What a difference 5 years can make. An even bigger difference a decade!
A couple weeks ago I attended my 10 year college reunion, and it’s really had me thinking. These reunions have become significant mile markers in my life: At my five year reunion I had attained my M.Div., was working as a college minister, and Ike and I had JUST started dating (pictured below to the right). At this year’s reunion (pictured at the very bottom), Ike and I are now married, live in the Chicago area, and have a son. It makes me wonder what’s in store for the next five years!
It’s also had me reflecting on all the ways I’ve changed in the last 10 years. In particular, I’ve been thinking a lot about my twenties and what I learned during that decade. My twenties were both amazing and incredibly hard. Those were the years when I truly became an adult. And those were the years when a lot of head knowledge became heart knowledge.
As I thought about it more, I took a survey of my Facebook friends and Twitter followers, asking them the number one lesson they learned in their twenties. After processing their answers alongside my own experience, I have come up with the top 5 things I learned in my twenties (in no particular order):
1. My parents were right. In my early 20’s I had an insufferable, holier-than-thou streak that my poor parents were forced to endure. I don’t know why I thought I was so enlightened, but my parents proved their maturity and superior wisdom by showing me grace.
Over time, I have come to realize the inestimable value of life experience. From it springs the riches of wisdom and, in that regard, my parents are far wealthier than I. In so many ways, about so many things, they were right.
2. Your life will not turn out the way you think it will. By now, I thought I would have published at least one book and become a majorly successful writer. To date, that has not happened, and my 23 year old self would be extremely disappointed. But here’s the funny thing: I’m not disappointed at all. God’s timing is not my timing, and His plans are not my plans. In fact, His plans are much better than I ever could have imagined.
God’s plans are also harder. There are some parts of my story that I would have never chosen. However, God taught me a lot about myself and a lot about Himself during those difficult chapters. He taught me about humility and brokenness, but He also taught me about trust, hope, and resurrection.
3. The world is not black and white. The world is much more complex than I ever knew it could be. As a younger person, I saw things in very stark terms: there are good people, and bad people; there are evil causes and righteous causes; and every problem has a simple answer.
Seeing the world in black and white is easy. It doesn’t require one to listen. It doesn’t require patience. It doesn’t require mercy. And it doesn’t require much thought. But over time I noticed that, not only is the world more complicated than the narrow categories I tried to impose on it, but Scripture is too.
There are parts of the Bible that seem rather paradoxical, that don’t offer easy answers. Jesus himself was famous for doing what you’d least expect. There is a mystery and complexity to our faith, and we don’t have to have all the answers. But that’s ok, because we follow a God who does.
4. I figured out who I was. Well, sort of. Figuring out who God created me to be has been one of the greatest challenges of my life. This path has been more like a labyrinth, winding through all manner of obstacles that subvert my true self: ungodly motives, selfish ambitions, vanity, people pleasing, envy about other people’s talents and success, discontentment with my own abilities, and trying to be someone I am not.
To me, it makes sense that twenty-somethings grapple with their identities. Twenty-somethings have just emerged out of their teen years, a season defined by conforming to others’ expectations. At home, teens obey their parents, and at school they try to fit in. As teenagers, our identities are received from others; as twenty-somethings, our identities become self-established.
However, old habits die hard. It takes time to tune out the world and listen to your own heart, and God’s. I’m still learning to do that, and I will probably keep on figuring it out for the rest of my life. But my twenties was when the process really gained momentum.
5. I learned to appreciate who I am. The flip side of trying to be like other people, or trying to be liked by other people, is the crushing disappointment of falling short. When your gifts are not the same as the role model you aspire to imitate, or your body does not conform to an accepted standard of beauty, you can either spend the rest of your life fighting that reality, or you can embrace it.
For me and many others, that hard work really began in my twenties. I’m still learning to appreciate who God created me to be, but I take a lot of comfort from 1 Corinthians 12. In it, Paul reminds us that the Body of Christ is incredibly diverse, each member playing an essential part. The strongest or most glamorous members are just as dependent on the weakest members as the weakest depend on the strong. We all have a special role to play, so my task is to figure out just what my gifts are, and to exercise them to the best of my ability, for the glory of God.
So those are the top 5 things I learned in my twenties. Thanks to everyone who contributed your own insights to this post! And to all you twenty-somethings out there, I really hope you will enjoy this decade. It can be incredibly hard but also exhilarating and eye-opening and just plain fun. And the best part is, it only gets better, so press on my friends!
To the rest of you, what did you learn in your twenties?