Two score and zero years ago, my parents brought forth on this planet a baby girl who up until a few years ago could not even imagine turning forty years old. When my parents turned forty, I thought they were old! As my thirty-ninth year flew by, I found myself dreading this next birthday – just as I did when I was twenty-nine. And when the day came, as you might expect, I felt no different. Thankfully, when I look back at my life, I can see so many lessons learned and God’s hand on my destiny even in the darker times.
At later point in this decade (“the 4th floor,” as my friend calls it), I will have been married for as long as I was single. It already feels like I have been married most of my life so it is not hard for me to believe, but it does make me think about our marriage now versus our marriage in the early days. So, in honor of this crazy milestone (which I am still digesting), here are forty insights from my forty years – some about marriage and some about life in general.
- You are not as old as you think you are. Each birthday I feel like I am old, but those who are older than me keep reminding me that I am not old. To you twenty-nine-year-olds out there…you are not old. You thirty-three-year-olds… you are not old. No matter your age, you still have time to make changes in your life. Thinking, “I am old” robs us of reaching our potential.
- You don’t have as much time as you think you do. This seems like a strange comment to make after just saying “you are not as old as you think you are.” Some life experiences need to be prioritized and accelerated while some others can wait. Take the time to think about the future and pursue priorities based on human limitations and time clocks.
- Plan ahead. Mom used to repeat the phrase, “Your failure to plan is not my emergency.” We must make plans if we expect to get what we want out of life. Life does not often go as expected, but creating an action plan pushes us in a positive direction. Otherwise, we languish. It is easy to put off the planning stage (especially for us procrastinators); but, without it, we look back and say, “I wish I had planned to…” (Stay tuned for a future post about intentionally planning.)
- Procrastination will catch up with you. Ask friends to help. Set boundaries. Find what motivates you. If you struggle with procrastination, look for help to overcome it because it will steal your life. I know what of I speak!
- Try something new often. During my year of intentional new experiences, I was happier. Even though I was nervous a lot (as I am a change-hating homebody when left to my own devices), I cannot deny that I was in better spirits the year I forced myself to step out of my comfort zone.
- Sometimes you will have to inconvenience people. This is so hard for me. I work hard at being as easy to deal with as possible because I worry so much about making someone else’s life harder. But, occasionally, we have to inconvenience people. And maybe what we think is inconveniencing them is not bothering them at all.
- Laugh at yourself. We all make silly mistakes. Laugh and move forward. Do we not appreciate the people in our lives who keep a sense of humor about themselves?
- Be willing to forgive. This is a tough one, especially when we are hurt by those who are supposed to love and cherish us. Our pain and our desperation point us back to a loving God, a good Father, who is perfect and who created us in His image. When I struggle to forgive others, I remember (surely by the Holy Spirit reminding me) that God has forgiven me for far more than I will ever have to forgive in others. I have done more to offend Him than any one on earth will ever do to offend me. Yet, He is faithful and just to forgive when we confess our sins (cf. I John 1:9).
- One more bag of candy will affect you. My ongoing mental recording keeps saying, “One more bag of Skittles will not hurt you.” Yes, it will. I am not saying we should never enjoy a treat, but the repeated message that “one more will not hurt” is not true.
- Take care of your body. Youth will not always be on your side. When the doctor recommended changes I could make to improve my health, I almost always fell back into my old ways, and I could get by with it because I was “young enough.” I did not notice the damage I was doing, but now I am noticing. While you are young, treat your body well so it will be maintained and in good health for you when you are older.
- Take time to breathe. When you get overwhelmed, you need to breathe. When we are frazzled, we need step back, stop what we are doing, and breathe deeply for a minute or two. Take time to regroup. When I do not refocus and calm down, I am prone to making mistakes.
- Be careful with your money. Later I am going to recommend going on your dream vacation, but first I need to say, “Plan for and save for your dream vacation.” Making a few sacrifices now (e.g., packing lunches from home for work or school, putting off getting the latest technology, etc.) might pay off in the future.
