By Mary Abrahamson
Often when we talk about seasons of life, we talk about things like young adulthood, which might include college or single life. Adulthood might include being a wife or mother or being single. It might include being a homemaker and/or having a paying career outside the home. And then perhaps later our children might leave our next empty, but give us grandchildren. And finally retirement. Old age. Perhaps assisted living or full nursing care. And the deathbed.
The seasons I’m going to describe are less linear and more universal. My seasons are the kind that occur constantly and repeat throughout our lives regardless of the particular work we do. They are interwoven in all our vocations. They come and go with different shades and ferocities as we traverse the paths God lays before us.
The dreaming season of life is forward looking. It involves our imaginings of what our life will bring. Included in this season are those times on which we are still waiting, those things we hope will be, and for which we pray. It includes our plans and goals and ideals. “I’m going to be a … when I grow up.” “I’m majoring in … ” “I’m going to marry someone who’s … ” “When I’m a mom, I’m going to … with my children.” “My home will be … ” This is the dreaming season.
Later in life it will change, but we will still dream. “When my kids are in school I’m going to … ” “Some day we’ll travel to … ” “When mom and dad get a little older I hope we’ll be able to … for them.” “We want to move to … when we retire.”
This is a doing season. We do those things God gives us each day. Whether it’s going to college or searching for a job. Whether we serve in our home or our church or another of our various communities.
This is the doing of all our day to day vocations. We shop, go to the library, plan meals, get our hair done. We go on a date or hang out with friends.
As a wife or homemaker, we might balance the checkbook or fix meals or do laundry. We might have a paying job outside or inside our home. We participate in our hobbies.
For some of us, if God so blesses, we raise children. Along with our other things, and instead of some of them, we snuggle, feed, clothe, bathe, discipline, guide, read to, sing to, pray with, and otherwise love our children.
At each stage we are doing those things of which we formerly dreamed.
Fall Short, aka Grieve
Just as at each stage we dream of the things yet to come, at each stage we also see how reality is not the same as the dream. Our plans are not always God’s plans. Sometimes those things for which we dream and plan do not happen. Even while we enact our current vocations, we grieve for those things that are not to be, or for which we are still waiting and pining.
And within those things that did come to be, many times they are usually not exactly like we imagined.
The career we worked so hard for is not what we expected. Our marriage is not like the dream. The blessing of parenting is much harder than we imagined.
Those ways of managing our lives and the things in our lives, … those ways that we always knew were the best way and would work out just right when we did them, … and why didn’t everyone else do it this way because it’s so obvious, … yes, we bring with us such notions. But even those things we were so very sure of, even they often don’t really fall into place exactly as we imagined they would.
We live in a sin filled and broken world. We will never be able to be as good as we hope and dream. Our spouses and children will never be as good as we hope. Our coworkers and any other community members will often irritate or even hurt us. Within each of our many vocations we encounter unplanned trials and unanticipated difficulties.
And so we grieve.
We confess our sins. We forgive the sins of those in our lives.
We sometimes must give ourselves a good dose of the Law. We make mistakes. We are not diligent. We are not content. We are not loving. We are not patient. We fail to forgive.
Sometimes we might need the help of another, a trusted friend, a pastor, or a professional counselor, to remind us of our own sin and our need for the Savior.
And then eventually, sometimes more quickly, other times after a more lengthy wait, God allows us some degree of resolution and blesses us with some amount of peace on the things that brought us down.
Wait (be still, and trust God)
One of the Bible passages I most cling to is Ps. 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” This verse seems to have become somewhat cliché these days. But it oughtn’t be seen as simply a nice truism to put on your wall.
This whole Psalm is rich with true Christian message of Hope in Jesus as the reason for our confidence to be still. In the Psalm the world is crumbling. Mountains are falling. Wars break out. But God is in the midst of it. His almighty power controls what according to our wisdom and perception is only chaos and disaster.
More than that though, as the Psalm continues, is the “River whose streams shall make glad the city of God.” The Psalmist pulls our focus to the eternal perspective. We know from Revelation and other Scriptural imagery that this River is the Lamb, the Tree of Life, none other than Jesus, our Savior.
With that eternal comfort, at our very core, we are stilled. The chaos and disaster may still rage on the outside. But at the seat of our deepest emotions, we are still. We await God’s wisdom and timing. We trust Him to work His will in our lives. This is the season of waiting.
Once we see that the dreams we once had do not match our current reality, we change. Sometimes we can change how we do things, or what we do. Sometimes we can do little to change the reality and so we must change the dream. Other times it’s a strange hybrid of tweaking both our dream and our enacting. This season happens in micro degrees all the time. Life is change. We constantly adapt. We evolve. God uses the challenges and hurdles in our lives to stretch us and grow us into the women we will be. He knows from the beginning of time who we were, who we are, and who we will be. We change.
Within the seasons of change, a kind of sub-season we often undergo is re-calibrating. This is the process of moving the bars, or put another way, lowering and raising our standards. Due to the imperfection within which and with which we live, we will not be able to achieve our standards and ideals. We might for a time. We might in some areas. But there will always be ways in which we fail ourselves and those around us. An important skill for adult living is learning how to set reasonable goals. Not ideal goals or pipe dreams. But real, achievable goals.
As the responsibilities in our lives increase, we find ourselves re-defining acceptable. I’ll use my life as an example.
My mom raised me well. I was brought up with a strong ideal. And my mom lived it so well. And I did not. I struggled with a constant sense of failure. I had to re-calibrate the gauge against which I measured my success and accomplishment.
