I recently turned 20. Whilst being ‘in my 20s‘ does in some ways fit with where I’m at, remembering that I’m now 20 does also keep catching me off-guard with the feeling that life is passing by all too quickly. Turning 16 is a memory that feels very within reach, and at the same time graduation-from-university is lurking around the corner of another calendar year; apparently there is an odd tension in my trying to hold both of these things together.
It’s the tension that’s also felt in the gap between celebrating my birthday by, on the one hand, eating cake with uni friends in a pub and buying work shoes for a full-time internship, and, on the other hand, also celebrating by bouncing around at a trampoline park and still being at home to blow out the candles on a cake.
It’s a tension and unease that I think, as I told Neil, is partly caused because I felt ‘ahead of myself’ for 19, whereas turning 20 has felt like allowing my age to suddenly catch up such that I no longer feel that way.
And it’s a tension that I’m going to attempt to ease by writing down a little of the things that I’ve learned on Earth up until this point.
Life Wisdom at 20
- If something takes under 2 minutes to do, you should really do it now. That means taking the bin out once you’ve remembered it needs doing, or getting a chair out to put back that thing you just got down from a high shelf.
- Things have to get messier to get tidier. This did possibly originate from a thought you had in relation to your chaotic all-at-once packing style, but it is also possibly a truth in relation to the fact that there isn’t always a Straightforward and Clear-Cut involved in ‘progress’.
- Remind yourself of what you most admire. You have always admired people for their attitude + heart a lot more than you have admired them because of their skill. This is lucky. You can always be improving on your attitude and heart, and in the grand scheme of life they are much more important than any skill you take myself to have.
- Smile with your teeth. Because that’s the way you do truly smile. And because even if a half-smile does look better it will be better for you to learn not to take yourself too seriously.
- There are somethings that you absolutely love even though you don’t like the thought of them. Like reading a classic novel or going to watch Shakespeare or reading allegories or any ‘high-brow cultural experience’.
- Don’t buy the cheapest umbrellas/headphones/black biros/flip-flops. It’s just not gonna work out.
- Hope is not to be lost. Sometimes you will feel exhausted by the seeming inexhaustible nature of life and all that happens. That’s also what makes you alive. It’s the act of holding the reality of death and darkness and disasters in the midst of the reality of present life. The act of gazing up at the stars and holding your smallness in the beating of your heart. Know that there is always hope because, as 1 Corinthians 13 tells us, love never fails. And the greatest love of all, Jesus Christ, is secure. At the point of lost hope reading one of those allegories that you think you hate usually helps, as does getting existential and reading Ecclesiastes and following your thoughts down to the logical conclusion that if the gospel is not true then you don’t have anything to pin any sort of meaning to anyway.
- There aren’t any shortcuts. This applies to losing weight and having good health as much as it does to building strong relationships and learning to be patient.
- It’s okay to read the same book over again. I remember being in year 9 and telling my English teacher Mr Clear (who also informed us that marshmallows were really to be called marshmellows) emphatically that I had a policy of never reading the same book twice, because by doing so I wasted the finite amount of time I had in which to read a seemingly infinite amount of literature.
- Remember the unimportance of practically everything. If something will still matter in ten months time, it probably won’t matter in ten year’s time. And if something is so important as to matter in ten decades time, don’t worry too much – you won’t be around at that point, so maybe just take the next 24 hours as it comes.
- Money. Check what you’re spending by the barometer of ‘Every-time you spend money you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want‘. Check your heart by looking at where your bank statement tells you your money is going. Watch for a poverty mindset and remember that £50,000 of assets places you in the top 5% for wealth. Don’t abdicate your responsibility to act well on the premise that are some others are better placed to make a difference.
- Now is the time to make a change. Because you can only become what you are becoming right now. Remember the quote from Walt Whitman that was on your wall in your second year of university ‘Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour’
- Don’t be afraid to be the one who loves the most. Always keep 2 Corinthians 4:5 close. What you are called to is not more and not any less than love. And love not on your own discriminatory judgements of who you deem deserving. Remember the wisdom of scripture in pointing out that loving your own people is nothing extraordinary. Loving in the true sense will demand of you (it will demand your best) and will not be easy and it will seem illogical. But what this world needs is illogical love and that is the very foundation of the gospel.
- Life is about bringing glory to God. This pretty much involves the above point of being unafraid to love the most. But remember the implications for your prideful heart. The bed-ridden and sick and poor and disabled and forgotten and isolated and unproductive and good-for-nothings all have so much value, because whatever state anyone is ever in they are loved by God and are capable of bringing him glory. May this bring you infinite comfort but may it also bring infinite discomfort with your own snobbery and judgement and the pride that is discontent with the thought of living a life of no worldly note.
Thoughts on the future
Part of the tension I spoke of at the beginning of this post is, I think, about a realisation that I have very real choices to make as to what next step to take and what I want my life to be about. And I’m discovering that life is full of temptations to take the easy path, and I want to have the strength to choose what I want to do in a way that holds true to who I am. And also to still be comfortable with that when I turns out that who I am is nothing like what anyone else is.
Being 20 is to arrive at the age at which I’d been mentally abdicating all responsibility to. The teenage bracket of life is determined in a way that life beyond that is not. And that is difficult.
But in all that, my hope is secure, and I know that all I ever need to do is make a choice to put one foot in front of the other. Walking life hope-fully and faith-fully, one step at a time.
(also, a little footnote for future Rachel as to remember the occasion – one of the best things that happened on your 20th birthday was that kid in the pushchair in Tesco, who waved a big hello and was The Most Excited when you waved back)