It's the eve of my 41st birthday, and I'm celebrating by sitting at my piano trying to force this tricky syncopated rhythm into my brain and fingers. I can hear my piano teacher from thirty years ago counting in my head. "1-ay-and-ah, 2-ay-and-ah..." I'm almost there, Mrs. Jewett. Keep counting.
I played for hours every day in high school. By the time I graduated my senior year, I was accompanying for at least three different choirs at various times and also accompanied for the school musicals, playing for vocal and choreography rehearsals and performing in the orchestra pit. There was also that one time (and only one time) they asked me to play for jazz band - and never asked me again. Sight-reading is comfortable for me. Improvisation... is not.
Somehow, this huge part of my life just went away once I started college. And then we got married. And moved cross-country. And had kids. And... life. Every now and then I'd pull out my favorite Rachmaninoff piece to play for my unimpressed small children, but it really felt like piano was in my past. Most of our friends didn't even know I played at all - it was just random trivia to pull out during an ice-breaker game.
But then. A few years back - twenty years since I last accompanied for a choir - we urgently needed someone to play for our church's choir and worship band. I waited to fess up that I could play for as long as I could in good conscience. And suddenly, I found myself heading to rehearsal with a binder of music in my hand and trepidation in my heart. It took a lot of time and practice to clear those mental cobwebs away, but for the most part, that muscle memory was still there and came right back. Muscle memory after twenty years, burned into permanence by those hours upon hours spent at the keyboard.
Years ago, a wise mentor remarked that, Biblically speaking, an "older woman" would likely be considered anyone who is around 40 and up. She challenged me and my fellow other 20-somethings in the room that these were critical years, years that would form the foundation of our character and determine if we had anything of value to give away once we were old enough to invest in those coming behind.
Today as I watch the last hours of my 40th year pass by, I am echoing her sentiments. Those years in my 20's and 30's were wonderful and hard in a unique way. I struggled to find how my gifts would be used, where I was needed. I felt unseen as I lived my days hidden away in the quiet life of raising small children and homekeeping. I wrote blog posts few people read and led some small Bible studies, but for the most part, I felt a little bit... lost. I knew that what I was doing, raising my young children and loving my husband, was of great worth. But outside of that... shouldn't there be more?
Now that I have reached a point where I can teach and lead without apologizing for my age and have conversations with younger women... muscle memory matters more than ever.
To sisters in their 20's and 30's - these years are critical. Don't wait until you have more time or influence or something that seems meaningful to do. You are developing muscle memory that will be critically important in the future - quite possibly in ways you cannot possibly anticipate. Open the Scripture. Dig deep. Don't settle for living on "5 minutes for moms" devotionals when Jesus is beckoning you to the deep places. It might not be instagram-worthy. It might mean leaving a Bible open by your kitchen sink, reading two verses at a time and thinking about them, and then next time you walk by reading two more. It might mean locking yourself in your bathroom for a few minutes at a time, or waking up incredibly early, or sacrificing precious naptime hours. Fight for it. Surround yourself with older, wiser women. Go to a Bible study at your church. Talk with older women. Ask to hear their stories. Ask someone you're drawn to to meet you for coffee - develop a relationship. Walk with the wise.
To sisters my age and up - it's time to get serious about investing even as you're still growing. You don't need to have all the answers, you just need to be faithful today. God will use all of those years of faithfulness and failures to impact those around you if you continue to fix your eyes on Him and offer your life as a living, available, willing sacrifice. Talk with younger women. Ask to hear their stories. Open your home, invite someone to coffee. You don't need to know everything to be an older, wiser woman - just keep pointing others to Jesus as you run after Him yourself.
You don't know how God will use the muscle memory you are developing right now in the unseen places. It might even feel like you'll never have a time to share what He has taught you. It might come unexpectedly. Just keep being faithful right now, this day, and then get up and do it again tomorrow. And that is what adds up to a faithful life worth emulating.