Today’s post comes to you from a train to Chicago.
I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me back up a bit. In less than six months, I will turn 30 years old, and between you and me… I’m having a bit of a crisis about it. I get that I’m still very much in the early years of my life. I also get that once my 30th birthday hits, I’ll probably feel the exact same way that I do right now. After all, what’s another day than just another day?
For me, it’s more the symbology of it. Namely, it’s caused me to reflect on my 20's a lot lately. If you don’t know me or my history, I’ve very much lived a “good boy” life to date. I went to a Christian university, got married right out of college at age 22, immediately began my career, and had kids starting at age 27. It’s a far cry from my other twenty-something colleagues who traveled, had multiple lovers, and generally experienced a lot more than my boring self. Heck, I was just lamenting to a friend that the only time I left Illinois in 2018 was to go four-wheeling with my dad on the Illinois-Wisconsin border for an afternoon.
And so, the train.
As a means to sort of “satiate” my tiny existential crisis, I’m traveling alone to Chicago for the weekend. Going to stay at a nice little boutique hotel and visit an art museum or two. It’s not quite “packing in my lost 20’s into a single weekend,” but I’m looking forward to it nevertheless.
(Funny side story: When I did get to Chicago, I went to a mall where a security guard stopped me and asked if I understood that 17 year olds & under couldn’t enter the mall without a parent. I explained that I was 29 where he then carded me and forced me to where a yellow wristband. I swear, I have NEVER been mistaken for being young. It’s always the opposite. Irony at its finest.)
But regret isn’t necessarily the word I’d use to describe I’m feeling. Actually, that was the word I was using, but upon further reflection, it’s not a fair choice. Regret implies that I wish I could go back and do everything over again. Sure, there are some specific decisions I wish I would have made differently, but overall… who knows where I would be if I didn’t go what I went through?
Let’s talk about pain specifically. My pain. Your pain. Everybody’s pain.
My life is shaped by my pain, and I think you’d be hard pressed to meet anybody that isn’t profoundly impacted by their painful experiences. Of course, I don’t want to compare my pain to those of others. I’ve not been raped, physically abused, or lived the life of a refugee. My pain has more so centered around loss (e.g. the death of my sister) and the fear of loss (e.g. fear of losing my job).
Without diminishing the pain of others, I think it’s super important to remember, however, that pain is a relative experience. What I mean by that is that pain is felt on a scale juxtaposed to all your other personal experiences. So my experiences, as petty as they may be in comparison to the hurts of others, are felt just as strongly. I’ve lived a pretty good life, so it doesn’t take much to make me feel as if my world is collapsing. (And my wife will tell you I’m a little bit dramatic.)
The good news is that your pain doesn’t have to have a lasting negative impact on your life. The virtue of hope enables us to stay on this path to see everything as a means of building toward something beautiful, something full of life. Richard Rohr details this wonderfully in his book Falling Upward. In the book, Rohr refers to this juxtaposition of pain toward hope as “second half of life” thinking. When he means second half of life, he means the life you live after you go through particularly difficult experiences. And yeah, for most people, this will happen in their literal second half of life.
Let me make clear two points about that, though. First, you’re not going to get to “second half of life” thinking overnight. My 20s rocked me with some rough experiences, and it’s been maybe just the last six or so months that I am beginning to feel comfortable telling myself that I am in that “second half of life.” And I’m sure I’m not totally immune to pain now. I’m young enough that I will likely experience another traumatic experience. I just pray every day that it doesn’t have to do with pain coming to my daughters.
Which brings me to my second point: second half of life thinking doesn’t make you like Teflon to pain. I’ll say right now, if you go through another traumatic experience and DON’T show signs of grief, it’s unhealthy. Look at the biblical story of Jesus and Lazarus. Lazarus, one of Jesus’ best friends, dies, and then we get the shortest verse in the Bible in John 11:35: Jesus wept. And a few short verses later, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.
Now, I don’t want to lose you with the mystical elements of this story, so let’s focus on the intent of the story and set aside what may or may not be true. As the story is told, the timeline of events goes Lazarus dies > Jesus cries > Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. I guess the big question for me is, why mourn when he knew he was just going to raise Lazarus anyway? Like, I wouldn’t be upset about losing my job on Friday if I knew I would start an even better one on Monday.
So what gives?
If you understand how the Bible was authored, then you know it was intentionally placed as such. That said, the way I understand this story is that Jesus was setting an example that demarcating pain with grief and sadness is a healthy part of the human experience. Healthy in the sense that you are acknowledging that this experience is forming you.
How you will let it form you, of course, is up to you.
My train ride this weekend, though it was a literal experience, is a good way to think about life. I am here, writing to you today, because of all the experiences I went through. If things had been different, I might not be doing this today. I might not even recognize that person. The train of my experiences led me to this moment.
And for that, I am grateful for this path.