A Resilient Life

Through-out the summer I’ve been reading a book called A Resilient Life by Gorden MacDonald. This is one particular section I found interesting and stirring, followed with some thoughts.
Its somewhat long, but definitely worth the read. :)

Resilient People Foresee the Great Questions of Life’s Passage
[speaking to a group of young adults at a conference]

“I suspect that there are different questions for every age in life, perhaps every decade. Knowing them helps us to deal with people sensitively, and it gives us a better understanding of how to build a larger view of our own lives.

“Remember, you heard it here first,” I concluded. “You won’t he asking the same questions ten years from now that you are asking today.”

When question-and­-answer time came, some asked, “So what are the questions that correspond to each decade?” A few samples occurred to me, but I admitted that I had some homework to do. “I just know that there are questions for every age group, and that they are pretty consistent,” I said.

And here’s the kicker. As the questions change, so does the content (and perhaps the form) of our spiritual interests. “The questions,” I said, “often become our way of approach when we go to the Scriptures looking for spiritual sustenance. They become a guide when we buy books. The questions form our approach to spiritual life. So if the way one does spiritual life was formed around twenty­-something questions and one is now fifty, spiritual life will likely be obsolete and ineffective.”

In each decade of life as the questions change, the Bible reader discerns new insights from the familiar Bible stories or teachings. The themes of prayer also change. The dangers and temptations inherent in the spiritual journey are modified. And in each decade of life, new decisions leading to deepening commitment present themselves. So, knowing the appropriate questions that we are likely to face at the end of the track in each decade of life just might help us become big­-picture thinkers.

When I left the conference at the end of that day, I determined to identify as many of the significant questions that people are asking as they move through the decades of life. I became convinced that if I could do this, I’d know a lot more about big­ picture thinking and resilience.

[at a gathering later on]

As the moments passed, I was struck with how little we know about each other across the generations. And how important it is to understand what questions form the larger picture of another’s life. This is the pathway to resilience: knowing what’s up ahead, what we are likely to face, where the possibilities and the obstacles lie. These people had answers to the questions the worship leaders needed to ask. So I began my pursuit of the great questions that fill in the blanks of so many big pictures.

When I engaged with twenty-somethings, for example, who were just entering the adult years, I found them preoccupied with clarifying their identity. What kind of a man or woman am I becoming, they were likely to wonder, and how am I different from my mother or father? They were asking, Where can I find a few friends who will welcome me as I am and who will offer the family-like connections that I need / or never had? Or, Can I love, and am I lovable? These are relational questions, of course, and I could feel the discomfort of those in their twenties until they get answered. I found fear of rejection, loneliness, and the feeling that one might not fit. No wonder there were so many goings and comings among twenty­-somethings, compelling a person toward one group or another, one friend or another. One needs to find a place, a people to whom one can belong.

The twenties are a time when one asks, What will I do with my life? What is it that I really want in exchange for my life’s labors? Most denied that the key desire of life was for material wealth; the preference was for work that offered significance, a feeling of making a difference. Teaching, counseling, and work in the nonprofit sector were important possibilities. Of course, a bundle of folk said they were quite happy just to land a job – ­any passable job­ – that provides the income base for a reasonably secure life and some fun.

Twenty­-somethings are becoming aware that they can no longer get away with irresponsible or unsocial behavior. Life patterns, habits, and personality quirks need adjustment if one is to get along. So the question, what parts of me and my life need correction? arises.

It is also not surprising that people in their twenties wrestle with the so-called lordship question: Around what person or conviction will! I organize my life? Perhaps this is the mother of all questions (for every age, actually), but it reaches a point of great significance as one comes to the realization that the game of life is no longer the amateur game of the teen years. Now it is a serious matter with increasingly serious consequences, and one must identify an organizing principle that will bring the pieces of life into order. That principle, the Bible­-embracing person believes, is really a person: Jesus Christ­­­ – His saving power, His call, His teachings.

