Monday, January 21, 2013

60 and Serene ~ Perhaps

I can't claim ever to have attached much significance to milestone birthdays, but I'm most definitely aware of the one bearing down upon me this summer.  (Although I think that what's most unnerving to me is that the next big one will be seventy!)
I've chosen my word for this year, which is as difficult to live into as I had imagined it might be.  I've also been playing around with a few alliterative companions, words which might light the pathway through the next couple of decades.
I harbor no illusions about certainty or control.  The phone could ring at any moment.  Five years ago I was a seminary student, a little startled by the dramatic changes in life that I'd undertaken, but relaxed and confident about the future.  Why ever not?
In those five years, I've earned an M.Div, and a certificate in spiritual direction, been ordained to ministry and begun to pastor a church, developed a small spiritual direction practice, led some retreats and participated in some other events and presentations, seen my three children graduate from college, lost one of them to suicide, and dealt with breast cancer.
When I list it all, I'm somewhat surprised.  To put it mildly. 
No wonder serenity seems a worthwhile objective.
I feel just a tad silly, writing down what I perceive to be the challenges that lie ahead for the next couple of decades.  As I said, the phone could ring at any moment.  But, pretending that it won't, here's what occurs to me:
Family: It will change, and it will never be what I dreamed of for 25 years, as one of the main players is gone.  But the rest of us are still here.  My husband will retire eventually, and then what?  Will my other children marry?  Have families? Continue in the work they've chosen, or make other decisions entirely?  Where will they live?  What about us; will we stay or go?  How will my father's post-80 life proceed?  Will my brother retain his health and energy?
Work: People raise possibilities with me but, on the whole, my major internal task these days is to hunker down, settle in, and do what I do.  Those seminary years were directed toward the future,  filled with uncertainty, and then  completely shattered by Josh's death, and by the strenuous effort required each moment to survive into the next one ~ but the future is here, and I did survive, and now I have to live what lies right before me.  This stage requires a completely different mindset. 
Health: My breast cancer experience, and a bit of a scare some months later, made their point.  Oblivion is no longer an option.  (Or is it, perhaps? ~ said hopefully.)  I'm not thinking so much of health issues themselves, but of how to cope with them.  I came across some reading recently about childhood trauma and its residual effect on adult challenges, which went a long way toward explaining the intensity of the physical pain I experienced last winter, as well as the bewilderment (oh, let's just call it by its name: denial) of the medical professionals involved.  I'd prefer no repeats.
I get it. Life is difficult, and sad, and filled with loss.  And beautiful as well.  Beautiful and terrible.  And time is short.  So, some words:

The final word comes from Mr. Carson, who said a couple of weeks ago, "To misquote Dr. Johnson: If you're tired of style, then you're tired of life."
I was very much disinterested in style ~ in that sense ~  after Josh died.  But now, it's possible that I feel a bit of a resurgence.  A bit of an inclination toward magis.
We'll see.



  1. I can't put the reason into words but your post has a good feeling about it. I especially like "A bit of an inclination toward magis". Thanks.

  2. Words for approaching sixty...wise words, hopeful words, aware anchor the real fragility that holds life in the here and now....

  3. Lovely post, Robin. And, plenty of food for thought.

    Being in Al-Anon we tend to toss the word "serenity" around a lot. Many assume that the word means the same to everyone: happy, not worried, not angry, peaceful, positive.... and so on.

    Since, like your spiritual direction work, I do a lot of sponsoring I tend to ask the women I work with to look more closely at these words and phrases we throw around so cavalierly. What is serenity? What is it really?

    The Serenity Prayer is a bedrock in recovery from alcoholism the family disease. In it we ask God to give us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change.

    I cannot believe that what I'm asking God is to give me a mindset that says "I'm fine with this" when faced with a traumatic or even difficult situation. That kind of a God is just not one I'm interested in turning my will and my life over to.

    Instead, for me, serenity has been about asking God to help me feel supported, not alone, accompanied and able. Serenity continues to evolve into a very different state than mountain-top-sitting-calm.

    I like the alliterative companion words as well - space and stretch and style. These give such heft to the serenity I seek.

    Solitude, savor, sixty .... some more to ponder.

    As we have often spoken about, my concept of acceptance is also very different from so many of the assumptions. It is not about saying I approve or I agree. It is more about lifting the veil of denial and accepting the reality that I live in.

    As beautiful and as terrible as it is.

    Sending you much love!

  4. You make an excellent point -- many points -- Cindy.

    It had not even occurred to me to think of serenity in terms of "happy, not worried, not angry. etc." I think of it more as an attitude or disposition in the face of all that life hurls at us -- a sense of gracious acceptance, of Ignatian indifference, which means not that I don't care, but that I don't attach myself to one outcome or another.

    These days I, as well as several good friends, are dealing with (or, sadly, have already accompanied to the end) the challenges faced by our aging parents, which offer a hefty dose of insight into what it is to be resistant and angry rather than accepting and gracious. I see that courage is a key ingredient to serenity in the face of perceived disaster -- and how very difficult that one is to come by.

    As far as a sense of God's accompaniment -- that one has always been the most elusive of all for me.


  5. It was for Mother Theresa as well. Her journals are filled with her simple statements of the void. Of not feeling God's presence in her life. Sometimes questions. Sometimes anger. Sometimes bewilderment. Sometimes pleading. But every single day, she got up and did what she knew in her bones was her life work.

    It is a small, to many an insignificant, but to me a profoundly brave and courageous thing to do. To wake up. And get out of bed. And do whatever is my life work today.

    I think the Serenity Prayer is bedrock because of the focus on acceptance and courage. Yes, it is brave. It takes courage. And honestly, courage was about the last thing on my list of things to ask for.

    For many years I would rush past that part of the prayer thinking 'yeah, whatever' and yet looking back I can see point after point in my life where courage was exactly what was needed in a particular moment.

    Courage like that doesn't feel brave. Or good.

    Sort of like how serenity doesn't feel all mushy/gushy calm.

    It feels more like grace.

    Thank you for a depth of conversation I thought I would miss out on forever.



  6. This morning, I dig spacious.