Growing Smaller

I turned 30 this year, a milestone which I heartily celebrated.  I had been looking forward to this for at least six years, ever since I read through the Old Testament in 2006 and kept noticing how many of the patriarchs had been 30 when significant things happened in their lives:

“Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh
“Saul was thirty years old when he became king
“David was thirty years old when he became king
“The Levites thirty years old or more were counted
“Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry

So I asked a dear friend and resident expert on the Bible and Jewish culture if this thing about turning 30 was important in some particular way, and he responded:

Why does God give energy to youth, but then hold them back because it’s not time to use it? Hmm. I’ll have to think about that for a decade or so.
You’re right about 30. From all the references it is clear that that is the age at which a person enters into their life’s work. (Interestingly, that’s how old I was when we moved to Israel.) But, hang on, it’s not until 50 (!) that one reaches full maturity and counsel, able to pass on to others one’s life’s experiences in fullest measure. Nevertheless, each age is good and fruitful in its own way.

So. 30.  Significant.  Yes.

What I didn’t know then was that the ensuing years of my life from that time until age 30 would be both incredibly painful and incredibly joyful, full of adventurous and humbling experiences.  I would complete nursing school, work night shift for a long, lonely year, put down roots in Downingtown, go back to graduate school, travel to Sudan, work to establish a life there, get kicked out, feel completely unmoored for a year, get hired to work in North Philadelphia, put down roots in yet another community here. I would earn 2 degrees, buy 2 houses, learn 2 new languages and make countless cultural faux pas along the way. I would plant many gardens, make many new friends, and generally become a grown-up (?!).

With all of that, on the eve of my 30th birthday this winter, it felt like there was still something on the horizon, something important that was about to change.  I spent some time in prayer and solitude with God and had a sense that this 30th year itself would be… momentous. Some sort of Big Change would occur, and I had a few specific hopes of what that Change could entail (let me be honest, I really hoped it would involve falling in love and eventually getting married).  I figured regardless it was about time for whatever that Change was going to be, and settled in to see what God would bring my way.

Here’s the thing — my 30th year is not quite over, but as I review what has happened so far this year, there is pretty much just one theme, and it’s not quite the Change I was expecting: I am realizing my small-ness in the world and surrendering to that truth.

Many of my dreams of perfection, of preaching and healing and being a world-changer, of leading thousands of people to Jesus and seeing lives changed because of my witness have fallen flat.  I set out to accomplish those things.  I… accomplish… things.  Or not.  My ideas were so lofty, so built on desperation to show the world my significance.  They were so full of me.

This year, this milestone year, as I’ve lived my 30th year on this earth, I honestly thought that God would give me the ministry/man/family/career of my dreams.

Instead God gave me a realization of my brokenness and dependence on Him, and in the meanwhile, set my heart free to live out of a knowledge that I am deeply beloved based entirely on His grace, not my efforts or abilities.

Instead of satisfying these physical wants, God has first deepened and then sated the eternal, endless Desire of my heart.  He feeds me with His very Self every day and I am satisfied.

Instead of me changing lives in dramatic fashion because of my strong witness, God has changed my life and given me a stronger witness because of my weakness.

I’m not even sure I can dream the way I once did, all guts and bravado, all fearless and self-assured.  Now I dream different, smaller and more grand dreams –of walking hand in hand with God in the garden –of sitting each morning with a mug of tea and my Best Friend, talking heart to heart –of the privilege of showing other hungry people where I’ve found sustenance –of serving the least of these, my brothers, as one of the least of these myself.

In short, I have found that I am much smaller in the Story than I ever thought.  And much more deeply beloved.  This — this counts as a truly momentous change.


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