Saturday, January 1, 2011

On time

"Another year has passed," as they say, and it is only natural to think about time: what it is, how we live with it, how it affects our lives.

I think it is fair to say that 2010 was the first year I realized that I was getting older, in any substantive sense. Oh, we all notice getting older as children, but we tend to see this getting older retrospectively, in terms of where we have been and how we have grown. Each year is a year to grow into something more, when we are children, but this realization that our shoes do not fit anymore and that next year we'll be learning multiplication is a far different realization than understanding that we are growing older, because growing older is quite different than moving up a year in school.

I realized I was getting older in 2010, in my 27th year, as I have laughed at Stacey's comments about my hair turning gray, and as I have watched my forehead grow, and as laugh lines appear around my eyes. I do not mean to sound overly grand; I am only twenty-seven, after all. But even as a young adult I can begin to see how aging affects life, for this is the first time in my life when I have really experienced aging. I have also seen dear friends and family members wrestle with the aging process. Some have refused to believe aging exists, which I suppose is understandable. Others have embraced aging as a sad, if inevitable, fact of life. Still others rejoice in aging, even as it throws the mind and the joints for a loop.

Maybe I am just thinking especially lately about my ankle, which has been smarting for the last few weeks, or my back, which seems to stiffen every now and again. But I have this sense that I am getting older: not in terms of growth, though there is of course some spiritual and emotional and mental growth--but in terms of age, in terms of finitude, in terms of living in time.

And I think this is what I mean when I say that 2010 was the first year I realized I was getting older. Perhaps a better way to say it is that 2010 was the first year in which I understood time to be something that went before me and goes after me, rather than some infinite expanse full of possibility.

Coming to this realization is part of being an adult. At some point, you must choose for yourself which path you will take. The choices you have are not entirely your own; I am not so naive as to believe that I am master of my own destiny. There are others (and an Other) involved in this process. But at some point, paths emerge, and you choose. This is in some ways a liberating choice, because it enables you to put on clothes you were born to wear, and they feel good. They feel awfully good.

Still, there is implied in this choice unchosen roads, and while I do not mean to suggest that all choices are permanent, it is the case that an unchosen road necessarily ceases to be a viable option, and it dies: sometimes a quiet death, fading into the ether, and sometimes a violent one, thrashing until the very end.

Once those choices die, there is grief. Grief is only natural, and I have to believe that God honors that grief as the natural extension of a life lived passionately and deliberately. I could have chosen road A, but I did not, and now it is gone, forever. Grieving is natural.

I do not mean to suggest that I spent 2010 drowning in grief. Though it was a difficult year for us in many ways, there were many life-giving moments and people, and I leave 2010 behind feeling more full than when it started. But I do not want to ignore what happens when we choose a path. This is not to say the path will not change--there are always forks in the path, down which we can travel, for whatever reason--but a choice implies other roads not taken. A choice without alternatives is not a choice, after all.

I suppose I am thinking especially about time because in addition to the lines around my eyes--I noticed them in the mirror tonight, as a matter of fact--2010 was the year I began in full-time ministry, the first time I put on the robe in an official capacity, the first time I had to tell people at parties that I am a minister. This is a strange business, the clergy, and I find myself loving what I do and who I am and what God has called me to more each day, even as I find myself rolling my eyes and wondering what on earth I have gotten myself into.

As I experience this passing of time, I am also beginning to understand what it means to "live into" something. I have heard the phrase over and over--in seminary, it was a buzzword akin only to "in the tension"--but I am beginning to really get what living into something means, especially as it relates to living into the life I have been given.

I am not someone who believes God has planned out my entire life in advance; besides wondering about the theological and scriptural basis for such an argument, it just does not sound like much fun. So living into my life is less about finding out God's plan and more about discovering what it means to live, as a person, in time, with God, and with the people who share my journey.

Maybe this all sounds a little "out there." I am ok with that. Living into my life requires me to understand that having made peace with God as it relates to my calling, I am also called to make peace with time, and with the roads I did not choose.

I am called to understand that what goes before me goes after me, too. Time is not merely something to catch: some limitless goal which, having been caught, calls me forward again. Time goes before me, too, and will go on long after I am gone. Time, being God's medium, is the canvas in which I live--in which we all live--and just as it goes before me and goes after me, it goes before everybody else and after everybody else, too.

Even as I make choices that necessarily narrow my life's focus, it is not as if there is a life waiting at the end of each road which must die; though there is grief in this life decision-making process, there is no finite time that dies with each choice. God's time is such that rather than losing each prospective person at the end of each path, I am gaining the person I continue to become, the life I continue to live into.

This is a liberating thought to me: that time is God's medium, that time is not only the number of days until my next birthday, but rather it is forever, in both directions, and that while God does not have my entire life planned out for me, God promises to go along with me as I stumble along the way. And not only does God promise to go along with me, but God promises that fellow travelers will share the journey. With these folks' help, no heartache is unbearable, and no joy worth keeping under wraps. Come to think of it, that's not a bad hope for the kingdom. You know, as Wesley said, "Heaven opened in the soul."

At the beginning of 2011, as I stumble, this is enough for me: that God is with us, and that you stumble alongside me.

I hope it is enough for you. Here's to a good year.

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