This morning I woke up and gasped, “Why isn’t the baby crying?” I haven’t woken up to anything other than the sounds of my newborn daughter’s cries in over two months. I hurriedly sat up to peek into her bassinet and check to see if she was still breathing, something I’ve done hundreds of times since her birth. Sure enough, she was breathing and sound asleep. I laid back down next to my husband and had what felt like my first moment of clarity in a very long time.
Today is my thirty-fifth birthday.
How did I get here? I wondered. I was just twenty-three, it feels like I blinked, and now I’m suddenly thirty-five. Thirty-five years old!
Thirty-five years feels like a long time. Now, I know logically that I’m not old at all. My grandmother is 102, and I’m sure she considers anyone under eighty a “spring chicken.” But thirty-five feels so incredibly adult. It feels like the age when I should be able to look back at my first thirty-five years and pat myself on the back for all I’ve accomplished, all the dreams realized, and who and what I’ve become. For some reason, when I was thirty-three and yesterday when I was thirty-four, it still felt appropriate to have goals left unaccomplished. But today at thirty-five, it feels as though I should let go of old hopes, and of who and what I thought I’d become.
Thirty-five feels like a fork in the road of life. If I take one path I could keep reaching, keep writing, and keep trying to become somebody. On the other side I could…well, I could quit. I could pour all of myself into raising my daughter and being a wife. I don’t think there’s actually a right or wrong answer. There’s just a choice. Pouring my whole self into raising my daughter and being the best wife I can be would not be wrong. It wouldn’t necessarily be unsatisfying despite what certain modern societal norms might indicate. Life is full of choices with no right or wrong answer, which can make life difficult to navigate.
I’ve always wanted to accomplish great things. I’ve wanted to be respected. I’ve longed to be smart, successful, talented, and valuable. I’ve wanted to be seen and known. I strived at a panicked pace for years trying to become somebody. I think if we’re honest, we all must admit we want to accomplish something. We want to be seen as smart, successful, valuable, and talented. We want to be respected. We want to be somebody.
A few weeks ago my mom said something about herself that has stuck in my mind ever since. She said, “I don’t need to be famous or known. I don’t want to be somebody, because, frankly, I feel like I already am somebody.” I should have asked her how long it took to feel like that. Was it before or after thirty-five? What if I don’t feel that yet? If I haven’t done all the things on my list of planned accomplishments, if I haven’t reached all those goals I think will surely make me feel like somebody, should I quit? Honesty, I thought by thirty-five I’d have a list of accomplishments to lift my self-esteem when it needed a boost. I thought I would feel like somebody.
I don’t have a lot of time to ponder these things. Life with a newborn is a hurried pace. When I add deadlines and expectations, my own or others’, to it, I’m spinning. My first thirty-five years or at least the last half were spent moving at a frantic pace as I tried to accomplish dreams in the midst of what else most of us try to do in our twenties. I was trying to pay rent on time, trying to pay off student loans, trying to get promoted—trying, trying, and trying to reach whatever goal I thought would make me feel as though I wasn’t just a waste of space. My twenties were a whirlwind of good intentions and questionable decisions with results I spent my early thirties cleaning up.
Today I woke up tired. I’m tired of trying to be somebody. That’s what I realized this morning. It’s not just that I’m another year older, it’s not just that I’m thirty-five; it’s that I’ve wasted so much time striving to be somebody, while feeling like a nobody. I’ve missed out on who I actually am.
I’m a Christian and my faith informs much of who I am, or it should. All of these desires seemingly embedded in me are God-given; the desire to accomplish, to use my intellect, to succeed, to offer my talents, to be respected, and to be recognized as a valuable member of the human race. The desire to be somebody and the desire to be known are not bad desires. They’re good desires, depending on how we define the attainment of them. My desires themselves are not the problem, but rather the way I have perceived these desires would be fulfilled.
If I could see myself from my heavenly Father’s eyes and catch a glimpse of what he sees, I think the striving would ease. Frankly, I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how to see myself as he sees me. Furthermore, I don’t know how to care more about what he thinks of me than what the world thinks of me. Yet I know it’s God who has given me my measure of intelligence and the ability to learn, and how the world views my intelligence is secondary. I am successful in the moments when I love and serve others as he calls me to. I am respected because God respects me enough to offer me free will, never forcing me to love him but allowing me the choice. I am accomplishing a great thing as I nurture my daughter. And I am known! I am known by the God who loved me enough to create me.
The psalmist tells us, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth”. I have always been known, not by the world, but certainly by God. One of the most powerful realities of Christianity is that we are not only known but loved to the point of our Creator’s sacrifice. Not only did God so love the world but he so loved me! C. S. Lewis writes, “He died not for men, but for each man. If each man had been the only man made, he would have done no less.”
I know these things to be true, so why haven’t they changed how I view myself? If I am already somebody according to God, then why don’t I feel it? I want to learn to cling to these truths and to the reality of who I am in Christ. I want those truths and that reality to change this nobody, and remind her that she is, indeed, already somebody.