I got a good laugh the other day when someone saw some pictures from my wedding day and said that I had hardly aged. Well, that was almost 12 years ago. My wife was complaining the other day that I was the one who turned 40 but she was the one with all of the gray hair. I've told her countless times in the last 2 years that I expect to wake up one morning to find that my hair has turned completely white (kind of like that old Crash Test Dummies song, remember?).
Age is kind of a funny thing though. To be honest, I have felt that I have aged about 20 years in the last 2. So much has happened to me. I've lost both of my parents. I've had another child. I've been involved with a church split. I've graduated seminary. Losing my parents has sucked a significant amount of life out of me, but it's also grown me in leaps and bounds. I am a very different person than I was 2 years ago. I have changed.
Our experiences form and shape us. I am a firm believer that God allows our circumstances to act as crucibles of sorts, causing us to be transformed by the heat of those circumstances as the heat is turned on. They most likely aren't circumstances that we would choose for ourselves, I know that's the way that I feel. I would not have wished these last 2 years on people that I don't like let alone people that I care deeply about.
It's kind of funny that the circles that I have run in for most of my life have equated age and years of experience as cause for expertise, wisdom, or knowledge. While that might seem fairly accurate, I don't really think that it is. It completely leaves the idea of personal experience out of the equation and discounts how traumatic and stressful experiences in life can do in short periods what it would normally take years to accomplish. That's how I feel about my past few years.
In the church we make this error too often. We look at someone who has been around for a number of years or been a "charter member" of our church and assume spiritual maturity or expertise. The problem is, there hasn't been a significant change in them since they signed that charter so many years ago. Chronological age cannot be equated with spiritual or emotional maturity.
I have friends whose heads have gone completely gray. They're a few years younger than me. I can't explain it. My brother started going gray years ago and I thought that it was just a result of some of the difficult decisions that he had made earlier in life. You know what they say about hard living, right? Looking at me, it might seem as if I'm still "wet behind the ears" and lacking experience simply because of what you can see on the outside. Don't always judge a book by its cover though.
While I don't know that I have come far enough in my own spiritual maturity to say that I am thankful for the last few years, I can say that I am thankful that God has used them to change and transform me. I am bolder than I ever was before. I am more compassionate than I ever was before. I am kinder and gentler than I was before. At the same time, I have been angrier than I have been in a long time. I have been lonelier than I have been in a long time. I have been sadder than I have been in a long time. I guess there's two sides to every coin.
What experiences have you had that have shaped and changed you? Have you resisted them or asked God to help you through them? When we face difficult circumstances, we have a choice in how we respond. How will you respond?