“We see the water of a river flowing uninterruptedly and passing away, and all that floats on its surface, rubbish or beams of trees, all pass by. Christian! So does our life. . .I was an infant, and that time has gone. I was an adolescent, and that too has passed. I was a young man, and that too is far behind me. The strong and mature man that I was is no more. My hair turns white, I succumb to age, but that too passes; I approach the end and will go the way of all flesh. I was born in order to die. I die that I may live. Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom!”
– St. Tikhon of Voronezh
Everywhere there are signs that my life is hurdling by. My body groans. My brain blanks on names and song lyrics. Yesterday, I ordered a cap and gown, and 2019 tassel, for my oldest daughter. My son turns 20 next month.
My kids and their friends are pulsating with energy and enthusiasm I haven’t felt in decades. Their dreams are immense and hopes sky high. It’s thrilling to witness but at the end of the day, I gratefully settle back into my middle-aged perspective and moderate expectations. Even if I could, I would not turn back the clock.
I used to be floored so easily, by obstacles, injustices, and people behaving badly. But as the years wore on, repeated exposure to disappointment and disillusionment formed scar tissue in my soul. They tempered my outrage, and watered down my intensity. Trying circumstances brought out the worst in me, over and over again until my brokenness became undeniable.
“Well that’s depressing,” you might be thinking, which is fair. And from an earthly perspective, I’d have to agree with you. Spiritually, however, this undoing of my pride and romantic ideals has been invaluable:
Firstly, because I honestly do not expect anymore to be fulfilled by temporal accolades or acquisitions.
Secondly, because I’m in no position to judge anyone else for anything.
Thirdly, because I finally accept that the mystery of eternity is incomprehensible to the human mind.
“When I can stand in mystery (not knowing and not needing to know and being dazzled by such freedom), when I don’t need to split, to hate, to dismiss, to compartmentalize what I cannot explain or understand, when I can radically accept that “I am what I am what I am,” then I am beginning to stand in divine freedom (Galatians 5:1). We do not know how to stand there on our own. Someone Else needs to sustain us in such a deep and spacious place. This is what the saints mean by our emptiness, our poverty and our nothingness. They are not being negative or self-effacing, but just utterly honest about their inner experience. God alone can sustain me in knowing and accepting that I am not a saint, not at all perfect, not very loving at all—and in that very recognition I can fall into the perfect love of God.
– Richard Rohr, Radical Grace
Despite my own failings, and the failings of others, I keep showing up at Church because I believe there is more to life than trying to stuff the giant hole in my heart with things, entertainment, and relationships that never satisfy me. And because I’ve only ever felt relief from despair and dejection when pursuing Christ and His peace. I was born in order to die, in order to LIVE. I cannot explain this, only embrace the mystical paradox of becoming filled (with inner stillness) by being emptied (of my egoism).
Age and experience have softened my edges and stripped me of pretenses. They have silenced my speculations, replacing fear and distrust with a loving curiosity about my neighbor who is different from me. I am thankful – thankful for the cooling of my passions, for my contentment with simplicity, and for my hunger for God’s mercy and His Heavenly Kingdom which is to come.