We’ve all had them, haven’t we? They are not something that we usually earn, but if we live long enough more than a few of them will arrive at our doorstep. Sometimes we anticipate and plan for them and even celebrate them – sometimes in a big way with a big party. Other times, they show up and we would just as soon forget them.
In either instance, we open our door one day and there they are like freshly delivered Amazon packages waiting to be opened. In some cases, we are excited and filled with expectation – “Hurrah, it is finally here.” In other cases, we think: “O, you again. I think I’ll leave you in the box.”
I am talking about those “zero” anniversaries – the 10th, 20th, 30th, 40th, 50th (or more) year after an important milestone in our lives. These events include a number of life passages such as graduation from high school or college, your wedding day, your birthday, your sobriety, the birth of a child or grandchild or great-grandchild, the death of a loved one, your being declared “cancer-free,” and so on.
One year when I served on our Ohio Regional staff, a number of us all had zero birthdays in the same year: Our bookkeeper turned 30, I became 40, one secretary turned 50, and another person was 60. Some folks get depressed about these zero birthdays, so I decided to take all the zeros out to lunch. We had fun, and I remember the non-zeros feeling a bit left out. We may have graciously shared our birthday cake with them. Maybe.
I’ve got a few zeros this year: 30 years ago on Mother’s Day I was ordained into ministry at my home church in Warren, Ohio (I shared this in a sermon a few weeks back); 40 years ago this week my father died just a week shy of his 48th birthday; in September our oldest son Jacob will transition from his 20’s to being a 30 year old.
Each of these events was among the defining events of my life which still shape and inform me. One of the lessons that my father’s early death continues to teach me is that “about that day or hour no one knows.” None of us is guaranteed even one more day or life either for ourselves or for those we love. This has not made me fatalistic or despairing, but has helped me appreciate the value of each and every day that we do have with those we love. The taking of vows at my ordination (not unlike the taking of wedding vows) helped me to understand that despite not knowing how many days that we might have (or what those days might hold) that we can still commit ourselves to something of value and purpose long term. The birth of a child to Holly and I not only launched a new phase of our lives together but gave us the chance to sacrifice and to serve in a way that we could not have done otherwise. It also brought a sense of hope and joy and anticipation about the future.
What are the important milestones of your life? How did they change you? As you think about them on those zero anniversaries, do they still teach you something of importance?