“I’m much too young to feel this damn old.” Garth Brooks
The view from 30
When you’re 20, it’s hard to imagine what life will be like after a decade passes. If you measure yourself against today’s Millennials and Gen-Xers, it means you’ll probably spend those 10 years fleeing responsibility and things like family commitment, marriage, or a career, and you might opt instead for travel, the dating circuit or collecting as many unique but non-binding experiences as possible. The 20s are meant for wasting, we’re told; you don’t have to get serious about adult life until you’re at least 30. Have fun, grow up later.
If I had to sum up how I feel at 30, I’d borrow a line from Garth Brooks: “I’m much too young to feel this damn old.” I know, the over-50 crowd laughs when I tell them I feel old, but in many ways I do. No, I’m not yet worried about colonoscopies and prostate exams and I don’t partake in the local YMCA water aerobics hour, but the gray hairs are coming and stress leaves its toll on the body nonetheless. Maybe I’ve just covered a lot of miles in a short timeframe.
I can also remember all the advice I got when I was 18 and 19. I was over my head in love with a brown-haired girl from Snowmass, eager to get married, tackle college and start a family, but there were plenty of people who told me I was crazy. “Don’t get tied down with marriage, you’re young! Enjoy yourself for a few years.” “You don’t want to get married in college. What about your career?” Shockingly, a lot of those people were Christians.
If my closest friends and family are correct, I can be a contrary person with a little bit of stubborn Irishman in me. So naturally I didn’t listen. I didn’t spend my 20s like some character out of a Jack Kerouac novel, I didn’t turn into a serial dater and I didn’t chase big money with a fancy, high-dollar college degree.
At the ripe old age of 20, I tied the knot. I was a junior in college and my wife a sophomore. We moved into a flat (I threw that in to get a smile from my Anglophile wife), both worked and went to classes. Two years later our first son was born. We moved to Louisville and had two more boys. We’re in Illinois now, I’ve turned 30, and there’s now a decade of marriage to celebrate between us.
“Two roads diverged in a wood and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost
Was it easy? Lord knows it was not. But by God’s grace married family life was the best decision I’ve ever made. People told me I had to grow up and learn responsibility before I got married, but the truth is this: You learn responsibility through sacrifice, not by living as a vagrant drifter without a care in the world.
Get married. Make babies. Work hard.
If I had to hand out advice to a 20-year-old like myself, I’d keep it simple: As a general rule, pursue and prepare for marriage by seeking a vocation that allows you to provide for a wife and family. Get married. Make babies. Love Jesus. Work hard.
You’ll work jobs that basically suck, but it’s essential that you learn how to endure. Having a family forces you to make the mature decision to embrace the suck while slowly plotting your next career move. Stay faithful and you will, in time, reap what you sow. But realize, too, that life is more than your job. Give your wife and your children your very best; they’re the most important garden you’ll ever tend.
Very few things are as incredible as having children (making them, yes, ranks near the top). Very few things teach you self sacrifice and servant leadership like raising a family. It’ll show you what a jerk you are and how badly you need Jesus, which is a good thing. It’ll bring you to the end of yourself, which in turn brings you to your knees in prayer. That, too, is a good thing.
Number your days
As Moses prayed, so also we need God to help us realize that our days are numbered (Psalm 90). We need his help so that we don’t waste them but instead make the most of them. I’m looking back on my 20s grateful that, in some measure, God has helped me take the road less traveled. He afflicted me, as a father who loves his son. And perhaps I can see now more than ever that it had a purpose—God was growing me up, teaching me leadership and a shepherd’s heart.
I’m grateful that my 20s weren’t wasted, despite my own stupidity and tendency to get lost along the way. I’m also proud of all my friends, both peers and elders, who’ve pursued Christ and given the rest of us an example to follow. They chose family, children, and quiet faithfulness over the best the world has to offer, and they have inspired me along the way.
Life is short and your 20s matter. Don’t waste them.