I’m looking at the almost thirty-year-old gazebo that stands in our backyard, and once again contemplating its fate. It’s sturdy, albeit with a small roof leak that drips when it’s pouring rain. It’s in desperate need of a fresh coat of white paint, and that I can give it. But it leans slightly to one side, and when you pull hard on one of the pillars it is noticeable to the naked eye that- yes- a little oomph to one side actually makes it stand more upright. So, is it ready to be torn down and rebuilt, or can it be mended and supported which might give it another thirty years? And when did it start to list to the southwest corner of the property instead of stretching straight skyward? Was it a single event, like the ice storm in February 2021, or the wind storm this past fall? Or did it just gradually start to take the path of least resistance, shifting millimeters while we were too busy to notice?
I contemplate these shifts because I notice the same thing taking place in my own life. I’ll wake up one morning only to notice that something feels different. This morning in particular, I woke up and steadied myself internally, because I could sense that things in my life are about to change. I had a meeting already scheduled with my spiritual director for 10am, and she let me process what I am sensing, and how far back I have felt that I am being invited into new territory. But regardless of when the signs started to emerge, and when and how I first noticed a shift in my soul, the outcome is the same. God is calling me into a new phase of being. I don’t think this means that anything tangible will change in my life, instead the shift feels cosmic and soulful. Perhaps it has something to do with entering my last year in my thirties. Perhaps it comes from drawing healthier boundaries with the people in my life while simultaneously giving more grace for nuance. Or maybe it’s the natural response to recently losing two family members and acknowledging that I am becoming one of the elders, whether I am ready for that or not. Regardless of the why, I think the deeper question is how we respond when we feel that we are on the precipice of change.
It seems to me that the peaceful path through life is the one that moves gently away from rigidity and hard lines and into openness and wonder. Children have the wonder part down, but in order to grow and develop healthfully, they need boundaries and more dualistic principles. I’m sure we were all raised with plenty of rules to follow that kept us safe, and clear definitions handed down to us about which things were “right” and which things were “wrong”. Somewhere along the way though, we bumped heads with the borders and the rules and we began to notice where the Holy Spirit was inviting us into softening. Sometimes we lose the capacity for wonder in the midst of studies, career, raising a family, politics, and finances. But what I am starting to see glimpses of, is that the second half of life leaves ample room for it to be welcomed back. In fact, I think wonder and curiosity are absolutely necessary if we are to become people who are more open to God’s invitation to wide open spaces in the promised land. I think curiosity and a sense of discontent with the parameters of your youth is what brings us to spiritual seeking in the first place. Maybe you woke up one morning and sensed a shift on the horizon that you weren’t sure of, but with a holy honoring of both God and self, you leaned into the nudging. Maybe you’re still in it- “it” being the new place that feels foreign and disorienting. Call it deconstruction, call it the wilderness, call it a paradigm shift, we all know the place I mean. Or perhaps you are on the other side, but you have landed in a healthy, whole, hoped-for space only to find that you are lonely, or you don’t know what to do now that you are there. Can I tell you what I suspect? The longer I live, the more I recognize that life, if we say yes, is one journey after another until we take the final journey into death. We are never complete, or arrived, so long as we respond to the nudge for our soul to embark on another adventure. Some days that can sound and feel exhausting. And God does give us respite and peace between our stops along the way- spaces where we can set to cruise control and enjoy the scenery. But the good stuff sits in wait, calling to us from the next place. And whether it creeps up on us or slams into our psyches like a puppy who grew too fast and doesn’t know its size, each invitation from God is an offering, not a demand. I am so thankful that regardless of how we respond, we are never abandoned by Creator’s love.