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  • Writer's pictureJoel Elliott Mooneyhan

Thirty Eight

Today I turn thirty-eight. It’s not exactly a milestone year as a number, but it’s been a milestone year in other ways.

I’m grateful to be a part of an awesome faith community. Right after I began my new job at Atlanta Christian Church in earnest, a pandemic hit. Let me tell you, being a Pastor of Community and Spiritual Formation is not easy in a time when gathering a bunch of people in a closed room brings a lot of people anxiety. But people have been supportive, people have remained engaged, people are serving and praying for one another. When hard times hit a church, you adjust, you fight through it, and with the support of good men and women of Christ, you make it work. You do your best.

I started a podcast. It’s right here on this page if you click around. It’s a one-man show, with the occasional help of some friends, so if you’re wondering why the updates have been scarce, that’s why. But doing so has helped me to sharpen my understanding of who Christ is and what Christ is doing, even today, in the world around me. It’s helped me connect with perspectives I hadn’t fully understood—and maybe still don’t—and I’ve learned how to better write and articulate the faith I hold so dear. I don’t know a lot, but I am learning. You read, you study, you reflect, and you put it to use. You do your best.

Over the past year, I’ve continued to grow closer to my family. I still talk to my parents every day, my sisters and brother still call me by my childhood nicknames. My parents still want me to call whenever I get where I am going. My sisters and brother and I still have the same sarcastic interactions we did when we were younger. As a family, we don’t always agree on everything, and we are the type of family who makes that kind of thing known. But never do I doubt their love and support for me. Hopefully, they don’t doubt mine for them. You help whenever you can, you ask for help whenever you must, you share with each other and try to be patient. You do your best.

I fell in love this year. There’s a lot I could say about it, but most of that is between me and her. What I will say is that I’ve learned a lot about myself as I’ve learned what it means to truly love and be loved by another. The wounds of the past leave their marks, but you can’t really heal until you’re willing to trust someone and be vulnerable enough to let that someone lend you their strength where you are weak, and to do the same in return. For the first time, I’m beginning to understand that. I laugh a lot more, I plan a lot more, I look forward to things a lot more, and I keep better house than I have in the past. It’s mysterious and wonderful, sometimes scary and always encouraging, often all at once. It’s absolutely worth all that it took to get here. Love is not a feeling, although it does make you feel a lot of wonderful things. Love is a conscious choice and a constant pursuit. You do your best.

A lot has been said about the year 2020 and how hard it’s been for, well, most people. But as I reflect on the past year, a few things ring true.

One, we could all stand to be a little less opinionated. It’s absolutely noble to have convictions and to stand by them. It’s a little less helpful to remain so entrenched in your opinions that you cannot abide the opinions of another. We none of us have a corner on the truth, and the reality is that for all of our posturing, the truth still remains above the fray. I’ve learned to talk less, listen more, and bear the stings of the words of others more graciously. I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I’m doing my best.

Two, the world is and has always been a messy place. This isn’t the first year in human history to have sickness, division, or political unrest. It maybe feels closer to home for any of us now than it has in the past, but in conversations with much older men and women than I am, and with people from other parts of the world, I’m reminded that every place and in every generation, there are struggles, and sometimes it feels like the world is ending. It isn’t, I assure you. And there are people in the world even today, right now, who might look at our new struggles and say, “That’s the way it’s always been for us.” That isn’t to diminish the impact, but merely to suggest that a little perspective might do us all some good.

Which brings me to three: There is good to be found all around us. Some of it is easier to spot, some of it takes more work to uncover. But it’s there. That isn’t to say that the year hasn’t been strange and disconcerting and even frightening, but that there is always reason to hope for something, and there are always ways to make things better. You see challenges, you rise to meet them. You fight for what you hold dear. You try to turn enemies into friends. You do your best.

For my part, I intend to keep pursuing the call that Christ has laid upon me, whatever challenges that brings. I intend to listen to others who I don’t agree with. I intend to learn to act more graciously and speak more kindly.I intend to lean on friends more and allow them to do the same. I intend to be the best son and brother I can be to my family. I intend to keep learning what it means to love and be loved.

Onward to 38. I’ll do my best.


September 25, 2020


I've written reflections on every year since I turned 35. If you want to read the others, you can find them here, here, and here.

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