Birthday Wishes for Grown-Ups
As I am writing this, today is my 43rd birthday. Sounds quite ordinary but for me it's a biggie. Let me explain...
Six years ago on my 37 birthday, I began a countdown to 40 (Go ahead, say it..."Jeff's a Type A!") Sitting down with my prayer journal, I scribbled out a list of ten "desires." Unlike goals that are often set in January and then fade by spring, these desires of the heart were deep-seated thoughts or dreams.
Some of my desires related to my relationship with my children (Austin is growing - I want to connect with him more.) Some related to my career (I'd like to have a year to write.) Some were even a bit silly (I'd like to run a 60-second, 400-meter dash.) Some were very personal, secrets between God and me.
On my 38th and 39th birthdays I reviewed the list, allowing these desires to sink deeper into my heart. As I approached 40, I was struck by how several of these desires had materialized as realities. Realizing the power that resulted from this three-year exercise, I stole away to a coffee shop on my 40th birthday for a day of solitude (I know, more weirdness) and repeated the process. Another three-year view. Another set of desires. And another review session on my 41st and 42nd birthdays.
So you see, turning 43 is a big deal. It's time for another round...my 3rd.
Here are some key lessons about this exercise I now fondly call DESIRES:
Strategy not allowed -This is not a strategy or a goal-setting session. If I try to make them SMART (you know--specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, etc…), I'm going about it the wrong way. I save that for the annual New Year's routine.
Instead, I prop my feet up on a cushion, sip a favorite hot drink, reflect on God's blessings and dream like a child for more.
At 37, I noted the desire to move closer to my life-calling by 40. This was in God's hands. It was not something I controlled. It was liberating to write down something that depended less on a five-point plan and more on the sovereignty of God. Just months before my 40th birthday, I stepped in a new job…a new ministry…a new calling that has brought tremendous fulfillment and joy to my journey.
Three years is perfect - I love the 3-year view. It's long enough for God's patient handiwork to take shape in my life but short enough for me to keep my focus. One year is too short…it goes by in a flash. Five-ten years is too long.
God is tracking - God knows the desires of our heart. And like the Father who gives gifts to his children, I believe God delights in bringing our desires to reality.
On my 37th birthday, I noted it "might" be fun to have another child. This was very much a "loose thought" – not really one I considered a desire. My wife and I had three sons and were not expecting more children. My wife definitely was not "desiring" more children. We never even discussed the possibility. I’m still not sure how it made the list. But to our great shock we became pregnant that year. God gave us a girl. Today she is 5-years-old and has brought immense joy to our lives.
They shape my prayers - I don't carry around a list of my desires. In fact, I may not look at them for 6 months or more. But somehow God plants them in my heart and they show up in my prayers. Or maybe they're already on my heart and that’s what makes them desires. If my desire is to advance my relationship with a particular child, it begins to permeate my thinking. I do not need goals or steps or tactics or strategies to do this. It's in me. It's in my prayers. And God works it out.
There may be repeats - Some desires stay on the list. That means they're heavy on my heart and still being worked out by God. My desire for a vibrant and effective prayer life was #1 on the list at 37 and again at 40. Guess what? It will likely be at the top again at 43. I desire more in this area of my life, which also continues to be a most elusive desire for me.
Some make me laugh - I remember when I jotted down the desire to discover the secrets to simplicity. That was the same year I found myself owning two homes for nearly half the year (trying to sell one and remodeling the other), with our new baby on the way. (Real Simple Magazine was not interested in my story that year...)
Limit the List - The shorter the list, the better. I typically have between 8-12 desires. Too many and the desires become diluted. I reserve one for each of my 4 children and my wife. This leaves room for a few more really solid desires--and a "wild card" or two if you want (...such as, “How about a baby?!”)
Help see the future - One of the most powerful parts of the exercise is looking into the future. If I have a desire for my 12-year-old, I envision him as he will be in 3 years as a 15- year-old. For my 16-year old, I envision him as a freshman in college. There's power in visualizing the future.
Some are secrets - There are some desires I do not share with anyone. They're between God and me.They're personal. This is also my forum to be bold…maybe even a bit "Jabez-y." I've got one in mind for this next round that's somewhere between respectable and ridiculous. But that's OK. God knows my heart. He knows if granting me this desire would be good for me or not. The thought of it is exhilarating. That's why it’s a desire.
God's desires - I guess my biggest learn is, "If we don't have clear desires, how will they come to pass?" Especially since we have a God who "desires" to bring them to pass for us. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4). Having desires engages God on our behalf…pretty cool.
Well, that's what I do on my birthday. Review my desires and set new ones every three years. Then I close my eyes, blow out the candles and watch God plant these desires even deeper into my heart. This makes for a Happy Birthday…to me.
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