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Being Honest with Ourselves: on life patterns and looking back

My 25th birthday is four short months away. This birthday, it seems, has been culturally imbued with wry humor: the “quarter-century” comments about mental breakdowns and the approach of thirty. Though I can’t claim to be “old” yet (I say that as a sort of apology or shrug of the shoulder to any who might laugh at the forthcoming comment), this birthday has been making me feel . . . older.

It’s a bit of a joke with my family and friends that the pigment in my hair is noticeably emptying, coarse gray and white hairs filling in at my roots. On top of that, the other week I was walking down the sidewalk and did a playful jump and heel-click and almost pulled a muscle. All joking aside, this birthday feels like a weighty milestone. In some ways, it feels like I’m exiting the “dreamer” phase of life: that stage of living where there is so little behind us that our eyes only point bright and shining to the future and what we think it might hold.

I still understand that stage. I look forward to having kids, to growing old with my husband, to living life wherever it leads us. But I also have many dreams that have passed, that have morphed into memories. There’s an inner conflict here, where there is still so much to look forward to, but, also, so much to look back upon.

At almost twenty-five, I’ve lived enough years to see patterns in my life. In our lives, desire works itself out in telling ways. It undergirds our decisions—the man behind the curtain, as it were. The pattern of decisions we make is our most important narrative, because it reveals the state of our hearts. What do we want? What do we work toward?

Lately, as I’ve been processing this birthday and the way age opens our eyes little by little to our deepest desires, I’ve been looking back with a measure of clarity. From this vantage, small as it is, peering out squinty-eyed over the expanse of a quarter decade, I’ve been wondering what the patterns are forming themselves into. What the narrative might be saying.

There’s a line I wrote in my first blog post, and I see it lived out within the patterns of my life more than I care to confess:

“So often I long to be, before I am.”

So many seasons of my life have been characterized by the pressing, verbalized desire to be something other than what I am. As a child, I spoke often of wanting to become a writer. I also gushed about becoming a singer. Anyone hearing me at ten might have supposed my greatest desire was to sing in front of an audience. Time weeded out the truth. I never took my desire to sing further than the words it took to say it. But I treated writing differently. I nurtured it, fed it, practiced it—working at it always, despite the obstacles.

The difference is plain: true desire works for what it wants. It doesn’t passively wish for it. It digs deep, works long, pushes on. Obstacles are hurtles, not barriers, for true desire.

Proverbs two puts me in my place when I read it. No matter what my verbalized desires are concerning my spiritual growth, Proverbs lays it all out on the line: true desire works for what it wants.

“My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding—indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:1-5).

Looking back at the pattern of our lives is a great perch to suss out what we truly desire, versus what we long to be seen as. The superficiality of pseudo-desires can maraud itself as diligent desire to others, but in our day-to-day lives, we know the truth.

The thing we sometimes don’t want to hear is that all of us have desires that are working toward what they want. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, these desires are present in our daily, mundane realities, pressing toward a goal. It takes discernment—and honesty—to see these desires and pseudo-desires alike.

Don’t be afraid. Look back, trace the patterns, read the narrative. Take time to name the things that need to be rooted out or redirected. Let’s be truthful with ourselves about the things we earnestly desire and are working toward.


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