What’s a birthday without a party? Ben Shuhyta* reflects and rejoices.
I hoped I could avoid it, but this year, I’m spending my birthday in lockdown.
For more than a year, we citizens of regional NSW have been going about our lives with less restrictions than our metro cousins. Last birthday, I met with friends for a barbecue. The year before, we hosted a party for 30 people. Now these events seem like a distant memory, as regional NSW joins in the stay-at-home orders.
Rounding out the first week of lockdown in regional NSW, my birthday consists of presents that could be bought online, or during essential grocery shopping. A surprise present is the news that lockdown will be extended, and masks will be made mandatory outside the home. The day is also marked by phone calls from extended family, trying to avoid asking what I’ll do today, because we both know full well what we’ll all be doing. Same as yesterday. And rather than a party, tonight will be homemade burgers and a family movie.
Likely be in bed by nine.
But a question from my daughter gave me the chance to reflect on what a birthday is, and what it shouldn’t be. Her question was formed with typical pre-teen empathy? “So, dad, do birthdays get less exciting once you’ve had as many as you have?” The answer didn’t come quickly, and I had to tell her I wanted time to think. The answer is yes, and no.
Yes, they become less exciting. Gone is the youthful enthusiasm of what others are going to do to make my day special. Gone is the youthful hope that I will be granted privileges not normally extended to the kids. And thus, gone is the urge to hope that this will be the ‘best birthday ever.’
And yet, I have to admit that with each birthday, I’m reminded of the standard of living that I enjoy. I know that dinner will come, because I did the weekly grocery shop (online). I know that my family will treat me well, because, to be honest, they always treat me pretty well. Our family has cultivated respectful and loving communication, and a clear understanding of what to expect in our home. And unlike previous generations of my family, I don’t have to wait until a birthday to receive what I’ve been hoping for all year. Each day of the year is a blessing.
What really fulfils me is that my life is no longer all about what I can get. Ultimately, my real identity is not found in how old I am, when my birthday is, or what I have around my house. My real identity is found in Jesus Christ, who calls me his own. My real identity is found in the one who has adopted me into His family. I’m an heir to God’s kingdom, and into an inheritance can never perish, spoil or fade. The Bible tells me to rejoice in the Lord always, and that makes sense. Whether I am richer or poorer, there will always be the pull towards materialism; and yet, God calls me to find fulfilment in relationship with Him, not in the things He created.
With this identity in mind, I look at each day as it is special, rather than any one day in particular. If my birthday is as normal as the rest of my days, as joyful as the rest of my year, then it is a special day indeed. So I look to find joy even in the difficulties of life, whether it’s relating by video conference or thinking about Australia’s economic future. I thank God for my daily bread, and even though bread sounds mundane, it’s more evidence of another special day.
Maybe I should stick a birthday candle into my toast every morning, to remind me of my blessings.
* Benjamin has worked for over 20 years in regional NSW as a journalist, in broadcast and online media. He is an Elder of the Presbyterian Church and former member of the NSW Gospel Society and Culture Committee. Benjamin has a wife and two children and is enrolled in the Master of Divinity program at Christ College.