One of the biggest mistakes we Christians make is to assume that our spirituality, that is our mode of experiencing, expressing ourselves to, and encountering God, will be a "one size fits all for all time" deal. It's not. How could it be?! Just as there are seasons of life and relationships, surely there must be seasons of knowing and relating to God.
One of my biggest temptations is to measure this season of my spiritual life by the halcyon days of my college Christianity. As my parents were fond of pointing out at the time, I was full of what they called “Sturm und Drang,” a sort of “piss and vinegar”, no-holds-barred, give-it-all-up-for-Jesus-now spirituality. I can verify this: I recently read my journals from this early period and they read like love letters from a couple very much in love during their courtship. And far from despising this, I remember it with fondness—this was a special time of life: I had recently met Christ, turned over as much of my life as I knew to him and was an undergraduate with few responsibilities and much discretionary time. The big mistake would be for me to use this (very young and inexperienced, though fiery and hot) spirituality as a template or metric for evaluating my current experience of God. After all, I’m now 25 years into following Jesus and those heady early days have given way to what I hope is a deeper spirituality forged in the kilns of pain and loss. I look at spiritual life through eyes opened wider to the mystery and complexity of God, myself, human life, and our world at large.
Nineteen years into my marriage, I feel similarly: I love my wife more than ever; but there’s no reasonable way to expect that those blissful sleepless nights of infatuation and utter romantic absorption can possibly continue into this stage. What’s necessary (and far better) is to go on to learn love as an act of will. To listen and be patient. To learn to serve. To hold my tongue when necessary. To commit to continued growth. To keep in step as the tempo of life constantly changes. To hang in there. This is love in mid-life…can relating to God be much different?
What’s needed in mid-life is the grace to deal with the “sames”. When we’re young and in love (whether with God or another human being), we’re very much into the “firsts”—the first girl/boy friend, the first kiss, the first engagement, the first wedding, etc. This gives way to the first job, the first house, the first child, etc. Firsts are heady things, full of excitement and newness. But what happens when “firsts” give way to “sames”—the same spouse, the same job/career, the same kids, same house, etc? A new form of relating is needed. Without this, we’ll be tempted to abandon ship and seek out more firsts (a.k.a. mid-life crisis). Whether with God, or in marriage, family, and parenting, indeed through all the stages of mid-life, what we need is a spirituality sensitive to seasons, skilled and resilient, able to treasure that which is timeless in knowing God while seeking new forms of creative expression appropriate to this stage of life.
Devotional patterns of Bible reading, prayer, study, worship, service, fellowship—these may need retooling. I know they do for me. But I’d love to hear from you: what are your thoughts on seasons of spirituality? What are you finding that feeds your soul right now? What have you had to discard? What feelings arise for you?
I’ll be back with more thoughts at a later date, sharing some of my struggles and insights. I can’t promise many breakthroughs (and perhaps that’s appropriate for a mid-life humility!).
Let me hear from you! Thanks.