No longer young, I want to renew my sense of wonder

I turned 30 recently. Here are some things I've noticed about this.

If I were a professional athlete in most any sport, I'd be a veteran toward the end of my career. I remember when the people born in 1986 first started making it to the pros eight or 10 years ago. It was one of the first things that made me feel like I was getting older.

Twenty-two is so young, I think now. And so is 30, I guess, but still: When I played pickup basketball back then, I didn't have to stretch or put on an ankle brace. I do those things these days, and I still feel terribly sore the next morning. Every ache is a reminder that my body is irreversibly breaking down and sends me to the Mayo Clinic website (seemingly more reputable than WebMD) to check on my symptoms.

Pickup basketball is as much about the exercise as it is about finding new friends, which is hard to do at 30. People are pretty much set in their routines and circles. I did have luck a couple years ago when I met two different guys who, along with their wives, have become dear friends to me and my wife. But even those two couples live sort of far away, and we all have stuff going on, so we see them less often than we'd like. Some evenings, my wife sends me out the door to the gym with a half-joking, half-serious, "Have fun. Find us some more friends."

There's a great Netflix TV series in which, during the only season's finale, the 30-ish-year-old protagonist leaves behind his friends, family and career in New York to chase his dream of becoming a pasta chef in Italy. I think the viewer is supposed to be excited for him. My reaction to this move was, "You can't just leave all that behind! You have responsibilities! You're too old for this!"

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Speaking of responsibilities: When I was 20, someone I knew who had just graduated from college told me about getting his utilities set up in his first real apartment. I panicked, realizing I had no idea how to pay a bill or open a bank account or do many other adult-ish things. Now, I'm a bill-paying machine. I hit true millennial-generation adulthood a few years ago when I finally got off my parents' cell phone plan. The moral of this paragraph is that I have always been very, very privileged.

Even more privileged is getting to do something I love for work. (I'm in full-time lay Catholic ministry.) I don't think I ever sat down and said, "This is what my career is going to be," but I'm eight years into it now, which is deep enough in that shifting to something else seems very unlikely. It's possible, but I'm not going to culinary school in Italy, is what I'm saying.

But I do really like to cook, which my 20-year-old self would not have believed. My wife and I used to eat out a lot, but our daughter's arrival last year put a quick end to that habit. For most of the baby's first year, my wife would nurse her right before her 6:45 p.m. bedtime, so I assumed dinner prep duties. In ministry, there are rarely opportunities to see your work pay off right away. Growth in discipleship is slow. There is something incredibly rewarding about tasting the fruit of your labors immediately after cooking. This type of instant gratification makes mowing the lawn my second-favorite household task.

Last year, I went on an immersion trip with some other Catholics from South Jersey. Our lovely group included four Baby Boomers, three early 20-somethings, and me. A few times during our reflection together, a couple of the Boomers said how happy they were to see young people getting involved in church and gestured toward the three younger folks, leaving me out. I joked with them that I was afraid of losing my "young adult in the Catholic church" status, which was a mantle I had carried proudly. My perspective was readjusted in a conversation I had with a 50-year-old Catholic more recently, who said that he often feels like the youngest person at church committee meetings. In the current state of Anglo participation in the American Catholic church, I probably have about 25 years of "young" adulthood left.

Sometimes, I reflect on why I'm still here when a lot of my Catholic friends have drifted away. When I was in high school, I started to hunger for meaning, as many kids that age do: What am I here on Earth for? Why this church and not another church or no church? What is true? Why is the world so unjust? Is God even real? My parish had this amazing youth minister named Sean who wasn't afraid to take on these big questions, and we talked about them in church meeting rooms, on carpool rides to a service project, and on retreats. These conversations were the soundtrack to the activities we participated in, and it was through this combination of thinking, talking, and acting that I discovered the Catholic church to be a beautiful community that had been asking and trying to answer the same questions for a couple millennia. I found that my own tradition was compelling and relevant, and this belief has stuck.

In the everydayness of life as a 30-year-old husband, father, son, brother, friend, neighbor, and worker, it's easy to lose the excitement I found in the church half my life ago. I think my main religious project for my years north of 30 should be renewing this sense of wonder, which might have been what Jesus was talking about when he said you need faith like a child's to enter the kingdom of heaven. Or, in 21st-century words: Age is just a number, stop obsessing, live with joy.

[Mike Jordan Laskey is the director of Life & Justice Ministries for the diocese of Camden, N.J. He blogs for the Camden diocese at camdenlifejustice.wordpress.com.]

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