Then I had kids. I again re-calibrated downward. With each addition to the family, I worked through this same process. For awhile, between about my fourth and fifth children, my goals and abilities balanced quite well. I finally felt like I was succeeding as a wife, mother, and homemaker.
And then I faced a series of new challenges. More children. Several moves. Three changes in my husband’s occupation within two years. Homeschooling a growing number of children. Learning to cook for a special diet. I again had to re-calibrate downward. Lower and lower went my standards until it was kind of just, … well, … gross.
During stages of re-calibration, when everything seems to be one big disappointment or failure, it’s especially important to remember the end game. The long term goal. The eternal perspective. Are you partaking of Word and Sacrament? Are you teaching your children about God? Are you setting a God-centered example with the choices you make during your re-calibration? That’s enough. Really. There are times the gauge seems to have gone so low there is nowhere else for it to go. But if you’re doing the above, you are fulfilling your most important job. And if you are not doing even these well, consider it a teaching moment. Repent. Let your children see your repentance. Let then see you live in the grace of the forgiveness Christ gives.
And don’t lose hope.
The season for re-calibrating upward will come, too. And with it, its own unique kinds of challenges. That’s where I am now. It’s really hard to find the motivation to move the bars back up now I’ve lived with them for so low, for so long. But the same message is here, too. Set those bars a little higher, and when you fail, repent. God’s forgiveness through Jesus is big. And real. And perpetual.
Since all of these seasons are interwoven throughout our lives, this process repeats itself over and over. We won’t see our idea of success in each and every kind of change. In some things we never see any success at all. Again, this is according to our notion of success. Through it all we can trust God. We trust His love. We trust His presence with us. We trust His wisdom. We trust His plan. And most of all, we trust His eternal salvation.
Throughout these seasons, each big season and each micro-season, we must keep our eyes and hearts where they belong, with God as the priority. This is not as easy or as obvious as is seems like it ought to be.
We constantly find ourselves caught up in our day to day responsibilities. We catch ourselves depending upon our plans and our goals. We find ourselves clinging to our ideals or schedules or abilities. We turn our children and our husband, and other people and activities in our lives, into false gods by giving them more of our energy and focus than we give to God. We lose sight of God’s righteous Law, that of loving Him above all things and loving our neighbors as ourselves. On the pedestal upon which God and His Word ought to reside, we put with those very people and things God gives us to love and serve.
Throughout all these seasons, we need to constantly step back and evaluate. And realign ourselves with the primary or foundational things. God, Husband, Children, Neighbor. Only then, Everything Else.
The occasional BIG THINGS and the Aftermath
There are sometimes things in this life that cause us to really fall apart. Death, chronic illness, mental illness, violence, or any number of this life’s trials can occasionally hit us in a big way. Most of life consists of constantly reweaving and repeating of the above motifs. But sometimes something bigger than normal can overtake us. These big things, too, are part of the fabric of life. These big things interrupt the ebb and flow of the usual sequence of seasons. But they, too are a season. They, too, are part of living.
About five years ago I read Giants in the Earth, the classic Norwegian American immigration saga. The main female character suffered from the depression, commonly called prairie madness, that often struck pioneer women. In my naiveté and pride and a spirit much lacking in compassion, I had said to my mother-in-law, “I just don’t understand that whole prairie madness thing. A person ought to be able to be happy anywhere. They just have to decide to do it.” It came back to bite me only a year or two later.
After having put my kids in public school rather than the homeschooling I had been doing. After a miscarriage. After I stopped having babies. After two sudden and heartbreaking deaths in our parish. After my oldest graduated, my next oldest signed papers to join the US Marines, and my third born went abroad for a year of study.
After all these changes and a substantial amount of grief in only a few short year, my ability to enact, fall short, change, re-calibrate, repeat, failed me. I just couldn’t do it. Any of it.
And finally I no longer even dreamed. I was all dreamed out. I slowly slipped into a severe depression. And I needed professional help.
My husband suffered. My kids suffered. It was hard for anyone to drag me out of my hidey-hole for any kind of outing or activity. I quit attending Ladies’ Aid and other extra things at church. Until finally I was ready to admit that this low time, this funk, this stage was not going away. All of my usual “get myself motivated” things failed me. The natural foods and whole foods and slow foods and vitamins and herbal remedies and exercise were tried to no avail.
I still waited. At core, I was unmoved. I patiently waited for God to do His thing, … He did not fail me, but He also did not grant me the healing I sought in the ways I sought.
I had to seek human professional help.
Baby stepping to normal
After one of these BIG THINGS, we heal. We recover. We continue to muddle our way through all of the regular seasons as they are interwoven with the BIG THING. Life goes on. But at times of healing and recovery, all of those other seasons seem to undergo a more extreme re-calibration. Our change is slower. Our improvements go from small to minuscule. And at the same time, our patience, trust and faith must stretch and grow. Time and patience, more than we ever thought possible, will be necessary.
And through all of this, just as through the more regular seasons of living, God is there. He is with us to comfort and protect us. He is there to sustain us. And most important of all, that beautifully white wedding garment that Jesus prepared for his bride, for each of us, is there covering all the filth and stain that might come along with the BIG THING.
This is living
In all of this, in season and out of season. In things big and small. This is living.
We dream. We enact. We fall short. We wait. We change. We re-calibrate. We repeat this process over and over. We deal with BIG THINGS.
We sin. We repent. We rely on those promises we received in our Baptism. We trust those promises we hear in the absolution. We depend upon the New Covenant of Jesus’ blood we are given in Holy Communion.
Through these things we are sanctified, set apart, made holy. We don’t have to make ourselves that way through any measurable earthly success or process. It just is. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.