What My Thirties Taught Me

I turned thirty a decade ago. I was a headstrong and terrified momma expecting triplets with big plans, goals, and absolutes about how it would all work. It turns out; my thirties had much to teach me about life. Here are four lessons I am leaving this decade with that shaped who I am today.

Lesson #1: It’s OK to say you are not OK. In fact, it’s a sign of maturity to be aware of and to admit your struggles and failures.

If I am honest, I spent much of my twenties blaming other people for my poor choices, damaging behavior, and unhealthy patterns. I struggled with anger, shame, stress, and left a trail of broken relationships behind me. My journey of transformation started with the acknowledgment that I needed help, and I needed healing.

Writer Elizabeth Gilberts says, “I’ve never seen any life transformation that didn’t begin with the person in question finally getting tired of their own bullsh**.

For years, I boasted of being strong, self-reliant, in control, and right. My thirties taught me that an unwillingness to self-evaluate, allow others to speak truth into my life, and seek needed change through counseling and mentoring was the sin of pride ruling my life. True humility requires radical self-awareness. And it helps to be able to laugh at yourself along the way!

Lesson #2: The riches of life are in relationships.

I remember the day I had a conflict with an employee in one of my first management jobs. I wasn’t too far out of college and thought I knew it all. My manager told me, “You would actually be an outstanding manager if you actually liked people.” That self-awareness I cultivated in my 30’s? It showed me that my walls, my unwillingness to be vulnerable and let people in, to do the hard work of forgiveness and intentionality in relationships were actually a defense mechanism to avoid the pain of being hurt. The infinite riches of my thirties was learning how beautiful it is to have deep, intimate, lasting friendships. When I prayed the prayer, “God, give me your heart for people, help me love people as you do.” Everything changed for me. I went from a girl who struggled to maintain friendships with women to a person who has an overflow of life-giving relationships that I count as my greatest joys. My thirties taught me to love people and to allow them to love me.

Lesson #3 – Being brave doesn’t mean an absence of fear, it means having the courage to do it anyway.

I will never forget the first time I walked out on to a stage to preach God’s word to a crowd of hundreds of people. Minutes before I was in the bathroom dry heaving. No lie. My thirties were full of moments where God asked me to do things that absolutely terrified me. He asked me to put myself in places that were fear-inducing. He asked me to say fear-inducing things. He asked me to be brave and bold and pursue the dreams he placed on my heart. I thought at some point, I wouldn’t be afraid anymore, and that would be a sign of His presence.

Jennie Allen says, “Many people who study the Bible never find God. Many people who go to church never really know him. The only exercise that works 100 percent of the time to draw one close to the real God is risk. To risk is to willingly place your life in the hand of an unseen God and an unknown future, then to watch him come through. He starts to get real when you live like that.”

My thirties taught me following Jesus is risky, and the fear is always present, but God is never more real than when we are walking in obedience - no matter how hard that might be.

Lesson #4: It is in the surrendering of our lives that we begin to find out who we are meant to be.

At 23, I acknowledged my need for Jesus for the first time, but my life didn’t change much. I was still calling the shots and holding tight to the driver seat. Then life got complicated. We struggled with infertility. We lost three babies. I struggled with postpartum depression. I quit my job to raise twin toddlers, and my identity was ripped from me. At 32, I read a book by Jennie Allen titled, Anything: The Prayer That Unlocked My God and My Soul. I found myself sitting on the bathroom floor in the middle of the night, heart racing, praying the prayer “anything.” “God, I am sick trying to figure life out. Sick of running the race. Sick of feeling less than everyone else. Sick of feeling like my life doesn’t matter. I will do it, God. I will do ANYTHING you ask of me. I want my life to be about you.” I surrendered myself, and God began to rebuild my identity. I surrendered my future, and God began to shape my calling. My thirties taught me that it’s the daily abandon, in the mundane and the extraordinary, that God continues to transform us. Every day we have a choice to make. Every day is a battle for the throne of our hearts. Every time I falter, and my flesh takes over, I return to this moment and this prayer. God, you and you alone. Help me live in surrender.

American philosopher and author, DR. Debasish Mridha, writes of birthdays, “Today you have added another candle of knowledge and wisdom to your life. May it give you the power to enlighten the whole world.”

I’m carrying the hard-earned wisdom of my thirties into a new decade, and I pray God uses it as a light in the world.


Luann Riley