Keeping Time

I turned 60 a few days ago. How about that? Sixty. 21,900 days. I am likely about 2/3 the way through my imagined years. I don’t often think about measuring time, but significant birthdays have a way of making more obvious the ways we keep our time.

As friends and family called to celebrate with me, many asked, “how does it feel to be 60?” I thought about this as the events of the day unfolded—the alarm went off, the dogs whined to go out and then waited expectantly for their breakfast. There was a 9 a.m. meeting and another in the afternoon. Work beckoned, reports were due, and the grass needed mowing. FaceTime chats, phone calls, and text messages came through. I was graced with cards, a few lovely gifts, and a weekend away. There were moments of frustration and satisfaction, miscommunication and clarity, tension and ease. The day itself was exceptional and normal.

So, how does turning 60 feel? Surprising.

Surprising because even as my exterior shows the wear and tear from years of living, my insides refuse to acknowledge the rapid progress of the journey.  I am not surprised to have lived this long. Nor is it surprising to have lived through pain and reveled in the joy that these decades have brought—we are promised both. When I look at the family portraits or page through the family photo albums, I am not surprised to see how babies have grown into adults. I am not surprised by the face reflected in the mirror even if she doesn’t match with the image I still expect to see. Yet, 60 is surprising in its call to clarity. It’s a little like the day I put prescription glasses on for the first time and was able to see the exceptional, intricate weave of the fabric that made up the blouse I was wearing. 

I remember anticipating 40, and then 50. Those numbers came alongside careful and frenetic tending to the growth and needs of others—the needs of children and parents and event planning that reflected a life of deep connection to loved ones and the benchmarks that caring for them provided. 60 simply snuck up on me because for several years now, rather than tending to the daily schedules and needs of a family, I have been free to explore learning, a career, new surroundings, and new hobbies. 

This decade has been wildly full. Full of loss—a marriage, a mother, the inability to protect those I love. This decade has also been wildly full of joy and growth. New beloved ones, new roles and titles (Mimi is my favorite). Unlike earlier seasons, there has been time to expand. To grow in strength and vulnerability, to be stretched in confidence and fragility, to seek self-knowledge and forgiveness, and to discover the importance of self-love.

It is surprising that in the most reflective decade of my adult life, I barely noticed the passing of time. 

In the book of Ecclesiastes, the Bible tells us that “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” (Ecc 3:1)

I remember, as a pie-eyed girl, writing the passage into a card when a friend was carrying a burden. I’m sure I included something like, “this too shall pass,“ and other platitudes intended to comfort. What did I know?

Turning 60 illuminates a point-in-time awareness that all the time we have spent collecting and accomplishing will soon meet a sort of waning. There is a growing cognizance that not all we dreamt of will happen. That days truly are numbered. There is magnified recognition that the 30 or so years that remain (if one is blessed with continued good health) prompt a surprising invitation toward clarity about how the time will be kept. Which currency will be given in these remaining 11,000 days? 

The passage in Ecclesiastes does not offer pie-in-the-sky platitudes I claimed as a young girl. The Teacher in Ecclesiastes shows that we are “subject to times and changes over which we have little or no control, and contrasts this with God’s eternity and sovereignty.”* In this in-between space, hopeful longings come alongside the possibility of its exceptional and normal opposite. We have lived long enough now to find God in both—to see an intricate weave in the fabric.

Life and death

Planting and uprooting

Killing and healing

Tearing down and building up

Weeping and laughing

Mourning and dancing

Scattering and gathering

Embracing and refraining

Searching for and giving up  

Keeping time and throwing it away

Tearing apart and mending together

Silence and speaking

Loving and hating

War and peace

These in-between days, the days between life and death, war and peace, keep the time—the surprising, exceptional normalcy of moments. There were years during which so much was happening, keeping and noticing the moments seemed impossible. And maybe it was. Yet, those years are not these years, and this is the surprise. Keeping time, throwing it away, and noticing the weave of it all. God makes all things beautiful in its time.

*The NIV Study Bible notes, p 988

Jill English is an avid encourager of humans and lover of words. She is most at home out-of-doors, and in particular, while walking any beach. Her most magical moments involve being Grammy to two remarkable grandchildren, and Mom to their lucky parents. As a discerner of call in higher theological education, her favorite conversations involve connecting the sacred dots of everyday life and faith. Jill lives in Grand Rapids, MI with two small, elderly pups.