Reflections as I hit 30.
Well friends, I’ve made it safe through my twenties.
Perilous decade, that. So many paths, so many vivid, competing choices. So much travel required of the soul.
Standing now, three days this side of thirty, I feel great sympathy with the T.S. Eliot lyric:
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
When I look back to my wide-eyed twenty-year-old self, when I read through the journals I scrawled and scratched in those heart-hungering years, I find the seeds of the dreams and hopes, drives and desires that I have now pursued into writing, study, and work. I get what Eliot is saying, because I am qualitatively the same now as I was then. I still love books and I still want to love God far more than I do. I still bear a fiery curiosity about imagination and how it works. I still want to find wild spaces and my whole being yearns for long, lonely walks in the wind. I still want to love lonely people. I still crave friendship and soul mates. I still want a cottage with the spice of a Rivendell air. I still want to go to Oxford. And I still want to write the kind of story that will set a soul in a new air altogether.
I haven’t really changed. But somehow, I feel I have arrived on the doorstep of my own soul and its an arrival and a beginning all at once. The end of this decade’s exploring is not the revelation of a new self, but a a final settling into the self God gave me to begin with. I’ve struggled with that self, at times hating my lot, at times wondering what good my particular impractical presence would ever be to the world, some days just wondering if I would ever be at ease in my own skin. But I walked and struggled hard with God through those times. I wrestled with him, and came to truly know the shape of his hand, the feel of his grip on my resisting heart and I felt him guide me, prod me, cajole me forward into paths of life I couldn’t have found on my own. Sometimes, those ways ran through my own heart and self. I’ve explored my soul extensively in the last ten years and I begin to know its paths, its seasons, the contours of the land inside myself and the nurture required to bring beauty from its soil.
At thirty, with so many battles fought and dreams lost, with so many memories gained and loves discovered, I’ve arrived back at the door of my own castle. And I finally feel equipped to begin to truly rule the kingdom of my heart.
The strongest emotion I feel about this somewhat momentous birthday (and I know, it’s just one more day in a lifetime, but I do think its grand to mark the turning points in a life!), is a high-spirited determination to do and make and love with renewed vigor. To create with undeterred creativity. To love with unstinting goodwill. There are long lists of things I have tried and failed or yearned or dreamed of doing since the first years of adulthood. But I’ve honed my desires down to the few I know I was made to attain. I know what the crops and crafts of my inner kingdom will be.
Further, I know that much in my has ripened in the past decade, and it is time to bring the harvest in. So, I’ve been thinking on what I want to accomplish in the next ten years.
Stories, for sure. I simply refuse to turn 31 without completing the one story that has burned in my heart for ten years. I’ve been beaten back by critics and my own timid heart, but this year I shall forge ahead.
Love, given out with vim and vigor as it has been given to me. I have read the Gospel of John three times in the past year, and the words Jesus spoke in that last, special night in the upper room even more. I am startled, almost breathless as the reality of what Christ came to give invades and claims me. Oneness with the his own soul, oneness with the Father. Love, lived and given in an unending circle beginning with God, flowing through Christ into me, and into the people around me. The life of it astounds me. I want to learn it more keenly, to live it, to consciously choose it every day.
Friendship claimed and cultivated with real intention in what seems to me an age increasingly given to isolation. I’ve been reading Tolkien and the Great War, a biography covering the early days of Tolkien’s creation of Middle Earth and how his experience on the western front shaped his mythology. But the book also delves deeply into the friendship Tolkien had with a group of three other boys, begun in high school and carried through university and war. Formed around long, bookish discussions, shared ideals, and high spirits, the friendship was formalized into a club called the “TCBS” (for Tea Cakes and Barrovian Society, if my memory serves). The group grew larger at one point, but right before the war, the original four basically kicked the other members out because they had become too cynical and shallow. The “Council of London” was called, and the friends gathered to share their ideals, articulate their dreams, their goals, their creative visions. The fellowship established lasted through the war, lasted through countless letters, lasted, I think, in the work that Tolkien began in those difficult years, encouraged by the friends who were the first to discover the world beginning to grow in his imagination. Community like that, I think, must be fought for. Sought, and claimed, and nourished.
Rhythms. Modern life is such a wild, mad ride of activity and technology. Boundaries seem to slip away from us. But if I could make an early morning walk and the reading of Scripture a thing I did every single day of my life, a rhythm as sure as sunrise and sunset, I think I’d have a foundation that could keep me steady through storm and sunlight and every season of my days on earth. I’ve managed it halfway for many years, but I want to make it a sure thing now.
I’ll stop there for now. How’s that for a super idealistic ramble to mark a dreamer’s birthday?
I write it simply because as I look back over what I would have called the very difficult decade of my twenties, I am startled with the beauty of the life God has given. I am so thankful that I have made it this far. That God has held and kept me through sorrow and struggle, through fiery doubt, through temptation, through loneliness, through the countless relationships, circumstances, or struggles that could have deadened my soul. I say it because I truly want you to know that God has kept me in life. That his goodness really is unfailing. I write it because I am prone to self doubt, but I never want that to rule my words. I’d rather use them to say with David:
The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup. You support my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places. Indeed, my portion is beautiful to me.
Turning thirty, for me, is to recognize just how beautiful it is. And to begin to learn how to share the beauty I’ve found.
Sarah Clarkson is an author, blogger, and student of theology at the University of Oxford. She loves books, beauty, and imagination and wants everyone else to understand why they should too. She is the author of Read for the Heart (a guide to children’s literature) and Caught Up in a Story, an exploration of the way that narrative and imagination form a child’s sense of self. She wrote The Lifegiving Home with her mother, Sally Clarkson, and blogs about home, books, Oxford, and beauty at thoroughlyalive.com. When not chasing doctrinal mysteries down in the Bodleian, walking the meadows, or drinking another good cup of coffee, Sarah can be found at home with a good novel in the red-doored English house she shares with her husband, Thomas.