I know the calendar says Winter starts December 21st, but once it is cold outside and Christmas lights go up all over town, it becomes wintertime for me. When Eric and I first started dating, we attended the wedding of some mutual coworkers who played the song Every Season by Nicole Nordeman and we loved it. So much, in fact, that we not only had my cousin sing it at our wedding, but we based our wedding’s entire theme around the four seasons.
The song begins in Summer. Kids are playing and the days are long and warm. Then, we move into Autumn where the leaves are falling, and the air is crisp. It is beautiful, yet there are hints of Winter just around the corner. Then, Winter comes. Thinking about the seasons of the year makes me think about the seasons of our lives: the hope that arrives with Spring; how much fun and heat appears during Summer; how harvest and plenty materialize in the Autumn; and, how Winter, ever before us, comes once again.
Lately, I have been thinking more about the coming seasons. Surely my recent fortieth birthday along with watching my family members age has elevated this subject matter in my mind. As I think about the future, I think a lot more about preparing. Yes, I think about planning for food, water, shelter, and other necessities, and I think about financially preparing for the future; but, what has most captured my mind lately is socially preparing for those latter years. Sounds odd, I know. What does it mean to socially prepare for getting old?
When I think about my last years here, my mind immediately jumps to these questions: Who will be with me? Will I have friends near me? Having no children or siblings, will there be any family near me? Will my church family be my family?
Our goals and what is important to us change as we age. When I was younger, my family was larger and my support system felt strong and complete, so I did not feel compelled to plan for future social needs. When we are young, we can hardly imagine being old. It feels so out of reach. We feel sorry for older people – especially those who are lonely – but we cannot mentally place ourselves in their shoes. As I get older, the reality of growing old someday increasingly sinks in and urges me to prepare. Urging me to consider: What will be important in the years to come?
Should I Get Married? Do I Need to Get Married?
Reviewing the last several decades, marriage is on the decline. Marriage is not valued the way it once was in society, and both men and women (though more men than women) are choosing to avoid marriage. Why? There are several reasons, but one significant cause is that marriage ends so easily. Thanks to no fault divorce, birth control, and a culture which elevates personal happiness over commitment, spouses leave (and often take the children with them). The remaining partner often loses time with their children, pays loads of money (in both child support and alimony), and endures emotional pain. Young people see the pain of previous generations and the logistics of broken families and think, “Why would I want to go through that? Why would I want to chance getting into a bad situation and losing everything?”
(Note: We are not talking about instances of escaping domestic abuse. When a spouse’s safety or the safety of the children are at stake, the victim needs to take action and seek help immediately.)
Because of the above factors, many young people are putting off – or even swearing off – marriage and focusing their energies on career, recreation, or financial goals. At twenty-four, life seems endless and “maybe marriage can happen for me someday after I have lived a little.” At the age of thirty-two, it can feel surreal that so much life has passed by so quickly; but, yet, there is time to get married and have children. “It’s fine.” But then, increasingly more people are reaching the ages of 35 to 40 and facing deep regrets. “Why did I not pursue marriage? Everyone around me has children. Why did I listen to the people who told me I had plenty of time and that I did not need man (or woman) and a family to fulfill me?”
If you are reading this and wondering if you should prioritize marriage, if you are anxious about the idea of marriage, or you are concerned you will miss out on too many important adventures (or fulfilling God’s will for your life), then think about a senior citizen you know. As best as you can, imagine being that person. When your bones ache, when it is harder to get around, and when you are no longer pursuing a career, what will matter to you?
- There are two outcomes: growing old or not growing old. In my teen years, I could not imagine being forty years old. Forty might as well have been eighty. In my twenties, I felt like I was getting old (and older friends rolled their eyes). In my thirties, I kept forgetting I was in my thirties. It goes by so quickly! And I know 50 will show up before I have time to catch my breath. If we grow old, we will experience the winter of life. Who do we want by our side during that winter?
