Less is more.

After almost twenty years of calling myself a Christian, I expect near-professional status by now. I should be praying for the entire world, giving lots of money to worthy causes, frequenting overseas missions fields, sharing the gospel with my neighbors, confessing my sins daily, reading the Bible regularly, showing up at church every Sunday.

I forget to pray before I eat.

I give too much money to Target. And Starbucks.

I’ve been on only one mission trip (five weeks in China).

I’ve never shared my faith with any of my neighbors (though I have baked Christmas cookies for them).

I am slow to admit my sins (ask the husband), and even slower at confessing them.

I can’t remember the last time I had a real, solid Quiet Time.

I listen to lots of hip hop. (This was not always the case.)

Forget “radical” discipleship and “crazy love”; I can barely manage a nominal Christian life (i.e., repent-believe-repeat).

My sins are ever before me. They seem to compound year after year, like credit card interest. I do not get better as I grow older; I get worse. I can’t adequately express how shocked I am by this. Who knew that marriage, motherhood, mortgage payments, aging parents, and all of life’s demands would bring out not the best in me but the worst?

The bad news: I am not legacy material. Nothing will be named in my memory.

The good news: My progressively dire circumstances are perfect for the Gospel to thrive. The need for a righteousness outside of myself—in Christ—is obvious when I am increasingly ashamed of what I am within.

After twenty years of negative progress, there is no reason for me to think that the next twenty (or sixty) years will be any different. I have every reason to believe that God will only continue to prune everything “good” in me, in order that on the day I die, I might actually and finally believe: I am a sinner.

Published by Brenda Jung

This is 40. Yesterday I turned 40. Turning 40 is like having to exit the theater of a live show I didn’t want to end. I step out onto the street humbled with grateful wonder. I know my soul was changed. I want to go back in to re-live the story, ponder the themes, understand the characters in greater depth, and most of all, hear all the music again. But I cannot. It was a live performance. I must exit the theater and move on. What makes aging tough is the inability to hold on to moments. When a significant moment is happening, I want to preserve it. Sometimes I get to snap a picture or record a video. Then, it’s over. I have to let it go. So many beautiful moments go uncaptured, unprocessed, unpublished. Life is a series of these moments, these ever-passing days, these premature goodbyes. And then you turn 40. “When I grow up” is no longer future. This is it. This is 40. 1. 40 feels like a mid-term evaluation. How much have you done? What do you have to show for yourself? I find myself trying to validate myself, which I don’t remember doing at 30. And why do I feel a need to apologize for leading an ordinary, average life? 2. The accusing voice in your head that tells you you should be doing more, you should be doing better, is often your own greed and ego. “More” and “better” are vague and meaningless standards. Just do your best with all your heart. 3. Regarding my body, it’s like I tell kids when passing out lollipops: “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.” A good diet and regular exercise can help, though maybe not as much after 40. 4. Create something. We are happier when we are creating--a cake, a scarf, a sonata, a sermon, a drawing, a painting, a poem, a presentation, a lesson plan. This is because we are made like God, who is Creator. 5. A lot of prayer requests can be discovered by finishing the sentence, “I am afraid of...” --such as, I am afraid of insignificance. Or, I am afraid that godly contentment will always be only theoretical. Or, I am afraid I will ruin my children. Then, pray hard. 6. Regarding stuff: You almost always get what you pay for. There are some things you shouldn’t skimp on by buying generic, such as potato chips and rice krispies cereal and ice cream. Brand names are better. 7. Regarding money: Tricky. Very tricky. Perhaps Satan’s best disguise, second to serpent. Be careful with this one. 8. Jesus is still very busy dying for me. Until I stop filling my water cup with lemonade and telling people I am fine when I am really crying inside, He will need to keep His blood flowing into little plastic cups for me at least once a month. 9. Everything is interesting. If a thing isn’t interesting, type it into the Google search box and spend one minute reading about it and looking at pictures of it. I promise you, everything--a tool, a disease, a plant, a planet, an insect, a war--is interesting. 10. Guilt is suicide. Clear your conscience, at all costs. Pray. Confess. Admit fault. Say sorry. Forgive and beg forgiveness. Try to take back the words. No amount of money, no good deed, no extravagant vacation can substitute for peace with God. This is the hill to die on. 11. Rebellion against God is the simple explanation for so many of our problems. Sin is the single most helpful concept for understanding our temper tantrums, sagging skin, cellulite, credit card debt, communal loneliness, and dying fruit trees. 12. Idols will age and grow with you, if you don’t kill them while they’re young. After decades of care and coddling, my gods of performance, productivity, and pleasing others are well-fed, healthy, and strong. I have done a fantastic job of raising my idols into adults. Now what? 13. Grown-up sins require grown-up grace. Every birthday, Jesus gives me all the love and blood I need to atone for all the sins I will commit over the next year. Forgiveness for the same sins I’ve been committing for decades is no ordinary birthday present. Brenda Jung

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