What happens when twenty­s-somethings turn into thirty-somethings? The questions and issues begin to shift. The longer-­range responsibilities of life begin to accumulate, and one’s sense of personal freedom is compromised as more permanent relationships and commitments are made.

Since there is usually an expansion of responsibility and no expansion of time, thirty­-somethings find themselves asking the question, how do I prioritize the demands being made on my life? There are spouses to love and know more intimately, children who need endless amounts of attention, and jobs/careers that absorb energy. Homes must be maintained, bills paid, obligations to organizations met. Suddenly one must budget the yesses and the noes of life, and these decisions are not simply or easily made.

The career options of a person’s life may have seemed clearer and simpler in the twenties. But now, in the thirties, one can begin to see that there are winners and losers, as well as also-­rans (those who simply finish unnoticed in the middle of the pack). And the question forms: How far can I go in fulfilling my sense of purpose?

Because thirty-­somethings are so busy getting life’s routines established, there is little growing realization that one’s primary community is changing. The friends of youth (and even of the twenties) have split, gone off in different directions (some married, some single, many moved on to other parts of the world). And another question arises: Who are the people with whom I know I walk through life?

For many men, the thirties are the beginning of the onset of male loneliness. New male friendships are not easily made nor do they often measure up to the kind of friendships one used to enjoy. Old friends have drifted away; often, new acquaintances simply do not have the time to build the satisfying relationships that were part of the younger years.

Spiritual life changes for people in their thirties. The spiritual questions no longer center on the ideals of youth but on the realities of a life that is tough and unforgiving. There is little time for the long discussions with a mentor, the youth retreats and programs, the times of hanging out that marked earlier days. Now life’s requirements offer little time for contemplation and spiritual revitalization. Most thirty­-somethings who seek a spiritual component to life will tell you that words like empty, tired, confused, and drifting mingle in their thoughts in a way they never expected. Thus these questions materialize: What does my spiritual life look like? Do I even have time for one?

It’s a quiet, nagging question that comes in moments when one feels that he or she has failed. Thirty-­somethings are likely to see things in themselves they thought they might have overcome by now, simply by growing up. But things they once anticipated they would shake off haven’t gone away. And thirty­-somethings find themselves asking, why am I not a better person?

There are new questions that pop up in one’s forties. The complexities of life further accelerate, and this is worrisome­­­­. We begin to recognize that we can no longer fob off our flaws and failures as youthfulness and inexperience. We are, as they say, grown-up. We are expected to handle the bumps and bruises of life with an unshakable courage. Panic and fear are for younger (and older?) people. But in one’s forties, the expectation is that one is solid.

Still … there are questions. As I will illustrate in another part of this book, the question arises, who was I as a child, and what powers back then influence the kind of person I am today? We would have laughed at this question in our twenties, but now it becomes a rather serious one for more than a few.

Why do some people seem to be doing better than I? Why am I often disappointed in myself and others? Why are limitations beginning to outnumber options?

I believe the forties to be dangerous, uncharted waters for a lot of us. Lots of things begin to happen for which many of us are not prepared. Bodies change. Children become more independent, even begin to leave home. Marriages have to be readjusted to face new realities. Some of us begin to enjoy financial leverage; others of us begin to assume that we will never be materially secure. Some give up the fight to achieve lifelong goals and settle into a defensive posture of living. Others miss their youth and its seeming excitement so much that they try going backward to retrieve earlier pleasures.

Forty-­somethings may ask, why do I seem to face so many uncertainties? But others may begin plotting a second life, a second career. What can I do to make a greater contribution to my generation? Or, what would it take to pick up a whole new calling in life and do the thing I’ve always wanted to do? If one listens carefully, he might hear the word trapped used in the questions that now arise.

