Freedom In Falling Behind

Chi and I with our friends Yuko and Josiah.

Last Saturday, it all came back when I heard the words:

“By the power vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride.”

As Josiah lifted Yuko’s veil, her smile erupted into giggling again. The same kind that happens when middle school girls talk about boys. Now, the moment she had dreamed of since those playground days had come.

My wife and I smiled as we sat and looked from ten rows back. Just a year ago, we were on this same stage, standing before our friends and family. She didn’t think she’d get married so early. I didn’t think I’d get married so late.

Playing Catch Up

As a sophomore in college, I remember a mentor telling me he never thought he’d be single in his 30s. But 30 was a big turning point. “It really hits you,” he said.

I nodded and mustered up as much empathy as a 19-year-old could. “I see,” I said.

I didn’t see. 30 was half a lifetime away. Wait — more than half my lifetime. I’m still 19.

At 22, I remember being at a young adult retreat and hearing the guy in the bunk next to me say he turned 25 the next day. He was lamenting how he thought he’d marry by 25. There the poor lad was, as single as…well, the rest of us in that room. Except at least I was 22. A lot can happen in three years.

Then 25 came. A good handful of friends got engaged or married, but most were still single. Including that one guy from the retreat. He’s 28 now. Yup, 25’s not that bad.

Twenty weddings later, (two which I helped officiate,) I was clinging with both hands to the lower crescent of the “9” in 29. I was becoming my college mentor. Somewhere down the line I had even grown a goatee like his and started mentoring college students.

And then it hit me.

At 30, I sat in a Japanese language class, surrounded by 20-year-olds, learning to speak like a-4-year old. (“Where is the toilet?”) Most of my peers in the US were having their second or third kid. I learning to talk like one.

I had lost sight of all the runners ahead of me. The crowds had left. The race seemed over.

Always Running

I don’t recall signing up for this race. But as more single friends passed me by, I realized I was not only in it, but had fallen way behind.

Some people go through life never feeling like they’re behind. Marriage, work, kids, home-owning, retirement, even grandkids all line up as planned. Perhaps the work promotion came a year later than expected, or the down payment on the home took an extra two years of saving. But consider those pit stops. Nothing swayed the pace.

Most humans I know aren’t so.

Something always takes longer than expected. The couple that marries early can’t get pregnant. The couple with one kid struggles to have a second. The family with three kids can’t afford the spacious house.

Sure, most won’t have to wait until all their peers pass them by. Maybe just a few. And praise God for such timing.

But for those of us who feel like we’re trailing back (…way back) we know another grace, just as praiseworthy. For sometimes it takes falling behind — to where we can’t catch up — to set us free from races we need not run. And in the dust of our peers, we find our “losing” one race is God pushing us forward in another.

Falling “Upward”

We all know the metaphor of the Christian life as a race. Paul writes in Philippians 3:14:

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

What is this “upward call”? Paul explains several verses earlier:

“that I may know him [Christ] and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (3:10-11)

There is no greater race in life than to know Christ. And according to Paul, that means not just knowing His life, but entering His death.

Every “falling behind” is indeed a loss, a death of sorts. Saying goodbye to the blessings of marriage, children, a career or house are worth grieving over.

Yet in the grief, what grace to know that God uses each “lost race” or “delayed finish” to push us forward in the race of knowing Him in His death.

For in our extended singleness we know Christ more, who lived His entire earthly life single, and died single on the cross.

In our extended childlessness we know Christ more, who having no children, gave Himself for the family of God.

In our unfulfilled careers, we know Christ more, who also through His calling, “learned obedience through what He suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)

And in our grieving, we know Christ more — the “man of sorrows…acquainted with grief”. (Isaiah 53:3)

Such death will surely be eclipsed by resurrection beauty in His timing.

The Beauty Of Being Late

As you know, I got married. And I thank God I did.

But the unexpected beauty of it happening later than I hoped, is the freedom from keeping pace with others. The path forward is clearest when the dust of your peers settles. And well, I couldn’t catch up even if I tried.

Of the four couples from my church in Tokyo that got married last year (all younger than me), two are giving birth next month.

Chi and I couldn’t be more excited for them.

I once dreamed of owning a house in Huntington Beach. But in Tokyo, not only are most people unable to afford a house, many don’t consider it a wise investment, given a pending massive earthquake or Mt. Fuji eruption.

So we’re renting our little apartment on the 9th floor. And¬†there’s nowhere else we’d rather be for now.¬†(Note to friends living in Huntington Beach: I will still gladly borrow your pool and beach parking pass on trips back.)

And so we run. Some slower than others. But looking “upward” to the God who forms us through our “falling behind”.

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  • Joyce Inouye says:

    Ian-san… beautifully written, eloquent Truth to set ungodly beliefs and timelines placed by our flesh free. This should be written to more than just your supporters… ad those that ask. I pray, one day, this would reach the multitudes… and bring freedom and direction. Thank you. I encourage your to share this testimony… to soak deep into God’s timing for all things, which is perfect, ripe, and precise.

  • Janet Hall says:

    Wow! Ian, these are such deep and honest reflections written with such grace and thoughtfulness. Indeed, God places us at the right place in His perfect timing. For when we feel that we are falling behind, we need to look to Him to learn how to “fall upward”. Thank you for this piece!

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