Thursday, September 27, 2012

Maturity and frights in the night

Simone’s been discussing maturity.

I don’t think maturity is a destination. You don’t get there and set up camp for the rest of your life. The mature people I’ve met are actively still learning and growing. One of the key features of their maturity is that they recognise that there is more to learn and more ways to grow. Often I fear the fact that in 10 years’ time, I’ll realize I was wrong about some of the ways I think now and regret some of my choices. I only want to move forward when I know everything and have perfectly chosen from all the options. Ridiculous. And not maturity – just perfectionistic fear. 

That’s not say that the mature person doesn’t come to any firm conclusions about life. It doesn’t mean we must live in constant uncertainty about our decisions and beliefs.  However, change will come.  And through it we hope to grow.

But here’s the thing: after a bit of a clicking trail last night, I read this quote from and felt chilled to the bone.
As I grow older, I find more and more people, in all fields of life, who seem more and more trapped and unfree…they choose security over honesty. In my field, I see bishops, priests, and ministers, who in moments of private honesty, reveal they do not really believe this or that any more, but they have to pretend to believe it to be faithful to the persona they built and created in their first 40-50 years… it is like throwing your previous life script out the window and admitting that much of it was mistaken.
Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest from the USA.

Deeply unsettling.

It struck a nerve because of all the things we saw last year: marriages we thought were solid suddenly disintegrated, our minister imploded and ran away from church and home, and a member of our family was struck down with an illness we thought was under control. Life tipped on its axis somewhat. What we thought we knew, wasn’t so.

So how then do I know that won’t happen to me? What if I wake one morning and the walls all come crashing down? What if life slips sideways for a moment and the mechanics behind the whole façade are revealed and it all – this home, this family, this faith - turns out to be just a figment of my imagination, nothing solid? What if I wake and find I’ve just been pretending for all these years?

I imagine myself inside a house, at a kitchen table. We are warm and laughing but the walls are painted scenery. All of a sudden, the scene ends and the walls fall backwards into the dirt. We are in fact beside a road in the middle of nowhere and it is utterly dark beyond us. The lights are hastily packed up by the people working the set and everyone gets into a warm, glowing bus and drives speedily away. And I am left horribly alone. In the dark. I watch the bus full of laughing, chatting people drive further and further out of sight. And then comes the fear. I don’t know what to do next and I begin to consider what terrible dangers might me coming for me there unprotected and deserted in the dark.

That’s the bleak picture I was imagining last night in bed. Maybe there’s a middle-age factor in here. We get taken up in the first half of life with growing and ticking off life’s stages. Then we get to the middle and wonder what next? Or worse – is what I think I have now real or lasting? When will my children die? When will my spouse leave me? When will I go mad and not be able to leave my own room?

If you know me well, you are probably chuckling about now. I am known for my overly-dramatic and bleak view of life (a little bit Toby). If you don’t know me well, you are perhaps shocked and about to dash around to counsel me (bring cake). Don’t worry. I like to imagine the worse now and then. Does me no end of good.

Then I thought, “Courage.” We’ve been listening to The Voyage of The Dawntreader as an audio book this week and I'm sure that's why that word should occur to me. I might have it written up in a bold flowing script on my bedroom wall.

Courage is what’s called for when these imaginings come upon you. Life may indeed turn out to be very different from the life script you wrote for yourself in your teens or your twenties. In fact, I would guess that’s pretty much a given. But that doesn’t mean that all of life is a sham. I have solid ground under my feet because I know the author of my life’s story. It is beyond my control. But it is not out of control. I have great and precious promises – that my debts have been paid and my future secured, that I will never be abandoned, that my hope will not prove empty.

And so I will pick up my sword when these frights come crowding in and I will fight them. And while I still have breath, I will pray. I will pick my dusty satchel up from beside my feet, turn around and head for the distant mountains. The world around me may be dark. But beyond the mountains, I see a faint light. The dawn.

The bus, with the people of the façade, will rush on. It chases the night, you see. Driving always westward to avoid the coming day. But the true day will be so much more than the glow of the electric lights and hollow laughter from the bus.

John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”


Jean Williams said...

A helpful book for such times: Ed Welch "Midlife and the grace of God". Really.

Deb said...

Sounds good! Will chase that up.

Deb said...

Don't you think it's about time Ed started paying you commission? :)