I’m writing this because I wish someone would’ve written such a letter to me when I was your age. It’s okay that they didn’t. I’ve figured it out for myself as I’ve gone along, and to a certain extent, you’ll have to do the same. But there’s nothing wrong with pointing out some things up ahead that could be problematic for you. Experience is the teacher, but that doesn’t mean it all has to be direct. Sometimes, you can learn from the experience of others, especially those who care.
When you hit those later thirtysomething years, your landscape will change.
Right now you’re following a winner/loser script in life. You can do that until you’re about 35, maybe 40 if you’re fortunate. In fact, up to that point such an approach to life can serve you rather well in building a career and establishing yourself in this world. I pray you will be ambitious with a capital A, working to be the very best at all you do. I admit, it’s a great feeling to get some “wins” early in life: securing a great job right out of college, nabbing a book deal for the novel you labored long nights over, being invited to be part of a team that’s poised to truly make a difference in the world. Without some early wins, whether large or small, it is easy to enter later-life shy in the hope department. And of all the things I pray for you, at the top of the list is that you would have hope.
But you see, when you hit those later thirtysomething years, your landscape will change. This is nothing new—it has happened to every human since those two characters in Eden, and I believe it will continue. However, if you’re not careful, you will spend the afternoon of your life the way you did the morning. And that doesn’t work. Actually, some people make it work, but it’s the kind of work I believe is soul-killing, to both themselves and the people around them. It’s a sure-fire recipe for despair.
Dear ones, I’ve no desire to be the bearer of bad news, but that winner/loser script will no longer serve you well because the truth is that you’re going to start losing. You’re going to start losing things over which you have no control. Sure, this can and will happen before you’re 35, but it is in that season of life when you’ll have a keener sense of it, you’ll really feel it. When your mom was 39, she lost her dad to pancreatic cancer. It came swift and terrible. When I was 36, a career path that I dearly loved came to an end. In the last decade, your mom and I have lost friends. Some of those have been deaths; some have been relationship breaks, betrayals. There are aspects of our health that we’ve lost; we simply cannot do all we used to do. I could go on. Most of these losses were beyond our control. From a winner/loser approach, we were doing all the right things. We shouldn’t have lost. But we did.
You need a different script for the afternoon. For those of us who call ourselves Christian, that’s the death/resurrection script. The cherished things of this world are passing away all the time—people, places, pets, you name it. The wise way to live in light of this is to grieve those deaths fully. Don’t give in to some resigned “that’s just the way things are” and stuff your loss in an emotional hole, or worse, clench your fists in rage at life. Cry when it hurts, my children, because it does. And then, as time and you move on, live open-handed, open-eyed, open-eared—use all your senses and pay attention for signs of new life, traces of resurrection. This is the life-giving work best suited for the afternoon of your life. At times resurrection is blatant, like the career path I’m on now, one that I truly love, one that had to come by way of the death of another. Other times resurrection is what the Scots call “simmer blink”—brief glimpses of brightness and warmth, like new friends that will pass through your life who have shared common deaths, or the lilacs you thought were winter-killed that came back in May.
Some of those around you will call such an approach to later-life foolish. This is nothing new. I believe it’s jealousy, for they see in you something they wish they had—a hope that comes only by daily trusting in what happened on a cross and in a tomb so very long ago. This will take all your courage and then some.
And where or how will they see this hope in you? Well, you know I’m a dreamer. So my dream is, as your afternoons grow closer and closer to dusk, that Easter would shine brighter and brighter in your eyes. I do pray you’ve witnessed it in mine.
Only God knows how much I love you.
Photograph by Eric Cahan