Happy Birthday!

I have a theory about birthday celebrations. Just a theory, but based on very limited personal observations. It seems we go full circle in our attitude toward this annual milestone.

I have a couple of preschool-aged grandsons, and if you mention “birthday party,” they get pretty excited—even more so if it’s their party! That birthday enthusiasm lasts for a few years until somewhere along the way the excitement wanes and a sort of indifference creeps in: “Another birthday? Oh well, good excuse for some cake.” Then for many the indifference gives way to, what, loathing? That may be a tad strong, but somewhere in the middle years, birthdays are better left ignored! Of course, reality sets in after the “big five-O” and one realizes that no matter how much he or she may prefer to ignore them, family and friends just won’t let it happen. Every year brings the cards, the cake, the increasing number of candles, and a few gifts. So, we’re back to that resigned indifference. For a while. For some. Another threshold is crossed and the indifference begins to shift again toward a measure of excitement. Certainly not that of a four year old, but, hey, when you’re 84 or 94 or 104, the birthday girl is well past the “three score and ten” and begins to beam widely again at her birthday party. I well remember attending my grandmother’s birthday party when she reached 100, and she was very excited! Lots of smiles, laughter, and joy as family and friends gathered to celebrate with her.

Now I share that theory because I just reached one of those decade milestones – 60…6 decades. Don’t ask me how that’s possible. Wasn’t it just yesterday when I was excited about turning 16 so I could finally get my driver’s license?? Honestly, 60 wasn’t met with nearly as much enthusiasm, and my relative indifference toward the occasion got me to wondering why. Perhaps because I’m more acutely aware that much more of life is behind me than what’s ahead? Or perhaps because some of the things I dreamt of 30 years ago haven’t come to pass—and likely won’t? Or perhaps I’d hoped to accomplish so much more by this point in life? Or perhaps it struck me that 4/5 of my career years are over (assuming I don’t “retire” until I’m 70!). Well, probably all those things and more.

But this reflection then sent my thoughts in a couple other directions.

First, today is a gift. However many more years I have are as well. Gifts are made to be accepted, opened, appreciated, and used according to the nature of the gift. So when I get up in the morning, shouldn’t I accept the gift of another day with gratitude to the Lord, the giver of life? And then, applying Psalm 90:12 [“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom”], shouldn’t this day be counted—numbered—as one given by God to be lived wisely? What that looks like may be quite a bit different than it did 3 decades ago, but doing so is actually vital to being happy as future milestones are reached. In this regard, I came across a helpful quote from a book my wife gave me for my birthday, Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old. The author suggests, “Spend your dwindling time and energy on the things you can still do that give you satisfaction, not on lamenting those you once did but now can’t.” That’s a wise-hearted way to live in these later decades of life!

Second, tomorrow is an unknown at any age—16, 60, or 86. So what do we do with that? Plan. Intend. Set goals. Hope. Dream. All those things that we do when we’re 30. BUT, as Christians living in the light of God’s self-revelation, we subject those things to the will of God. The apostle James reminds me:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow may bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

Note, he’s not telling me to quit planning or setting goals or dreaming. Do it! BUT do it under the rubric of the Lord’s will!

So, if the Lord wills, in ten years I’ll celebrate another decade birthday, savor a slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie topped with an extra scoop of vanilla ice cream, enjoy a party with my wife, kids, grandkids, and maybe my siblings—and I’ll celebrate 70 with much more enthusiasm and excitement than I greeted 60!