Today is my birthday. I feel a little funny about broadcasting that fact. It smacks with self-exultation and attempts to solicit well wishing from others. That is not me. I have always felt an embarrassment creep over me when the candles on the cake are lit and everyone starts into “Happy Birthday to YOU!”. The stares I received as a child were only compounded when I got married and found that some of my husband’s family added to the verses, making me want to melt into the cake along with the dripping wax. The reason I decided to reveal this fact is that I wanted to write about our perceptions of birthdays as we grow older.
Do you remember what it was like to have a birthday as a child? As I recall, it took forever for my birthday to come. I think I started anticipating my birthday as soon as Christmas ended. Since I had the first birthday in my immediate family after Christmas, I started counting down days during “my” quarter of the year. My impatience grew as the days and weeks dragged on. When the day of anticipation finally arrived, I never remember being disappointed. I loved the gifts and the cake and ice cream (what’s not to love?)!
The days of childhood and then teenage years came and went and somehow adult years didn’t foster the same hype. I even recall one year when I had to take finals on my birthday. My sweet parents sent a special cake from the campus bakery but the exhaustion of studying stole some of the birthday beauty.
Fast forward another half dozen years or so and I was just beginning to have mild labor pains on my birthday. Our daughter, our firstborn, was born two days later on March 16th. I have always been glad to have her so close to my birthday. It let everyone shift their focus away from me and onto her as we prepared for her birthday. It was sort of like handing off the torch – casting the light on someone else as they carried it forth.
How do you feel about your birthdays?
I have known people with wildly differing views of the annual visitation of their birth. Some older adults I have known or heard about have a total meltdown if anyone thinks of letting it pass by without fanfare and hoopla. They feel rejected and unloved unless the day is spent in an ‘all about them’ sort of way. A person with this mentality would love the way I celebrated my husband’s birthday when he turned 59. Starting at 6:59 AM, I either gave him a gift to open or a celebratory activity every hour until he went to bed that night. By the way, he is a quiet guy, so I don’t think he really relished being in the spotlight this much, but I wanted to make sure he felt appreciated!
I know others who absolutely despise the day of their birth. Every passing year reminds them that they aren’t as young as they once were. They count the wrinkles on their faces along with the candles on their cakes. If they allow any celebration, they stay a proverbial twenty-nine years old. My mother-in-law was like this. Although she was okay about having us take her out to eat in honor of her big day, we were never allowed to know the real number to put on the cake. I’d come up with devious ways to trick her into revealing her age, but she was always too smart to fall for my wily devices. Even my husband’s birth certificate had suspicious White-Out on her age at his birth. It wasn’t until she was ninety years old that she let her age be announced.
So what do you think the proper response to our birthdays should be?
I think we need to be careful about making it a self-centered day. Why do we think our family and friends should bow down and laud us with gifts just because we were born on a particular day? It isn’t like we take any credit on the event of our arrival into the world.
On the other hand, should we be dismal and ornery with those around us because we are another year older? We should thank God that He created us and has sustained us throughout the years we have been on the earth. Instead of wistfully gazing at pictures of when we were at our prime, we should reflect on the blessings we have been given. We should realize that many we know are in much worse states – whether it be physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, or spiritually. What about the many people in the world who could never imagine reaching our age because the ravages of war, hunger, or disease have doomed many in their society to die prematurely?
Today, as I turn 52, let me turn the praises sung to me around a cake into songs of praise to my God for the great things He has done for me. Instead of basking in the many birthday cards I have lined up on my mantle, let me read again with wonder the “Letter” God penned to me (the Bible) and the love He showed for me in it. Instead of hoping I receive a gift I have longed for, let me remember that nothing today can compare to the Gift that was given over 2000 years ago.
On March 14th, let me remember that “This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it”. Psalm 118:24
Have a wonderful day!