isn’t a feeling, is it? It is actions and service and sacrifices and forgiveness and choices. And sometimes it is in those painstaking, daily decisions to act in love (even when you don’t feel like it) that feelings of love are rekindled.
7.) Practice forgiveness. It’s easier to forgive than to hold on to bitterness, which is incredibly painful. Not forgiving is a way of holding on, of keeping the hurt close, and forgiving is letting go, so that it no longer occupies your mind and your heart. It doesn’t mean that you have to forget, or that your relationship with the person who hurt you has to stay the same. It does mean you have to understand that you are also forgiven.
8.) Savor the moment. Even though we hear it all the time, it’s hard to accept that we can’t change the past, and that the future holds no guarantees. But once we accept that, it’s easier to enjoy the moment. And that sunset won’t last forever. You won’t always be able to enjoy a cup of tea with your grandparents. And some day that child will not want to sleep with his arms in a vice grip around your neck and his face smashed against your ear, so you might as well enjoy it now.
9.) Understand that everything is not going to be OK. People get sick, and they don’t get better. People do their very best and still don’t obtain the desires of their heart. People hurt each other in profound ways. People give up. Sometimes life is far more painful than we expected, and at some point, we will all face deep disappointment.
10.) But then again, everything is going to be OK. We see such a tiny fraction of space, and hear just a millisecond of the story. Human beings are tremendously resilient, especially when they harbor a belief that there is always a reason for hope, and I don’t think that is a coincidence. While I will never fully understand the complex interaction between free-will and divine providence, I believe that God can take our biggest hurt, our greatest failures and even our most asinine decisions and still make something beautiful. And if we look for it, sometimes we are fortunate enough to see it.