Hindsight is 20/20, they say, and what they mean is that it’s much easier to see things clearly in the rear-view, when all the dust has settled and the facts have played out.
The thing is, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, hindsight can be just as confounding as our attempts at foresight. Sometimes predicting the hurricane’s arrival is much easier than later interpreting why that hurricane destroyed everything in its path, and figuring out how to rebuild.
The truth in the saying, though, is that we often hit points in our journey where clarity suddenly descends, or perhaps dawns, on us. Past events in our lives that were, for a long time, quite nearly inscrutable suddenly begin to make sense; we get enough distance away from those events to see the patterns, the connections, the way things fit into the larger framework of our lives up to this point.
Milestones help with this. They enable us to zoom out far enough to make out the map below, like seeing our lives and ourselves writ large, as if from beyond ourselves. A frigging astral projection to 30,000 feet so you can finally get beyond the fog you’ve been tediously and tormentingly pushing through for so long.
First and Second
Today is my 40th birthday. Such sentences are strange to write, as they both draw attention to an event I’d rather ignore 😭, and declare a rather stark number of alive-years that I have not yet fully comprehended 😳.
But there is a clarity that I am celebrating, one that has only recently dawned on me, the astral projection of distance and elevation now finally in full effect. I can see the first twenty years of my life, clearly: the grinding pain and confusion and delay of abusive family and religion, peppered with the spikes of unusual joy and fun and faith and love that come with a nontraditional childhood. I see clearly enough to be able to reject and discard the former with extreme prejudice, without hesitation or apology, while celebrating and even re-creating the latter — that unusual joy, fun, faith, and love — in my own life and family now.
I would not be able to see the first twenty so clearly, though, if it weren’t for the second twenty years of my life — the aching, transitional, purging years of halting and striving between two identities, only half-free from the oppressive forces of the first twenty. These last twenty years have been an exercise in both brilliant discovery — best-friendship! marriage! fatherhood! creativity! calling! — and gutting loss. I have lost false family and friends, have lost finances and security and certainty, have lost homes and hometowns and jobs and reputations, have lost a certain kind of faith and what I thought was my life’s purpose and call.
But now, I can say with the apostle that whatever gain I once thought those lost things were in my life, I count them as good and necessary loss, as jettisoned refuse — really, as shit (you know, in the original language), to be thrown over the bow of my life in order to gain real, abundant life in Christ.
The clarity that has come now is the clarity of shitlessness, you might say. The clarity that cannot abide the falseness, the pretense, the bullshit any longer but is quite happy, thank you very much, to go after what I actually want instead of that exhausting, grasping pursuit of what I am supposed to want. To be who I actually am instead of what anyone or anything demands that I become.
A joyful outcome of such clarity is the simple ability to give those people, places, and things in my life which are not for me a buh-bye wave 👋 (or, if necessary, 🖕); and to give those people, places, and things in my life which are for me, a giant, glorious embrace 🤗.
That, perhaps more than anything else, is 40.
With a Vision
When clarity dawns, the why of the hurricane and the how of rebuilding are both suddenly discernible — and thus, we are able to chart a course forward, to finally have a vision for our future. You don’t have to turn 40 to get there (though apparently it doesn’t hurt!); but you do have to persevere to the point where the fog finally clears.
Since I’m quoting the King James Version today, I might as well hearken back to that golden oldie from Proverbs (you all know it):
Where there is no vision, the people perish…Proverbs 29:18, KJV
No matter how horrendous the exegesis of that verse has been in the past, there is a sublime nugget of truth in it. No vision, no sight, no purpose, no calling, no direction from God and subsequent running after it: no life!
The NRSV wording replaces “vision” with “prophecy” and gets at the literal meaning better, I think. The aim of prophecy in the Old Testament context was to reinvigorate and realign the people, so they could shed all the falseness and get to the core of their identity and calling. So that genuine justice and mercy and worship could once again take root.
That’s vision — hearing and knowing and clearly seeing the will of God. That’s vision — perceiving your past, and your core identity and calling, clearly, and then pressing forward into a flourishing future.
And for me, that’s 40 — knowing who I really am and what I’m really called to do, and saying buh-bye to all that holds me back from the future that’s in front of me.
Again, such clarity isn’t the exclusive territory of the 40th year — but we must persevere through the fog to lay hold of it.
Do you need that kind of clear vision too? Maybe a milestone is coming that will provide that 30,000 foot boost; or maybe you’re just nearing a long-awaited fork in the road where everything must change. In any case, regardless of our age or where we find ourselves on the journey, may clarity begin to dawn on all of us, and may we all begin to step into our season of twenty/twenty vision.