It was kind of a special day today. More than kind of…it was a really special day today. Beyond it being my birthday, beyond the kind wishes and loving words and cards and cakes and dinners (which were all amazing and very special)…In my heart the day was marbled with times of quiet contemplation, and moments of deep fulfillment, and feelings of humble sadness that are always resisted and labeled as BAD on days such as one’s birthday. But it was beautiful, because it was real, and it was the work of God, and in it all there was genuine peace, and more than that—gratitude.
Every birthday as far back as I can remember has been plagued by deep, dark, agonizing, relentless depression, covered over by a mask of smiles and expected happiness. Expectations arising out of a yearning to be special wreaked havoc on my soul…they were never met, never could be met, and each devastation piled burden after burden on my heart and sent me hurling into the abyss of perceived worthlessness…Until at some point, there just was plopped on my heart’s doorstep The Annual Birthday Depression for no particular reason at all. It just came like clockwork, year after year, for no reason at all. And each year it brought with it The Menace of bigger and grander expectations. As I have discovered, the bigger the expectation, the bigger the devastation. But all of this carries a host of baggage that cyber space doesn’t need to know…and the point is:
The Menace was gone this year. There was nothing I did differently, no special prayers or penance or exercises in optimism. Definitely no illusions of personal holiness.
But that humble sadness…that breaking of my heart in a way that makes it whole again…that sorrow that visits in the form of calm and peace, not in selfish anger, and leaves the soul feeling renewed and refreshed…That repentance. Nothing happened to make me feel sad; there was no blinding awareness of sin to confess (other than the usual which I am faced with daily!)…It did not come as a verb to be acted upon, but as a state of being, as a gift. And it brought with it the realization that I am nothing, while God is Everything, and he can fill my nothing with his everything.
Birthdays used to mean to me a sacred 24-hour period in which I could expect—and be justified in expecting—the world to revolve around me, to demand whatever I wanted, to indulge in whatever pleased me, and in essence, bask in selfishness while others tried in vain to meet the bar of my expectations. Of course, that’s not how I thought about it in my mind, but that is the reality of it. Reality is ugly. And I’m okay admitting it because I’m understanding more and more that my “goodness” as a person doesn’t emanate from my own goodness, but from Christ’s. And admitting that I struggle doesn’t reveal shocking weakness or failure, but a basic human struggle with sin that affects us all, and which Christ came to rescue us from! “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
And so my most precious gift today from my most Beloved—the Redeemer of my soul—was a gift of healing and freedom from selfish expectation. It was beautiful to be truly thankful for the gifts I’ve already been given—the breath of life, grace and forgiveness, precious people in my life to love, and endless blessings in every direction. It was amazingly freeing to enjoy every little thing that was said and done for me today without constantly measuring it up to some made-up bar, or comparing it to how others are treated better. When expectations don’t exist, everything is special.
I’m not sure how it happened, and I’m not sure why. Which is how I know that it was truly a gift: A gift of repentance and gratitude to gently lead my soul into peace. There was nothing I did but accept grace.
Even the skies proclaimed the glory of God, and concluded this day in my most favorite way.