XL: A Big Guy Looks at 40

Recently I realized that the way to write the number 40 in Roman numerals is “XL.” Since I’m well over six feet tall, I’ve dealt with those two letters most of my life. I’m now dealing with them in a new way as I turn 40 this year. I guess you could call the “Big 4-0” the “XL XL.” That’s a fitting title for this birthday that, in our culture, is more talked about, more dreaded, more viewed as a landmark than perhaps any other. As the realization of my impending arrival at that landmark came to me in recent weeks, it has certainly had an impact. My thoughts about the past have been heady with emotion, while my thoughts of the future have become more focused than ever. In no particular order, here are some observations as I reach this milestone birthday:

Your younger years set the course for your life. Those from school whom you would have expected to achieve have generally done so; those who did not seem to desire to accomplish anything have usually lived up (or down) to that.

Achievement doesn’t always mean financial success or renown. Some people I grew up with have little financial means but enjoy a wonderful life with their family. Others have done very well financially but are not personally fulfilled. Finances may make parts of life better, but a happy life requires much more.

“It’s who you know” is truer than you think. Not so much in the cliche sense, though. If you want to make an impact on the world…well, the world is really just a bunch of people. The more you take the time to know, the better your chance to change the world.

Work hard. Do all you can to get educated and prepared, but when it’s time to dig in, there will be no substitute for working hard to reach your goal.

Care for your family. My calling as a pastor has taken us far away from our extended family. At the same time, it has made me realize their importance and their irreplaceability. And it makes me think about how to stay close to our own children if we are eventually miles apart. We have a lot of friends, but even so, sometimes family is all you have. Do what you can to maintain those ties.

You have less time than you think. If there is a truth that everyone talks about and no one fully comprehends, I think it’s that one. Time is so short. But it’s not too short; the key is using it the right way. That mindless television show? Maybe exchange it for talking with your spouse or a friend. That Saturday of Netflix? Maybe spend it outside. That hour of doing nothing on Sunday morning? Maybe go to church instead. While I have regrets about things I’ve done, I have far more regrets over wasted time and wasted opportunities.

Seek God. Everyone wants a moral compass, a purpose in life, an answer to the difficult questions. Unfortunately, most of us decide to settle for the answers we like and then attribute them to deity or the universe. Take the time instead to seek out Who God really is and to understand that His ways may be higher and better than your own. Truthfully, it’s harder than it sounds. But if we want true peace of mind for our life–never mind for our eternity–it’s the only valid course.

There are certainly more lessons I’ve learned, and doubtless many more that I need to learn. What would you add to this list? I’d love to hear from you.