- Know what you want and how to ask for it. My friend’s mom recently mentioned this piece of advice and it resonated with me. Historically, I have been terrible at knowing what I want and even less skilled at knowing how to communicate my desires to Eric and others. If you struggle with this, take steps to learn this skill. I am working on it too!
- If you talk about important or conflictual issues with your significant other or spouse after 10:30pm, you will regret it. Every time I ignore my instincts and bring up something touchy (or potentially conflictual) after 10:30 pm, we almost always end up annoyed or frustrated because we are tired, and our minds are not as rational late at night because we are tired.
- Say “thank you” a lot. Eric and I have recently begun thanking each other for completing basic tasks such as cooking dinner or filling up the gas tank. It may feel weird to say thank you for something our significant others “should” be doing anyway, but it adds a sweetness to the relationship. It says, “I see all you do, and I appreciate you.”
- Differentiate short-term problems from ongoing problems. My friend recently introduced me to this phrase: “This is a short-term problem.” When I am in panic mode, I repeat it to myself to remind myself that this problem will pass soon. Try it!
- Consider timing in everything you do. Is now a good time to bring this up to my friend? Is my boyfriend or girlfriend in the right frame of mind to hear my heart right now? Is this a good time to ask my spouse for a favor? I can trace several problems in my life back to my poor timing.
- Think eternally. So much in this world does not matter. As King Solomon said, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14, ESV) When making decisions, do so with eternity in mind. Doing so helps us make much better decisions with our time.
- Be part of a local body of believers. Find a church which preaches the gospel and does not stray from the Scripture. Prioritize being a part of a local church, getting involved, and using your spiritual gifts. We are not meant to walk this path alone, and even though we will probably be hurt at some point in the church (as we are all sinners in need of grace), we still need our church family (and they need us).
- If you need to cry, then cry. It is not always convenient, but holding back tears can cause more long-term trouble than letting them flow. If you are not a crier, consider exercising or other constructive ways to release your pain.
- Life is sweeter when you are not always offended. Laugh when you can and work on forgiving people. It is very tiring to stay offended and outraged.
- Go on your dream vacation. Plan to go, save to go, and then go.
- Work will always be there; but loved ones will not. Turn off your computer, put down your phone, take the call later, and enjoy the people you love while you have them.
- Most issues are not worth ruining your day or evening. When I was younger, I was more likely to keep poking at an issue because I did not feel resolved. Now, I think “how might continuing this discussion affect our day and is it worth it to keep pushing the issue?” Small matters are not worth ruining your time together. If these small matters keep eating at you, make time to discuss them later.
- Become an expert at your significant other’s personality. Eric owns a book called Please Understand Me, and even though it is just a title, my heart melts a little bit every time I see it. We all long to be understood. In loving relationships, one person is rarely trying to hurt or aggravate the other, but we often perceive our partners’ actions through our own lenses (instead of theirs). The more you know about each other, the better you can communicate with each other.
- Prioritize balance. We need to work. We need to rest. We need to have some fun. We need to spend time with people. We need to spend time in prayer. We need to study Scripture. We need to eat right and exercise. Prioritize and pursue balance (instead of allowing work to become what gets most of your attention).
- Check in with your partner regularly. Ask “How’s your heart?” Clear the air. Make sure nothing is hindering your communication.
- Check in with God regularly. Pray throughout the day (cf. I Thessalonians 5:17). Check your heart. Confess sins. Make sure nothing is hindering your communication with Him.
- Before you say what you want to say, think about the consequences. That zinger may feel good for a minute, but what will it cost you in the long run? What will it cost your partner? What will it cost your relationship? How much cleaning up will you have to do to regain a portion of your relationship or intimacy?
- Be humble and willing to apologize. Become skilled at apologizing Your relationships and marriage will be so much better for it.
