Yesterday was my 25th birthday. There has been one thing going through my mind almost constantly since I acknowledged its existence, something my father said to me awhile ago. He told me that 25 was his most depressing birthday, since it marked the official end of our culture's prolonged adolescence and the finality of adulthood. He said that 40 or 50 didn't bother him, but 25 did. Needless to say, this has caused me to be doubly reflective about this day.
A lot has happened in 25 years. The question that I'm faced with is: what is the truly important stuff? What is it that I would like to tell my children, both as tales of virtue and tales of tragedy? The difficulty of self-reflection, of course, is that I concentrate too much on myself, as if to say, "Mine own hand has gotten these things for me." Really though, 25 years is as much, and arguably more, the celebration of the communities that have nurtured and rightly-directed me than the celebration of my self (space intentional).
For example, after I shaved today I noticed in the mirror that one of my primary descriptors has changed. My whole life I have been described as the spittin' image of my mother. Looking in the glass, however, I noticed that my visage look surprisingly more like my dad's. The whole history of the Warrens and the Schaefers has a part in who I am, from looks to the way I act. Whole communities of people I will never know had a part of producing me the way I am today.
Which, really, is a very important part of human life that I couldn't have understood until yesterday. One of the sobering realities of birthdays is not just that I have survived another year, but I am another year closer to my physical death. This could lead to much hand-wringing and despair, but instead it has made me thankful. The things that I am doing, the teaching and business owning and the child-rearing and whatnot, are not, ultimately, for myself. They are for a generation newly born (my daughter's first birthday being a week and a half ago) and generations yet unborn. Having a selfish attitude about what I am doing would only undercut what people will say of the Warrens 1000 years from now (if even Warren is how it will be spelled or pronounced). My daughter's inheritance, which I pray she will preserve and pass on to her descendants (isn't that a thought!), is being made in the everyday nitty-gritty in which I live. No matter how one tries to live for the here-and-now, one is always living for the future.
In this light, the question of what will my family think of me 50, 100 or 250 years from now becomes important. Not as a question of pride, since I won't be living to hear them say it, but as a question of shalom. Will I have left a mark on this world that confirms my belief that everything is created by YHWH, redeemed by Jesus the Messiah, and being implemented by the church? Will my place, where God has set me to work and live, be better and more life-affirming because of my life or work? I pray so.
Being a tried-and-true Protestant, it is with some irony that I realize that I am engaged in the work of cultural tradition building. I have received gifts from those who have gone before me with their hands to the plow and hearts to the task and I will, in turn, be required to pass those gifts, hopefully with useful and beautiful additions, to the next generation of plowsmen and women. Undoubtedly, some chaff will be in the midst of the wheat, but maybe less chaff will be present.
So, really, this day has no need to be depressing or despairing to me. Instead, it is filled with hope: the hope that all of life, even mine, matters to God and His plan. I am a small part of the drama, but sometimes the smallest characters have a large impact. Whatever the case, God be praised for His mercy on me these wonderful 25 years.