Sunday, 22 November 2015

A Birthday Letter

To 29 Year Old Philippa on the eve of your 30th birthday,

You are about to turn 30.

I know. You are utterly miserable about it. But that's why I, Philippa of the present, Philippa of almost one full year in the future, Philippa who braved 30, thought I should write.

You are caught between abject misery and hyperventilating panic. You thought that 29 would go on forever and ever, but here you are on the 30th of November, and- I hate to break it to you as I know it's sort of your only hope right now, but Jesus isn't coming back before tomorrow morning. December the 1st 2014 does arrive. You reach the big 3-0.

Please find the enclosed tissues.

Somehow you convinced yourself that you would have achieved a lot more by this stage in your life. You thought you'd be married by now, and a mum, and a nation-changer, just the right balance of Jennifer Lawrence, Charles Spurgeon and Becky Manley Pippert, and basically a whole load less messy. Or at least you thought you'd have mastered the hair.

Even now, aged 29 and 99.9% , you're wondering whether there really is zero possibility of your either a) changing the world or b) finding a husband and marrying him before tomorrow morning. I hate to break it to you- but there isn't. You do neither of these things pre-31 either, but we'll get 32 year old Philippa to counsel you through that one.

Right now, you're mourning; you feel like your life is over; you feel like you've failed at ever being enough.

So I thought, with my having been 30 for almost a year now, I could write to you to reassure you that it's really not all that bad. Here are some words of hopefully comfort and advice.

Firstly, I just want to say that I do understand the crushing weight of disappointment you're feeling right now. I know that you've been hearing a lot from 16 year old Philippa who keeps saying, "I TOLD YOU SO, I TOLD YOU SO." Yes, 16 year old Philippa did worry that you might reach 17, 18, 19, 27... 30 boyfriendless and husbandless and mediocre. She was always harping on about the worst case scenarios, and carried on this rampage of doom for years and years and years.

But you need to take it from your wiser, older self: you are not single, or insignificant because 16 year old Philippa was right about everything. Bear in mind, for example,  that she is the one that told you wearing white nylon trousers was acceptable. On this, and many other points, she was wrong. Very wrong.

Remember that just like her, even almost 30 year old you is not right about everything. Your negativity may influence the future, but it isn't running the show. Jesus is running the show; Jesus commands your destiny. As the years go by, as they are in the habit of doing,  don't forget this. All sorts of people will offer you explanations for your successes (or lack of) and singleness- but the big one is that God is Sovereign. And in His sovereignty, He loves you.

Secondly, chill out about needing to be AMAZING.

Don't forget too that you're currently sitting crying your eyes out in the middle of an incredibly prestigious university town. You are surrounded by people who are outstanding. They were the ones who didn't answer all their university interview questions with, "I don't know." They were the ones who saw the value in piano practice, rather than sitting down at the keyboard, playing the demo button a few times, and then going off to watch Neighbours. They were the ones who spent their study periods studying, rather than playing poker, Splidge and "Guess Whose Hand This Is?" with that smelly glove you found in the common room. At this point, you need to stop comparing yourselves to these people. Make that a 20s thing. In your thirties, get over "amazing."

The idea that you need to be amazing is a lie. The truth is, you need an amazing Saviour. More on this later.

For now, you need to remember: you're part of a culture where everyone expects that they will be talented and well paid and awesome. And part of the crushing weight you're feeling right now comes from that horrible Ideal Self that's lurked in your mind for years and condemns you for not being a supermodel missionary marathon running musical francoise genius. Ignore "Ideal Self". Firstly, if you met her, you'd definitely hate her. Secondly, she doesn't exist. Ideal Self is an illusion of a society that tells you to be yourself, and then beats you up for all you're not.

As much as possible, forget yourself. Think about other people, think about Jesus.

(And as a practical tip- thinking about other people is so much easier when you are with other people. So, if in doubt- hang out.)

(As a second practical tip for not thinking too much about yourself- don't write too many letters to yourself.)

Right now, you feel like there's no hope for your mediocrity. But, it won't be long until you get your head together and figure out a bit more about how to be okay with being okay.

Thirdly, you have a lot of fun in the coming year: you get in to exercise in a way that the Philippas of your twenties would balk at, you go to see Taylor Swift live in concert and get to go to a party dressed as her cat. The autumn of 2015 is staggeringly beautiful, and you'll find yourself clambering through hedgerows to get some kind of permanent snapshot of the beauty. You'll discover Mr Josh Garrels and hear music and lyrics that are the perfect mixture of realism and hope; they seep right in to your heart and soothe it, like the musical equivalent of sun beating warmth through frosted up windows. "Farther Along" and "Morning Light" get you out of bed on multiple occasions.

You're going to end up living in a normal house that so far exceeds your expectations, you won't believe it. Your friends are going to have a little baby and it'll become one of your favourite humans. You'll read, and love the process and the concept of it like never before. Whatever you read, there will be some sort of pleasure in it. The fact you encounter Stoner this year is reason alone to keep your head up; it helps you understand how beautiful unobserved, insignificant lives can be.You'll write regularly, and it's going to warm you up, energise you and help you love and understand the gospel more. I know you feel so disappointed with your years so far; I remember. But don't despair. As you write you'll begin to see so much of what God's spoken to you and wrought for you in the darkness. And you'll see Taylor Swift live in concert.

There are some parts of your 30th year that are really horrible.  There will be times of hardness and tangible, at times overwhelming sadness- friends and nations will suffer and stumble, evil will surge, heartbreak will devastate. But the gospel will often be a comfort. Even when it isn't- remember that trouble will only last a lifetime, and even when you can't believe it, He will do good anyway.

Suffering is part of life, and not part of being 30. Your 30th year is not the dead end you're anticipating right now.

The best bits will be the bits where you forget about the past, and forget about the future up until the defining event of your future- and remembering Jesus, just enjoy the good parts of now. There will be times when the now doesn't really seem to have good parts. But hang in there, because they will turn up eventually: often out of the blue, often far sooner than you're expecting and always because of God's kindness, rather than your merit. Let this be a further source of joy to you!

Remember Jesus. Rejoice. Remember Jesus. And when you've remembered him, rejoice again, and remember again.

He will be with you in the coming year, as he has been in years before. He will be your comfort, your refuge- and time and time again, He will be what you need; He is an amazing Saviour; He's your forgiveness; He will be your hope. In all things, all things- he has been, is, and will be working for your good.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
You have already come: 

His grace has brought you safe thus far,
His grace will lead you home. 

I promise you. 30 is okay. It's one more year with Jesus, and that's really something to look forward to.



  1. also true at 40, 50, and 60...............

  2. I teared up at reading this. I could have written something similar to my 31year old self - turning 31 was harder for me than 30. And I can relate to so many of those amazing moments and realisations. Except the Taylor Swift concert - haven't done that yet! Haha! But yes, just YES! So true. Again, thank you for writing and sharing x

  3. Thank you. I couldnt write this ti myself but i needed to.

  4. Hey Phil, I think you're amazing.. Youre always full of wisdom beyond your 31 years and I know that people who have the pleasure of knowing you will always find encouragement from you! I know we only really knew each other for a year but my year in Oxford was probably one of the best and most difficult times and you were a big part of making it the best! You have this way of drawing people to you and you don't even know it! :) x

    1. Mel, I loved living with you. Thank you so much for your kind words. Massive love to you! xx

  5. Loved it a lot! Thanks for this wonderful birthday letter. Even I would be hosting a birthday party for my twins at one of the Los Angeles venues. They have asked for a wonderland themed party so I have been seeking some decent craft ideas for the decorations. I wonder if you could help regarding it.


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