- Get married. Maybe this sounds like a no brainer to you? Or, maybe you are thinking, “Well, if I could I would!” For those who are unsure about pursuing marriage or wondering if getting married is a good idea, I would say think ahead. Think about the winter. When you are slowing down and looking around, who do you want to see? Marriage is hard, but so is remaining single. They are both filled with their own set of challenges and struggles. Will the goals you are currently pursuing be the memories you want to cherish when you are 60? 70? 80? Step out and meet people. Work on yourself. If you are not a catch, become a catch. If after a lot of thinking, soul searching, and prayer, you still do not want to get married, that is okay. But whichever decision you make, do it purposefully instead of ignoring, procrastinating, and then waking up one day and wondering where all the time went.
- Have babies. This one is tough for me. This is a topic where I have a lot of questions and regrets. Is there more we could have done? Did we not have enough faith? What are we going to miss out on in the years ahead? Nothing in my life has been as hard as not having children, and it is what breaks my heart the most as I look ahead to the winter of life. We wanted children when we married, but there are millions who are not sure if they do – or even who do not want children. Western culture makes children seem like a nuisance, the end of the fun, and the death of freedom. Children do change your life and they are a lot of work. They step on your feet, and later, they step on your heart; but, the regret which follows not having them is intense. Look into the future beyond your life’s Summer, beyond the Fall, and into the Winter. You are old, you are retired, and your bucket of “what really matters” is much smaller. What is in that bucket? Do the sleepless nights you endured forty years ago while they were toddling matter? What about the friends you lost or the career opportunities you turned down to be there for your children? Does the money you spent on school clothes, tuition, and weddings weigh on your mind? Is any of this in the bucket? Is your family in the bucket? Your friends? Your church? Just after our graduate school graduation ceremony, an older family member said to us, “Don’t put off having children.” These years later, I how echo his wisdom to you. Of course there will be some tough years, but outside of salvation, what is worth more than children?
- Make friends, keep making friends, and maintain friendships. Not all relationships last forever. Some friendships are for a season and some are for a lifetime, and some we lose because we do not prioritize them. We were not created to walk alone. We need each other. Life is busy in the life’s Spring and Summer seasons, and friendships often get the short end of the stick. While making a living and reaching the next rung on the ladder of success seems important now, having strong friendships and support will matter more in the years ahead. It is possible to be successful while still making time for friends. And, as my favorite quote says, “Dear George, remember, no man is a failure who has friends.” (from the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life). If you have not seen this classic movie, I highly recommend watching it this Christmas. It embodies the message of this post beautifully.
- Pour time and energy into your church and into the people in your church family. As I work, I look out my front window across the street to my precious neighbor’s house. She is eighty-six years old and no longer able to drive. Throughout the week, I see a parade of cars come through. Some bring her food and others come to visit. It is easy to see that many people love her. Her pastor stops by, and other church friends are available to help her in various ways. It makes me think about how important it is to be an active part of the local church and about true religion as is outlined in James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (ESV) The day may come when your church family is your only family. Grow and maintain those relationships throughout your life so that as you are there for them, they too may be there for you.
In short, the world is lying when it tells us: Think about what makes you happy. You are too young to tie yourself down to one person. Live a little. See the world. Put yourself first. Life is short.
I will agree on one point above: Life is short. As the Pam Thum song, Life is Hard, says, “you’re barely young and then you’re old.” The very “obstacles” culture tells us to avoid are actually the joys we will want when we grow older. Marriage and children are not the end of the adventure… they are the adventure. Focus on finding someone who shares your values and goals and then conquer life together by filling the earth with a new generation… just like God’s first commandment to humanity indicates.
And begin preparing for your Winter while it is still Springtime (or, even Summertime).
And everything in time and under heaven
Finally falls asleep
Wrapped in blankets white, all creation
And still I notice you
When branches crack
And in my breath on frosted glass
Even now in death, You open doors for life to enter
You are winter.
– Nicole Nordeman, Every Season
How are you preparing for Winter?