So a preacher, a poet, and a penitent walk into a bar…
On the one hand, this photo is totes me showing off some of new workout gear! On the other more serious hand, my weight loss is only a symptom of all that I am learning to let go of as I work on becoming comfortable with who I actually am as opposed to the old stories I’ve always told myself—and allowed other people to tell—about who I used to be.
I was chatting with my sister today about what I love about being in my 40s. And I think it boils down to finally being able to look myself square in the face. Not longing for who I aspire to be, not aching over who I was, but being able to gaze unflinchingly into the eyes of who I am right at this moment. I am not perfect. But what a gift of this particular time in my life to be able to look at those imperfections not with guilt nor with shame, but with what I’ll call compassionate objectivity. To note the areas where I fall short not to beat myself up and not even always with an eye to fixing them, but simply to observe that they’re there.
When I say “not with an eye to fixing them,” I don’t mean that I want to stay stuck in bad behaviors. But I also don’t want to stare at my faults impatiently waiting for an “aha!” moment that will show me how to remedy them, which ultimately leads to a series of quick fixes that have little foundation. I instead want to cultivate the patience to dig deeper than my faults—which are often only symptoms—to find the roots and see how I can compassionately heal those wounds.
And part of that healing—to paraphrase what Pastor Ken Baker so eloquently noted in tonight’s sermon—is realizing that Christ already took who I was to the cross. That’s the gift of being in relationship with him: He already suffered and died for every single mistake I’ve ever made or will ever make. So I just need to note them, ask forgiveness, and allow myself not to be the exact same person who made those mistakes. I think sometimes we get so caught up in our mistakes—especially those we’ve made more than a few times—that we keep making them out of habit, having missed completely the fact that we’ve actually grown out of them.
When I arrived home tonight, I felt the need for poetry, so I grabbed Adrienne Rich’s The Dream of a Common Language. I happened to open it to “Twenty-One Love Poems,” which I hadn’t read before. Though the poem is ostensibly about Rich and a lover, as I read it I was struck by how much of it could be read as the the present older self (the “I”) meeting and learning to love the younger past self (the “You”). Here’s a long-ish excerpt from Section III of Rich’s poem:
…Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty,
my limbs streaming with a purer joy?
did I lean from any window over the city
listening for the future
as I listen here with nerves tuned for your ring?
And you, you move toward me with the same tempo.
Your eyes are everlasting, the green spark
of the blue-eyed gaze of early summer,
the green-blue wild cress washed by the spring.
At twenty yes, we thought we’d live forever.
At forty-five I want to know even our limits…
Read in the context of self meeting self, that last line (of the excerpt) is such a celebration. It’s okay now to realize how we fall short because we can survive even that recognition. It will not undo us. The failures, the mistakes don’t undo any of the successes. Both types of actions simply exist together.
I want to end by borrowing one last thing Pastor Baker said. Of course we all stumble; it’s what human beings do. But at this age, what I’ve realized is while I can’t always avoid the stumbles, my prayer, my call for grace is that, I will always “stumble forward.” And the me I am now will keep my arms open to help break the fall of the me that was—as she stumbles and slips and even crashes and burns a few times—and help keep her pointed in the right direction.