Today I talked with several women about growing older and how–at least in our stages of life–our days feel like an emotional upheaval. During certain times of life ranging from adolescence to any kind of transition, I’ve often taken great comfort in knowing exactly how I feel and why. I take comfort in being predictably happy or at least knowing why I’m not. But these days? I don’t know anything. It’s not just me; my teens don’t know how they feel or why. My friends don’t often know why they feel certain ways. Certain years just feel unstable and like an estrangement from self. My aging friends at work say it’s a New Normal of growing older.
Our emotions and thoughts that once kept us tethered tightly to purpose now fail us. Our steady sense of knowing with certainty what we’re doing and why fades. It’s not bad. It’s just growing up. I tell my teens and I tell myself.
The Italian Mama says to “sit tight” through emotional transitions. It will get better. It’s like the ebb and flow I thought about yesterday. In the meantime, though, I trust in God, not my emotions or even my ability to think clearly as I age. I’m not the same as I was at 20, 30, or 40. A new me emerges during each decade. A new you emerges. We wait. We trust. And we realize that our emotions will change and we won’t often feel like ourselves. But one day, we will.
This morning I read an update from a friend about her life’s ebb and flow. As a girl who grew up–and ordered her young life–alongside the tidal patterns of Little Hunting Creek at the mouth of the Potomac River, the expression resonated with me.
But what is an ebb and flow? It’s “a recurrent or rhythmical pattern of coming and going or decline and regrowth.” Tidal bodies of water ebb and flow, as if God wanted to make sure we didn’t miss this metaphor for living.
When life ebbs, it recedes. Things seem dry and empty. God lays bare the matters of the heart like all things exposed at low tide. But here, the ebb fosters adaptation and strength. The ebbing tide pulls away toxins and pollutants.
When life flows again, the sense of flourishing returns. The tide flows back, and with it, new nutrients circulate.
As a girl, I learned to find the beauty in low tide. It kept me on the shore. My canoe couldn’t go anywhere. I learned patience. I learned to enjoy the growth I could now see that was once hidden underwater. I could track the footprints of foxes, raccoons, deer, and birds that walked the creek bed. You learn a different kind of seeing at low tide. You’re waiting, yes, but you’re also enjoying what you can only see in emptiness: turtle eggs, the beaver’s home, and the particular treasures of the creek bottom–like the fishing pole you lost at high tide.
But at high tide, I let myself loose. I paddled down unexplored paths, cutting into hydrilla and lily pads to find turtles and fat catfish. I fished and netted and went anywhere I pleased. But soon, the tide forced me home to avoid my green canoe sinking into the muck of Little Hunting Creek. More than once my father had to drag my sister and me back to shore when we stayed out too long.
Both the ebb and the flow: that’s a beautiful life.
It’s the last Tuesday before school starts next Monday. Tomorrow will be the last Wednesday. And so on. Then, a frenzy of activity and tight schedules will take over the long days of summer.
I find myself lounging about after a morning of work. It’s hot outside. It’s the kind of afternoon to savor the last slow moments we’ll have for a while. We’ll drink iced tea. We’ll watch a show. We’ll snack on plums. Maybe we’ll brush a cat. We might even attempt an afternoon walk. We’ll stay up, wake later, and consider the day. But not for much longer.
Summer ends, as it should.
With teenagers, I find I’m moving deeper into prayer. As I feel more out of control, I rest in God’s sovereign control of all things.
I gathered some of my old books on prayer to study and reframe my thoughts on a life of prayer. I read this from Jennifer Dean in her study, Living a Praying Life: “Prayer is simply opening our lives to God, acknowledging our total dependence on him. Prayer is not limited to a segment of our lives or to a scheduled event in our days. It is an attitude of receptivity in which we live every moment. It is being open to Him at all times. It is living in the presence of God, always in the process of being reshaped and recreated by Him.”
I consider prayer as this attitude of receptivity. I feel my heart cry out, “I’m open! I want to live in His presence!”
So I pray.
I read something astonishing in an old devotional from Oswald Chambers. He writes this:
“The saint who is intimate with Jesus will never leave impressions of himself, but only the impression that Jesus is having unhindered way, because the last abyss of his nature has been satisfied by Jesus. The only impression left by such a life is that of the strong calm sanity that our Lord gives to those who are intimate with him.”
Two things: I want to live a life where I leave the impression of “strong calm sanity” from God. Secondly, how beautiful to consider that Jesus satisfies the “last abyss of [our] nature.” What a great God, especially for those of us for whom the need for strong calm sanity matters acutely because we know the dark abyss of our nature. We live more in weakness, upheaval, instability. We wade through a quagmire of our minds. But God goes deeper into the last abyss!
I read this morning from Psalm 86:5: “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you.”
I pray that no matter how hopeless you feel, how weighed down by sin, or how far from the tangible goodness of God, that you would call out and experience the abounding love of God today. Might it flood your heart. Might this love seem fresh and new and alive.
It’s a big prayer for you and me, flowing from big hope. Is there any other way to live?
I’m much more attuned to the academic year than the calendar year. Instead of New Years’ resolutions, I set all my intentions in September. I list out personal development goals and imagine where I want to be in 15 weeks (the average length of a fall semester college course). Are you that way, too? As August rolls into September in just over 15 days, do you feel as excited as I do to start something new?
It’s almost as if I’m building my fall syllabus for myself. If your September marked the beginning of a course—with learning outcomes and projects delivered by December—what would you put in your weekly calendar? And if this imaginary class were to meet on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday for just 2 hours, what content would you want to impart to yourself and for what reason?
As a course designer for Penn State, I layout a fresh syllabus template with 15 weeks. Every few weeks, students will have reached key skills and will have completed significant writing projects. You could do this, too! We both could! What if we thought about ourselves like this, in semesters, too?
We could create a document with 15 rows representing 15 weeks. In those weeks, let’s think about what we might read that week, how we might increase physical activity, what we might create, and what friendships we want to build.
You’re a student in your own life. You’re setting goals, working hard, and wanting to graduate on to harder and more complex courses each new semester. And by the end, what project will you hand in?
I pray you have the best new academic year ever!
I’m reading the 1957 Paul Tournier classic The Meaning of Persons. The book makes me long for an authentic experience of being a real person connecting with other real people as he outlines the problem of finding the true person. It’s an invitation to live honestly with ourselves, God, and others and to embrace the joy and vitality of our present lives. Why is it so hard to simply be ourselves? I want to be the kind of person who encourages this kind of authenticity in others and myself all the time.
Tournier also unmasks the problem of always longing for another, truer life. He writes, “Such people’s hearts are not in their present lives, for they are always waiting for the time—which never comes—when their true lives will begin.” I’m challenged to live more in this life, just as I am, in honest dialogue with myself, God, and others.
I’ve become one of those people who drinks kombucha. And green tea. And I eat all the seeds. Chia. Flax. Hemp. Pumpkin. And the nuts.
It’s because I feel better. I don’t have migraines. I sleep well. Inflammation has gone down everywhere. So I’m now one of those people. I even have favorite kombucha flavors (watermelon and the green algae one). I even talk to people who make their own kombucha.
Well. Here I am.