A few wise forty-­somethings may seek a ninety-­day sabbatical. They will strip their lives down to bare metal and evaluate their life-­journeys to this point. They’ll take a hard look at their spiritual journeys, their personal relationships, their convictions about money and possessions, how they contribute their energies and resources. And when the assessment is over, they will have plotted a whole new course for the second half of life. A very exciting adventure for brave people.

 would often prefer not to think about it, but the fact is that they have moved across life’s middle. Now one finds him or herself wondering how many years are left. The news of friends dying, marriages dissolving, and people moving to places of retirement increases. It can be a time for sober thinking.

John Dean of Watergate fame­-wrote:

My view [of my life] has been backward, not forward … and I have been dwelling on the trivial, on the insignificant too much. Time is running out and I must come to terms with my life. The days for fantasizing great achievements are gone. Ambitions and goals must be realistic if I want to avoid great disappointment at the end.

So those in the fifties may ask, why is time moving so fast? Because it is moving so fast. It seems as if yesterday was Christmas, and tomorrow is Christmas. Go figure! We look at contemporaries and they suddenly look very old to us. Surely we have not aged that much!

Why is my body becoming unreliable? How do I deal with my failures and my successes? How can my spouse and I reinvigorate our relationship now that the children are gone? For those who haven’t reached these questions yet, may I say, “Get ready!” Each will come at you, often without warning. It is worth getting a head start on them.

Who are these young people who want to replace me? It is a frightening moment when one discovers that younger people may know more than I, maybe willing to work longer and harder than I am willing to work, and may be impatient for me to move over and give them the same chance to prove themselves that I once demanded.

What do I do with my doubts and fears? Will we have enough money for the retirement years if there are health problems and economic downturns? These questions loom in our fifties.

The sixty-year-old asks: When do I stop doing the things that have always defined me? Why do I feel ignored by a large part of the younger population? Why am I curious about who is listed in the obituary column of the papers, how they died, and what kinds of lives they lived?

The sixty-­something wonders what is yet to be accomplished, and do I have enough time to do all the things I’ve dreamed about in the past? He or she may not want to admit it, but the question hovers, who will be around me when I die? And, if married, which one of us will go first, and what is it like to say good-bye to someone with whom you have shared so many years of life?

For more than a few, these are the years when doubts and fears may arise in quiet moments. Are the things I’ve believed in capable of taking me to the end? Is there really life after death? What do I regret? And what are the chief satisfactions of these many years of living? What have I done that will outlive me?

Perhaps the seventies and eighties blend together and share several kinds of questions. Now one is curious and asks these things: Does anyone realize, or even care, who l once was? Is anyone aware that I once owned [or managed] a business, threw a mean curveball, taught school, possessed a beautiful solo voice, had an attractive face? Is my story important to anyone?

How much of my life can I still control? they add. Some must stop driving. Others will have to surrender the administration of their finances to a younger person. Many will live in communities where most of life is scheduled for them.

Is there anything I can still contribute? Not everyone wants to sit or simply play. The body may be old, but some of us still want to make a difference. Can we?

Why this anger and irritability? Is God really there for me? Am I ready to face death? And when I die (how will it happen?), will I be missed, or will the news of my death bring relief?

Heaven? What is it like?

As a resilient person lays out his or her life and contemplates it from a long­range point of view, these are the questions for which one might want to prepare. […]

-G. MacDonald

I don’t intend to answer all these questions – at least not right now. While some of them echo through me, others are difficult to apply and thus understand. Yet realizing that many of these questions will rise later on causes me to examine my life now – the posture of my heart and direction I am headed now. Will I invest in the temporary or the eternal? The decisions made today are paving the way to tomorrow. What does my heart desire and seek after?

David expressed this in Psalm 27, ” One thing I have desired and that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon His beauty, and to inquire in His temple.” The Lord also promises that as we “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,” He will meet all our needs (Matthew 6:33). And as we take delight in Him, He’ll give us the desires of our hearts (Psalms 37:4).

