Today’s my 40th birthday. As a way of reflecting on my long, unbroken track record of unsurpassed mediocrity, here is a list of things I’ve learned, discovered, and experienced, and that I now think — one for each year of living.
1. Being married might be the most sanctifying thing in your life, if you’re doing it right. It definitely is the most sanctifying thing in your life if you’re doing it wrong.
2. Luther’s first thesis was “All of life is repentance.” So is all of marriage.
3. It’s good to have standards and expectations. It’s better to have grace.
4. The key to having grace is remembering that you fall much shorter from God’s standard than your spouse does yours, but God is laying out fresh mercies for you every morning anyway. We act more strictly than God when we presume to be in his position.
5. It is much harder to love your spouse when you’re constantly focused on how they are not as you-centered as you are.
6. It gets worse before it gets better. Don’t give up.
7. Having someone who knows just how messed up you are, how dumb and foolish, how forgetful and stubborn, just how versatile your stupidity is, who sees how awful you look naked, who hears your chewing and snoring and burping and your bathroom sounds, who sees your waxy Q-tips and your dirty underwear and yet still says, “I love you,” is amazing for your soul.
8. My wife’s laugh is my favorite sound in the world.
9. A close second is my girls’ laughter.
10. Just some good general rhythms: dinner together every night, church every Sunday, bedtime routines when they’re little, taking them to school and picking them up. These little things add up to be greater than the sum of their parts in your kids’ hearts, I think.
11. I think we tend to always mess up the first one a little bit.
12. I only lose my temper with my kids when they’re not acting like I’m the center of the universe.
13. It goes by really fast. It’s a cliché because it’s true.
14. I’m convinced the best way to make your kids feel secure is to be passionately in love with your spouse.
15. I don’t think I should say any more. My kids are still under revision. I don’t think I will ever write a parenting book, but if I do, it won’t be until after my kids are grown and I can see how much (or how little?) I screwed them up.
16. If you’re doing it right, you will probably be hyper-aware of almost everything you’re doing wrong.
17. You will lose a lot of sleep.
18. If you’re actively engaged with your flock, ministry will often feel incredibly Sisyphean.
19. I spent way too much time as if ministry was one big employee performance review. It made me timid, paranoid, and ineffective.
20. There will be people in your church who just straight-up don’t like you. For no real apparent reason. And many of them will not be content to simply sit on these feelings. It’s the strangest thing, but if you read the pastoral epistles you will see it’s not new.
21. The greatest joys are usually found with new believers growing in the faith.
22. The least invested and least encouraging tend to take up most of your time. This is one of ministry’s greatest tragedies.
23. I wish I had spent much more time with all the low-maintenance church folks.
24. Problems ignored don’t go away. (Apply directly to the forehead.) Nearly all of my regrets in almost 20 years of ministry are related to my passivity and fear of conflict.
25. It is a precious thing to hold the hand of a dying saint.
26. I always thought pastoral ministry was about helping people live. Turns out it’s more about helping people die.
27. Most people who say “I’ve always wanted to write” really just want to have written. If you have always wanted to write, you would already have been writing.
28. It took me ten years trying to write for publication before I landed an agent and a few years after that before I actually got published. It takes some people much longer. If it happens for you quickly, God bless ya. But you should be prepared to put some time in.
29. Everybody wants to know about the routine. The deadline drives the routine. Other than that, it just comes out in a million different ways: in sermons, in tweets, in little jottings in the notebook, in mental etchings in the imagination. A routine doesn’t produce the urge to write; it only channels it.
30. “I want to write a book, but I don’t know how.” I hear this a fair amount, and I confess it confuses me. You’ve seen books, right? You know what they look like. Write one that looks like that.
31. The best thing you can do for your writing is read. A lot.
The Little Things
32. The best and deepest thoughts happen while sitting outside.
33. That moment at the end of Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, when Emma Thompson finds out Hugh Grant isn’t married? Gets me every time. (Also the scene in Casablanca when they drown out the Nazis with “La Marsellaise.”)
34. Boiled crawfish (rightly seasoned) is the greatest food on God’s dirty earth. (Tex-Mex is a very close second.) And that he would pack something so delicious into something so ugly is just like him. A picture of the gospel. “The glory of the mudbug is foolishness” and all that.
35. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who appreciate Al Green and those who are wrong.
36. Tom Brady, y’all. Hashtag GOAT
Dealing With Being Me
37. 40 years of living and I’m basically still that same little kid who wants to know he’s okay. Except now fat.
38. There is always a new battle to face. I do not struggle with lust as badly as I did when I was a younger man—praise God!—but this gluttony thing wins more days than I do.
39. I grew up under a heavy cloud of felt disapproval and general fear. I was a pretty neurotic kid and I masked this by trying to look spiritual, which only compounded the problem. Since my moment of gospel wakefulness (see below), I have a come a long way into the security of union with Christ, but that cloud is never far from me.
40. About ten years ago, I was depressed and suicidal and wallowing in the ruins of my life and myself, and the Lord reached into the little guest bedroom where I was spending my nights and woke me up to his glorious gospel. It did not change my circumstances, but it changed me. By his grace, I have not lost this sense of wonder and the conviction that came out of it – that the gospel is the secret of the universe. When the fad’s long over, I plan to keep beating that drum, even if it’s just for me and Jesus.