60 lessons learned over 60 years

60th birthday card

Adult birthdays have, for the most part, wafted past without much fuss for me. I’ve dreaded a few. (I remember 35 being particularly tough, for some reason.) More often they would come and go like a slight breeze on a summer’s day, barely causing any noticeable disturbance at all. But when the birthday card pictured above fluttered in on last week’s mail—a gift from a lifelong friend who celebrated the same milestone birthday herself just two months ago—I became teary at her thoughtfulness. The unexpected whiff of emotion, it turns out, was a harbinger of the gale to come. For soon, I was thinking about the reality that on January 25, I will turn 60.

Sixty sounds old, even to me who’s just about there. Certainly older than I feel. And yet, I know I’m fortunate to achieve the milestone. Too many people don’t even come close.

To mark the occasion, I decided to jot down 60 lessons I’ve learned from living this long. It’s a way of acknowledging that I’ve genuinely learned some stuff along the way, and I believe that some of what I’ve learned is worth sharing.

So here’s my list of 60 random lessons, in the order in which they occurred to me:

  1. Progress, not perfection.
  2. Love people for who they are, not for who you wish them to be. (Thanks, mom for teaching me this one, again and again.)
  3. Fresh flowers make any room beautiful, and any mood brighter.
  4. Raising a good dog is work, but it’s worth it.
  5. Building a good marriage is work, but it’s worth it. (Here’s an earlier list of lessons I’ve specifically learned from marriage.)
  6. When the world feels wrong, a walk outdoors can help it feel right again.
  7. Self-discipline and good habits can help to build a happy life.
  8. Observing a weekly sabbath or day of rest is actually a form of self-care.   
  9. Rather than focusing on what you don’t have, giving thanks for what you do have turns resentment into joy. 
  10. Gratitude, over time, can build contentment.
  11. Contentment, over time, can build your savings account.
  12. Love is more than a feeling, it is a choice and an act of the will. Making the deliberate choice to love when the feelings aren’t there can make the feelings follow.
  13. When in a sad place it’s okay to pour out that sadness on trusted friends who can be counted on to get you laughing or at least help to put things into perspective. And if they can’t help, then it’s okay to turn to professionals. Over the years I’ve sought professional help from caring pastors and from counselors. Every time, it made a difference.
  14. Giving generously to church and charities hasn’t always been easy for me. At times, I’ve given grudgingly. But as I look back over a lifetime of charitable giving, I believe that giving consistently even when I haven’t really wanted to, has been good for me. (See #7)
  15. Building and maintaining a friendship is work, but it’s worth it.
  16. I have no memory of life without God. All these years of walking with Him has shaped who I am and given my life meaning and purpose. Decades ago, a friend told me that he thought faith was a crutch. It’s a crutch I’ve been thankful for.
  17. Making my bed is work, but it’s (usually) worth it.
  18. We don’t know what we don’t know. Remembering this truth can be key to humility.
  19. There’s more that I don’t know than I can possibly imagine.
  20. Pride and ego get me into trouble every time. When I’m certain of my convictions I tend to forget #19.
  21. When I don’t understand, it helps to remember that God does, and God can be trusted.
  22. I believe #21 is true because I believe God loves me and every human being—passionately.
  23. I believe #22 is true because of Jesus.
  24. Raising children is work, but they’re worth it. Part of the payoff comes from seeing them grow into adults you enjoy and are proud of; another part is grandchildren.
  25. Life is hard. And in one way or another, it’s hard for all of us. When I’m confronted with people who are difficult to love or even just to be around, it can help to remember that life may have been harder for them. Whenever possible, give people the benefit of the doubt.
  26. Cooking a tasty meal for family and friends brings joy. 
  27. Running out my kitchen door to my little garden, picking some fresh vegetables and herbs for a meal or a salad brings me a crazy amount of satisfaction. A garden is also work that’s worth it.
  28. Family can make you crazy. But it’s a gift to know that there are people on this earth who will always be there for you, no matter what. Through thick and thin. Even though you make them crazy too.  
  29. A soft or gentle word really can turn down the heat.
  30. What we believe matters because it determines how we live.
  31. It’s never too late.
  32. Forgiveness can feel impossible. But if you persevere, you may be pleasantly surprised to realize it’s not.
  33. If you don’t want to lose the ability to do something, don’t stop doing it. (Thanks to my mother-in-law who taught me this one.)
  34. There are many ways to live a life, but we only get one life to live.
  35. Character matters. In partners and in politicians.
  36. Truth matters. Keep your mind and heart open to the search for it because it can be found in surprising places.
  37. Don’t defend lies just because you may have previously believed them to be true. Doing so discredits the one who called himself “the way, the truth, and the life.”
  38. The heart is deceitful. It’s easy to fool yourself into thinking you are better, more righteous than you are. Regular self-examination can be a good antidote. 
  39. The heart is deceitful. Allowing words of self-condemnation to exist on a playback loop in your brain will lead you into dark places. You are a child of God, dearly loved by Him, created for a purpose. Honour that.
  40. When you’re confronted with hard truths about yourself remember that these things are also true: mercy, forgiveness, and grace.
  41. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. (Thanks to my dad for this early lesson.) Over the course of my lifetime, my own learning has led me to expand the principle and modify it: if you give something your best, then if you fail, at least you can honestly tell yourself you gave it your best. 
  42. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly. #41 might lead you to think that some things are not worth attempting. You’ll miss out on a lot of life if you tell yourself that. If something is worth doing, it’s also worth attempting, even if you know you’ll do it badly. 
  43. Losing weight is hard.
  44. If you fall off the wagon today, remember that tomorrow is a new day, and you can start again.
  45. The “to-do” list is never done. A healthy life will mean regularly ignoring the list in order to make time for more important things. 
  46. Hardship and pain make some people better, and others bitter. Choose better. 
  47. When something has served its purpose in your life, it’s okay to let it go.
  48. Not everyone will love you—or even like you. But you can determine in your own mind to love them anyway. (See #12).
  49. If you love to sing, but lack talent in that area, then make a joyful noise—even if only in the privacy of your own car, your kitchen, or your basement (during online church in the midst of a pandemic). (See #42)
  50. We’re stronger than we know. It helps to remember that during times of testing.
  51. Life is a gift. We show our appreciation for it by stewarding well the time we’ve been given.
  52. It’s good for the soul to get outside of the city every so often, to go outdoors after dark, throw your head back, and marvel at the stars. Take along a pillow so you don’t get a crick in your neck.
  53. God can heal what is hurting, restore what is lost, and repair what is broken. There is always, always hope.
  54. Travel. Just do it.
  55. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. The same principle works for writing a book, running a marathon, earning a Master’s degree, and almost anything else that seems formidable. Break it down into bite-sized pieces (or achievable steps), and then tackle it one “bite” at a time.
  56. For years, your children’s lives are yours to steward. But they will grow up, make their own choices, and walk their own journeys. And when they do they will still need you to root for them, believe in them, and pray for them. 
  57. Where is God in the suffering? Working through His people. Want to see less suffering in our world? Then, get to work.
  58. It’s easier to clean up the kitchen as you go than to leave a great big mess for the end. It’s easier to clean up the kitchen before bed than to face a sink full of dishes in the morning.
  59. There’s always more to learn.
  60. Life is full of surprises. When I was young, I never imagined myself living to 60. But here I am. And I am thankful to have arrived.