Then I think of a proverb that teaches,” Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding. Exalt her, and she will promote you; She will bring you honor, when you embrace her. She will place on your head an ornament of grace; A crown of glory she will deliver to you.” And further on we are told to, “keep [our] heart[s] with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.” The chapter paints an image of one who has tossed aside of weights of deceitfulness and perversity. Looking straight ahead, she fixes her eyes on what lies ahead. She walks his purpose, dignity and strength. While pondering the path of her feet, she allows all her ways to be established. She removes her feet from sins mucky piles of mud, and continues forward, not turning to the left or right.

Maybe Paul was thinking of that when he said, “Lets rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right  hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

These verses fill my heart with determination – a deep inner resolve to walk each day with surrender and obedience to the Lord – a strong desire to be a wise steward of the time and gifts He’s given. At the same time, I recognize that I am incapable of doing this. Its impossible. So how can one run this race, and finish strong?

A fulfilled life, is a life that is simply at complete rest in the heart of the Father. There is no striving or working to gain His love or acceptance. He already loves us unconditionally, and accepts us now that we are in Christ. So any of my grand determination apart from His presence is empty and futile. His love is so incredible that He gives us the ability to run away or run to Him, and its in His presence that we are fully alive – where our joy is complete. It is in recognizing my own weakness and inability, failure and mistakes, and humbly laying them down at His feet – emptying of myself – that He then comes to fill with His strength and power.

Each step along the way takes persistence; supernatural life infused by the Holy Spirit! The only way we will finish this race strong is by abiding in Jesus. He is the author and finisher of our faith, and He’s already won. “Remain in me, and I will remain in You. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.” (John 15:4)

I heard Sara Groves compare bearing fruit in our lives to being pregnant. The mother simply goes about life, eating, sleeping, caring for her body…and all the while this miracle, this life, is growing within her! I thought that was a beautiful, clear image, and helps me see how silly it is when I strive unnecessarily, trying to make things happen on my own. Sometimes I hold an ideal of how I imagine life should be. Then I try to change myself, change others, and change everything around me. God didn’t call us to change everything…just to love.

We were created by love, into love, to be love. And even when we turned away from Love, He still sacrificed His own Son so that that we’d be redeemed, so that we could draw near to Love again. This is home now. This is where we live from – His presence. His presence changes everything. We are lovers of God, and carriers of His presence.  Paul said that he was “compelled by love.”

Sometimes I have no idea where I am going – where exactly He is taking me. But I’ve experienced His love and faithfulness, and that fills me with a hope I can’t keep inside. This life is so much bigger than me, or what I can see and understand. And leaving a legacy or making an impact here is so much more than making it in a history book. Sometimes the greatest impacts are never heard or seen, only felt by those in the vast ocean ahead as a mysterious ripple. Each time we say “Yes” to the Holy Spirit (big or small), His presence and love is released, transforming the world around us. And anyway I think what I’m trying to say is that the love of God is greater than we can imagine, and that is where everything of substance begins. Everything we say and do that lasts will be an outflow of His unconditional love for us.

It is likely that I’ll need to be reminded of this along the journey. Sometimes I loose sight of the big picture and get caught up in the busy-ness of life. Its okay. God is full of grace and mercy. He knows us deep down to the core. He already knows all the mistakes and failures we’ll make in the next 50 years (and beyond). It won’t surprise Him. It won’t change His love for us or cause Him to give up on us half-way through. Even if we turn away, He’ll continue to pursue us till the end. Knowing that His love is that strong, that faithful, creates a hunger to serve and know Him more and more! God isn’t “tolerating through” this journey with you – He loves it! He is our Heavenly Father who thoroughly enjoys being with us on this adventure, leading us step by step from glory to glory. I do too… :)


One thought on “A Resilient Life

  1. Wonderful post, Laura. Similar questions have surfaced and resurfaced at different phases of my life and the only thing I can say is that I always found refuge in God. Then, I’d stop asking a myriad of questions and just trust, hope and hold on to my faith. Miss you, girl! xoxo

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