I'm turning 25 tomorrow, and I have mixed feelings about it. Twenty-five sounds momentous to me for some reason — maybe not as momentous as a brand new decade but important in its own way. This birthday puts me on the downward slope of these 20-something years that pop culture so glamorizes.
While at my sister's house last month, I noticed an issue of Women's Health on the kitchen table. "40 is the New 20," its cover claimed in bold red letters. It was the magazine's "Age-in-Reverse Special."I found it absurd and appealing simultaneously.
If 40 is the new 20, I thought to myself, is 25 the new 5 ... or the new 12 and a half?
And if 20 is the age we're supposed to aim for, how am I to feel at nearly 25?
The older I get, the more I realize how obsessed our culture is with not getting older — and the more I realize how much I've bought in to the obsession.
For the first time in my life, I've recently found myself noticing faint lines on my forehead when I’m doing my makeup in the morning. Unsurprisingly, I've also found myself noticing just how many products promise to rid me of those lines. I mean, have you been in the Target makeup section lately? I can't help thinking that Ponce de León would have a field day in there. All those “anti-aging” serums and “age-defying” concealers — youth in a bottle for just $7.99.
But it’s not just magazine covers and makeup aisles that reveal our obsession with youthfulness. The other day I caught a car commercial that exemplified the same:
Want to feel younger? (Don’t we all?) Buy a Cadillac.
News flash: Buying a Cadillac won’t make you younger.
But, oh, we want it to.
A few weeks ago, at the beginning of Lent, I got up early to go to our church’s Ash Wednesday service. I’d never been to one before. After the sermon we all filed up to the front to get our ashes. “You are dust, and to dust you will return,” the man said to me as he smudged some ashes on my forehead — right on those faint wrinkles that had been bothering me.
To dust I will return, I thought.
I lingered after the service to chat with my friends before we headed off to our days at work and school. We chatted like normal — like 20-somethings who never think about death — but I was thinking about it.
The ashes on each friend’s forehead reminded me of the bright orange spray paint used to mark trees that will soon be chopped down. When I see an orange line on a tree on the side of the road, I know that tree doesn’t have much longer. On Ash Wednesday I remembered that neither do we.
I’d be willing to wager that the value our culture places on youthfulness stems directly from our fear of death. That’s why age-defying anything sounds so appealing. That’s why some women get too many facelifts and some men just won’t let their combovers go. That’s why there’s a store called “Forever 21.” If we could defy age, we could defy death. But we can’t defy age.
Funny, then, that we're still surprised by it. At least I am. I've been aging steadily for 25 years, but I still wake up some days and wonder where the weeks went, where the months went, where my childhood went. Had I been hoping this aging thing would stop? That growing up was just a lie fed to us by grown-ups who'd secretly always been grown-ups?
I'm reminded of the John Mayer song "Stop This Train," which is so painfully relatable that I find it hard to listen to sometimes:
"So scared of getting older / I'm only good at being young / So I play the numbers game to find a way to say that life has just begun ... See once in a while when it's good, it'll feel like it should / And they're all still around, and you're still safe and sound / And you don't miss a thing till you cry when you're driving away in the dark / Singing stop this train, I want to get off and go home again / I can't take this speed it's moving in / I know I can't / 'Cause now I see I'll never stop this train"
Words of wisdom from John Mayer: We'll never stop this train.
Indisputably, one of the scariest prospects of aging is the prospect of a deteriorating body. I've heard about how difficult it becomes to maintain your weight, to rebuild after injury. I've spent the better part of the last decade dealing with chronic leg pain, so the idea of healing any slower than I already do is particularly terrifying to me.
Oh, and the beauty thing. What are we aging (and especially single) women to do in a culture that equates lovability with beauty and beauty with youth?
These Sara Groves lyrics made me tear up recently:
“What God meant by woman, I’m hard-pressed to find / I'm chasing paper dreams and a guilt undefined / Fighting to stay younger, trying to stay thin and in control / Searching for a magic formula, a thing to soothe our souls / Wondering where the peace went, wondering where the peace went, wondering where the peace went / I'm finite / I come to an end”
I have a feeling all these musings sound quite shortsighted coming from the keyboard of a (nearly) 25-year-old. What do I know of aging and wrinkles and death and life?
Admittedly, not much. But I this is what I do know: I know that I've begun to detect within my heart the inklings of a discontentment that doesn't belong. I'm barely on the brink of the age at which people starting minding their ages, and already I find myself entertaining age-related worries and wistfulness.
Anybody got some ashes I could borrow?
I think I need some more for this aging forehead of mine.
In a culture that tells me to cling to my youth for dear life (literally), those ashes served as a much needed reminder that my own impending death is not in question. But, more importantly, they served as a reminder that this world is temporary, that my hope is in heaven, that death is not the end of the story. It's been overcome.
We spend so much time and money and energy just trying not to die. (Case in point: I wrote half this blog while "sunning" by a pool — covered in 100 SPF sunscreen, with a hat on, under an umbrella.) Who is this Jesus, then, who came to earth and died deliberately?
Who is he if not the only hope we have?
If the gospel is true — if Jesus literally rose from the dead to save us from death — there's no place in my life for age-related fears, and there's no reason for them either.
We sang these words at church yesterday:
"If sin be pardoned and secure, death has no sting beside / The law gives sin its damning power, but Christ, my ransom, died / So let us praise the God of victory, immortal hope for mortal flesh / So let us praise the God of victory, who makes us conquerors of death"
"Death-conquering" really one-ups "age-defying," if you ask me.
I've been reading 1 Peter lately (mainly because our church's sermon series on John made me realize what a total goober Peter was and also how much I relate to him), and Peter the goober totally explains what I'm trying to wrap my head and heart around:
"All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay." (1:3-4)
I can barely conceive of a place "beyond the reach of change and decay," but it sounds like the place I'm looking for (and like the place John Mayer was looking for and like the place the guy in that Cadillac commercial was looking for).
Peter goes on:
"For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. As the Scriptures say, 'People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades. But the word of the Lord remains forever.'" (I:23-24)
There's hope in Peter's words for those of us with failing knees and fading beauty, i.e., all of us. A lasting hope and a living hope in Christ Jesus.
Remind me, Lord, at 25, that I am only dust. Remind me that I live and I die in light of heaven.