Besides physical work-outs, spiritual and psychological exercise is also critical during transitions. Several consequential thoughts have reinforced my mindset as I process vocational changes.
This day was coming.
When my mother turned 80, my brothers and I gathered in San Marcos, California. We took mom out to dinner to celebrate her milestone. Mom enjoyed affirming, “I may be 80 on the outside, but I’m still 20 on the inside!”
During one of my post 80 visits with mom, she informed me that she read a book by Billy Graham. She accosted me with the query, “Do you know what Billy Graham said in this book?” Having not read the book, I replied, “No.” Mom continued, “He said that as someone raised in the church, he never once heard preaching or teaching about aging!” I responded to mom’s comment with an appropriate dear-in-the headlight-tell-me-more facial expression. Mom continued, “I grew up in the church, and I never once did I hear preaching or teaching on aging!” As I assimilated what she was saying, a thought came to my mind. I, too, had been raised in the church. Never once did I ever hear a preacher or teacher address the issue of aging. I soon copped to the fact that I had never tackled the issue of aging in any of my church orations. As I mentioned earlier in this blog series, I did study gerontology in college. This interaction with mom was a catalytic encounter. I began to look at scripture through the grid of my knowledge of gerontology and meditate on addressing aging in a church setting.
In 2015, after the appropriate gestation period of 7 years, I broached the topic of aging during an Africa Inland Church Pastors and Leaders conference in Kitale, Kenya. My text was 2 Corinthians 4:16, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” My homily was entitled The Ministry and Aging. I will not reprise my whole message here. One of my central exhortations was that we should prepare ahead of time for the realities of aging, especially physical aging. For me, that reality was aging with post-polio. I realized that eventually, I would not be physically able to travel, especially internationally, as I had in my younger years. A significant aspect of my aging strategy that emerged in the years following my conversation with mom was to transition from a “go-to” ministry to a “come-to” ministry. In recent years, we have begun hosting some of our international colleagues in our home. As we advance and emerge from this present transition, we anticipate doing more of this targeted hospitality ministry.
Facing the reality of aging with PPS and planning well in advance for ways to address this new reality has eased the stress and bathed the transition in hopeful anticipation. I did not anticipate nor prepare for dysphonia. At least its symptoms and diagnosis emerged in this atmosphere of hopeful anticipation. I have begun to write more in this transition. I surprise myself at how much I am enjoying it. I confessed to my visiting daughter the other day that I’m developing a new addiction! Engaging in positive distractions instead of ruminating on losses is a healthier approach to transitions.
God intends this for good.
“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” (Genesis 50:20, NKJV)
These were words Joseph spoke to his brothers who had sold him into slavery when he was young. God had promoted Joseph from slavery to a position of power and authority in Egypt. The advantage to reading historical narratives like the story of Joseph is knowing the end of the story. We see the good that God intended. Amid personal transitions, we can only guess at the rest of the story. Faith in a good God bolsters our strength and courage through the process, believing for a God-ordained outcome
God works for the good.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NIV84)
When I think of this verse, I think of the word synergy.
From the Latin, “sinergo,” synergy is an interaction or cooperation giving rise to a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts. The phrase, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, was first coined by the philosopher Aristotle. In Christian theology, synergism is the idea that salvation and well-being result from cooperation between divine grace and human freedom.
Paul’s proposition in this verse is that the act of loving God facilitates this synergy. There may be many moving parts we can not control in a transition. The choice to love God is something over which we do have control.
God escorts us beyond our perceived limits.
(2 Corinthians 1:8, The Message)
“We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it.”
Here is my terse paraphrase of this passage. “When I feel that I can’t take anymore and more comes anyway, God carries me further, well beyond my perceived limits.”
I find a related theme in Psalm 46:1-3.
“God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah”
My paraphrase is, “When the familiar and the dependable disappear, God is still there.”
God is in the process.
Knowing all the right stuff does not absolve us from the need to go through life processes. God designed the human soul to be a processor. The soul processes our thoughts and emotions. When invited, our providential God enjoys engaging with us in our life processes.
We are currently downsizing and prepping our house for the market. Just knowing we need to lighten our material load does not make it happen. We need to engage and make it happen over time. Seasons of transition do involve grief. Knowing I should be joyful in the midst of loss does not fill me with joy. I need to process my grief. The more I appropriately process my sorrow, the more I can experience joy.
There are lessons to be learned in downsizing. The greatest fear associated with change is the fear of losing something important or precious to us. The physical mementos we are currently releasing are not inherently bad things. It has not been wrong to hang on to these keepsakes this long. We are not hoarders. There has been a place for everything, and everything has had its place. It’s just that God has blessed us with a house with many nooks and crannies in which to place our treasures. Healthy memories have attached themselves to many of these physical tokens that we are releasing. A question repeatedly asked of ourselves in this process is, “Is this item necessary for the next season of our life?” The related practical question is, “Will this fit in our next house?”
I learned a lesson associated with my family’s move from Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, to Burbank, California, in July 1965, a couple of months before my fourteenth birthday. Our covered wagon for the westward migration of our pioneering family was a 1962 Pontiac station wagon. I designed a “California or Bust!” sign and taped it to the inside of the rear window. My post for the journey was at this window inside the rear of the car. Often the drivers of vehicles that followed us on the iconic Route 66 would honk and wave in acknowledgment of our posted goal. I would smile and return the wave. The only possessions packed for the trek fit in the car top carrier. We, seven family members, filled the internal space.
My parents had downsized to their most precious treasures. These keepsakes filled a wooden barrel. That barrel would ship after we settled in our new house in Burbank. Parting with so many material possessions, their own and their children’s, must have been a monumental task for my parents. My one regret is that I was unable to say goodbye to my stuff. My mementos included collected pictures of houses and their floor plan designs that I had enjoyed drawing. I also enjoyed assembling plastic models of things like cars and planes. From sixth grade, my answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was, “A doctor!” I began to receive gifts of plastic models of the human body and other human organs like the heart. I could assemble these models and learn about human anatomy in the process. One day, all my stuff just disappeared. My mother took care of disposing of my keepsakes. These physical treasures were perishable. The memories attached to them are enduring. I missed participating in an essential aspect of the transition process, saying goodbye to my past by saying goodbye to my stuff.
Currently, our downsizing efforts seem endless. Often it feels like we’re moving in slow motion. I remind myself that healthy transitions take time. The time taken should be savored and not rushed. My spirit, soul, and body require process time. Nevertheless, it is essential to face the reality of the need for this transition and to not dig in my heels or drag my feet. Wisdom knows how to flow in the process.