- Remember HALTS: if you are hungry, angry, late, tired, or stressed, then keep your words to a minimum until you have remedied your problem. We are human and our physical pain, emotional pain, and endless irritations influence how we respond to others. One of my irrational pet peeves is when my hair tickles my face at the beach. It annoys me so much that I want to throw a little kid tantrum and scream. At such times, I should look for a hat, drink some cold water, take a deep breath, and then continue interacting with people. -smile-
- No matter how angry or disappointed you feel, never tell your spouse you wish you had not married them. This is a phrase your partner will never forget and there are few stings as hurtful. Additionally, never compare him or her to a past boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse. This tip seems like common sense, does it not? But, it is amazing what can fly out of a person’s mouth when they are angry or when they have lost hope. (cf. Proverbs 13:12)
- Stop saying, “Whatever you want, honey.” I used to say this all the time when I was a young bride. I thought I was giving my husband free reign. I thought I was being submissive. I thought I was getting out of his way. What I was truly doing was abdicating. He wanted and needed my input, and he needed to know every decision was not solely on his shoulders. It took a while, but I learned to have an opinion and to express it (mostly) graciously.
- Answer the phone. If you cannot, return the call. This is one of my weird struggles and one I know I need to overcome. In the past decade, I have lost my grandmother, two father figures, my mentor, my aunt, and my dad. If one of them were to call me today, I would walk out of any meeting, hang up on any world leader, or stop any activity to hear their voices again. So, while we have our loved ones, we need to answer the phone because we never know how many more times they will call.
- Differentiate between moods and anger. Some days I feel intensely angry, but I cannot pinpoint a reason. In those times, I am usually in a bad mood because I am hot or hungry or overwhelmed. When you are angry, you need to process it and communicate it (respectfully) with your spouse. But, when you are in a bad mood, you need to go to God in prayer. As a college professor once told us ladies, “Take your moods to God and your anger to your husband.”
- Hide God’s Word in your heart. Many of us live in nations where we have access to Bibles, but that is not true everywhere. In some places, having a Bible is an offense punishable by death. We never know how long we will have the freedoms we currently enjoy, so it is important – imperative – that we memorize Scripture and repeat it to ourselves throughout the day. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11, ESV).
- Sometimes, just say yes. You will not always love the furniture your spouse picks out, or the restaurants he or she chooses, or the vacation spot he or she wants to visit, but sometimes we just need to say yes. Yes, I will go there with you and keep a good attitude. Yes, I will choose to be content with that decoration you want. Though we should never be a doormat to our partners, we can look for opportunities to say yes to their desires.
- Look for ways to help each other. As I prepare for a trip, Eric is helping me by completing small tasks. He has been a big help and knowing he cares is encouraging to my busy heart. Taking on small tasks for each other is another way of saying “I love you” and keeping the relationship sweet.
- Be thankful in all situations. Everyday thank God for something and thank your partner for something. Write down all your blessings. Keeping a grateful attitude helps us avoid bitterness. We all have reasons to be thankful and reasons to be bitter. Much of our emotional health depends on which ones we highlight. (cf. I Thessalonians 5:18)
- Be intentional. As our annual theme for this year highlights, do not wait for life to happen to you… go out and get it.
If there is anything about life which surprises me, it is the sheer speed at which it passes us. I remember my dad in his 50s saying, “I feel like I was just a young’un.” We see seniors in nursing homes and think they identify as old, but in their heart of hearts, they still see the teenage girl waiting patiently for her boyfriend to pick her up for a date, or the strong young man who could build houses and flirt with the ladies. The body eventually betrays us, but the young person inside of us never quite leaves.
Echoing my second point, we do not have as much time as we think we do, and there will always be something insignificant to gobble up our time if we are not vigilant. Missionary William Carey famously said, “I am not afraid of failure; I am afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.” At forty, this quote hits me harder than it used to because I see how quickly my life has progressed to this point, and I know the rest of my days on earth will zoom. It is important, especially as we see this world falling apart, to ask God to help us succeed at what matters.
I am calling to you from the other side. Forty is pretty awesome. Don’t let aging scare you – only let wasting your life and time scare you.
How are you making your life and relationship count? What goals do you want to reach before turning forty?