9 min read
Today is my last day as a 20-somehing. (Tomorrow I am turning 30!) As I am sure, it is the case for most people, my life changed a lot during my 20s and I changed a lot. And I learned a number of things. About myself, about life and about God. So, I thought I would share some of them with you.
Not to show you how wise I have become over the last decade but in the hope that you might find some of it useful. Sharing our experiences with one another and discovering that other people dealt with similar troubles (and survived!) can give us fresh hope and make us feel less alone.
Life lessons from my 20s
1. People don’t care about my fat thighs.
There was a time when I didn’t like to sit in certain position because it made my thighs look bigger. I was so worried people would look at me and judge me.
What I learned is: people don’t care that I have fat thighs. They don’t think half as much about the outfit I am wearing, the opinions I hold and when I last washed my hair as I think they do. Most people are way too concerned thinking about their own fat rolls and how they are coming across to have any capacity to give too much attention to me.
So just relax and try to be yourself and sit however you want. Your thighs are fine.
2. I can do it! Even when I feel afraid.
When I had just turned 21 I moved from the South of Germany to the North of England to go to University. I had dreamed and prayed and worked so hard for this to happen for 2 years. But when the day arrived when I climbed into the car with all my stuff and my brother and dad to drive me to my new home I thought: “Why am I doing this to myself?!”
I was so close to stop the car and sack of my dream and stay with my parents to study in Basel. But I didn’t. (Not because I was brave, just because I was too proud. Thank God for his grace and using our weakness to our good!)
Building a life in a different country, where I didn’t know anyone was not easy. But I managed. It’s okay to be scared. But it is worth to endure the fear and do it anyway. Whatever “it” is.
3. It is my responsibility to look after myself.
I am quite an introspective person with a lot of empathy. Which is to say, I am prone to depression. I used to think I was powerless against this darkness that would come and swallow me and make everything feel numb and hollow and rob me of my joy and energy.
But over the years I have learned that there are things that I can do that reduce the intensity of those waves that try and pull me under. If I am consistent in “self-maintenance”, the dark days occur less frequently and aren’t quite as dark.
For me this “self-maintenance” (some might call it self-love, but it often does not feel that fuzzy) involves: sleeping enough, exercising, eating healthy, being honest about how I am doing, being around people and also being alone, taking time to pray and reflect plus lots of fresh air.
Additionally it involves a lot of saying no. Saying no to watching another documentary about climate change or human trafficking, saying no to watching too much TV, saying no to listen to everyone’s problems and absorbing their worries and feelings.
I am not trying to say that depression isn’t real or that we can heal ourselves. But I have discovered that they are ways that I can manage and live with this illness.
4. I can’t do it all
Growing up with a cultural message of “you can do anything you put your mind to” is such a privilege but also pretty overwhelming. I am easily excited and always have a million ideas for things I want to do.
But I can’t do a million things. In fact, I can’t even do 10. If I am lucky, I can do five fairly well. (One of them being looking after myself, see point above.)
I cannot work for an NGO, pursue an academic career, become an expert in sustainable investing, get involved in politics, plant a church, blog regularly, make a handmade wardrobe and all my meals from scratch, adopt a zero-waste lifestyle, workout a few times a week, play the guitar, be a good wife, friend, daughter, become a mother, adopt children, write a novel, open a coffee shop, travel the world… all in one lifetime.
There are choices to be made in life. Which is both painful and releasing. As time goes on I am getting better at what things I want to do rather than the things I perceive other want me to do. I can’t do it all. And I don’t have to.
5. Stay humble
Too often I forget that I only know a fraction of the facts, that my experience, understanding, revelation and knowledge are limited.
It is uncomfortable, but I have learned that it is good to not be too sure of myself. This is not only the best attitude in order to keep learning and growing it also makes us a better spouse, friend and human.
6. Different is not better or worse
This one is connected to the point above. Having moved to another country and being in a cross-cultural marriage it is easy to either develop pride for one’s heritage, culture and customs or an attitude of despising where you come from. (If you are German, you are likely to experience a weird mixture of both plus a good dose of historical shame).
Learning that differences are good and beautiful takes time. (And honestly, I am still learning this lesson. I regularly get into arguments with anyone who insults German bread or beer).
7. Sometimes the reason is obedience.
Early in our marriage Edd and I went through an incredibly difficult time and I was very close to walking away. The reason I stayed is because the Bible tells me that marriage is for life. Thanks to God’s grace, the support of good friends and lots of hard work we made it and I am so glad I didn’t quit. Right now I am the happiest I have ever been in life and a lot of it has to do with being married to Edd.
Sometimes all I can do is be obedient to what God says and trust in his faithfulness.
8. Showing weakness isn’t weak.
I don’t know why, but even in primary school I had this strong resolution that I didn’t want to cry in front of other people. I wanted to be seen as brave and strong. This desire is both silly and proud. And it stands in the way of asking for help and of opening the door to deeper friendships.
Admitting that I am struggling, that I messed up, that I need help, that I am upset, that something moved me, that I have dreams and desires requires strength. Vulnerability isn’t weak, rather, it is the very definition of bravery.
9. You don’t have to stay in that box.
After university I spent a year working for the church. I lived with a family and had just started to date Edd. A typical day looked somewhat like this: Wake up, play with kids, drive to the church with some of the other staff, work at an open plan office with 3 to 5 other people, go to meetings with another set of people, meet Edd, prep youth work together, lead youth group, drive back in a full car, have dinner with my host family, go to bed. Repeat.
Any free time I got – I was hiding in my room. I was incredibly overwhelmed with being around people so much. During that year I put myself in the category “introvert”. When we got engaged we did a marriage preparation course. A number of our conversations revolved around what it could look like for Edd to give me space to have alone time.
After our wedding, Edd and I moved to a new city. Edd was working at a school about an hour’s drive from where we lived. I was working and studying from home, on my own. I was basically waiting by the window, eager for information about Edd’s day. What did he have for lunch? Does his colleague still have a cold? What grade did Anna get on her exam? … You get the gist. Meanwhile, Edd just wanted to drink a cup of tea and not talk.
Any opportunity to hang out with people – I was there.
Today I know – I am neither an extrovert, nor an introvert. I get energized when I have the right mix of interaction with others as well as time on my own. And this might change again.
I grow and evolve. And I am supposed to! I don’t need to put myself into a category and forever stay there.
10. God is good.
Looking back over the last 10 years, it certainly wasn’t all easy. I mean, I moved 8 times and I really don’t like packing. But the overwhelming feeling I get when I reminisce of all that happened, all the things I got to do and all the people I met, is gratitude.
Many things turned out so different from what I imagined them. But again and again God has surprised me with his overwhelming kindness towards me.
One recent example: Before moving to Berlin, I felt a bit anxious about living in a big city. (Deep down I am a nature girl.) So I prayed that God would give us a flat where I could see a tree when I looked out the window. Well, we now live in a flat that sees multiple trees from each window. In fact, there is a park right across the street from us.
This is such a small thing, but so important to me. And I am still blown away by God’s provision.
I am hoping that the next 10 years I will learn this lesson over and over and that my trust in God’s goodness keeps growing. Feel free to pray that for me.