New, New Life

The Gospel of John Chapter 10 Verse 10 says, in the New International Version:

...I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

This is amplified somewhat in the modern paraphrase "The Message":

...I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

An awful lot has happened so far in 2016. From a total 'meltdown'; through being 'rescued' and taught new ways of thinking and expressing myself by my dear friend Naomi; learning how much God and His family love me; to the healing of emotional wounds from my past. In parallel with that, I have recently come to the end of my term of office as churchwarden.

So almost everything about life feels as though it has changed. I have a new and different reality to get used to. I am taking some 'time out', as a sort of 'sabbatical', partly to rest after six years hard work, partly because I need to learn about where I am now, and hopefully to discover where I am headed next. It seems right and fitting, biblical even, after six years, to take a sabbatical.

A wise and humble friend, Terry, gave me a book recently - Fr. Richard Rohr's 'Falling Upwards: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life'. It 'does exactly what it says on the tin’, in that it provides a guide to a 'second half’ of life. Some of it is 'suspicions confirmed', and has served to confirm that feelings I've had, and worried about as not being 'normal' or 'right', are perfectly natural things to feel and think at my stage of life. Some of it though, is completely new to me, and is helping me to think and pray my way into this new phase of life. Having read that, and bought a copy for a friend, I set in and read another: 'Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self', which very helpfully filled in the gaps, and answered most of the questions with which I was left after finishing the first. Richard Rohr is a Franciscan, and there are some parts of these books which are 'odd' to someone from my protestant, evangelical, background, and they may not suit every Christian... So I am not recommending them unreservedly. And they took quite some effort to ‘get my head around’ - but it was definitely worth it.

I am very much 'feeling my way' through life at the moment, on all sorts of levels. So much has changed. I barely recognise myself or my own mind - and my relationship to the people and things around me has changed too. The fundamental truth of who I am is unchanged (though it is much clearer): a beloved son of God, a co-heir with Christ; a much-loved brother-in-Christ. Everything else seems different though. The biggest change, I think, is one of confidence - I can say who I am (see above) without any doubt. At last, I feel as though I am complete; whole; I have in some sense 'arrived'. But, having arrived, I am aware that there is a further journey before me, into a new and different land. But quite where I'm headed, and what God's plan for 'the second half of life' might be, are both still a bit of a mystery.

I feel as though the past few months have been about moving from one phase of life to another. The old life began in pain and strife, and was largely about identity and discovering self, building home and family, salvation and healing; a whole lot of doing and being busy. This new phase feels as though it is going to be different; in a sense I've done all that other stuff, and it’s time for something fresh. I have a sense of arrival, of having ticked a lot of life's boxes - jobs, house, cars, family, salvation, identity, healing of the hurts from my early life, and all that stuff. It is time to move into a new phase; of enjoying having survived the first half, and come through, and out of it, successfully, joyfully even, surrounded by loving family and friends, into a new, new beginning.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Philippians 4:4

I can't really find a biblical quote which entirely satisfies, or describes the feeling... Tolkien perhaps does though:

"And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.” JRR Tolkien, The Return of the King

CS Lewis, in The Last Battle, conveys something of the sense of anticipation too:

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now... Come further up, come further in!”

As hinted at in the quotations from Tolkien and Lewis above, my feeling is that the future holds enormous potential - rejoicing, beauty, fulfilment, and much more besides. There is a sense in which, almost whatever happens, it has to be 'better' than Part One. Let's be honest, Part One had its share of, frankly, awful times. I'm sometimes surprised I survived it, to be honest. But thanks to God and good friends, I finished it well. Loved and loving, blessed and blessing. There is some sadness, chiefly about how long it took, but as it says in the book of Joel (Joel 2:25)

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten - the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm - my great army that I sent among you.

So I intend to make the best of 'Part Two'... But without being stressed about it. The time for striving, and being stressed about 'getting it right' is, I hope and believe, over. But without Part One, I don't think I could have got to Part Two. There was a lot of building (and some breaking!) and becoming to go through...

Richard Rohr, very wisely, says that we must 'fall', or experience suffering, in order to grow: 'We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.'

Consider the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).

There are two sons in the story, but we tend to dwell on just one of them - the one who falls, but ends up, through the redemption following his fall and suffering, celebrating being beloved by the father. The other son doesn't fall, does nothing wrong, but ends up being quite wrong, and bitter, and almost 'out of favour' - though it is clear that the father still loves him... It is almost as if, in climbing life's ladder of success, he gets to the top and finds that he's leaned it against the wrong wall.

On the other hand the 'prodigal' son falls, catastrophically, off that ladder and, after spending time (and all his money) living a debauched, pointless, life, ends up climbing another, leaned against another wall, at the top of which he finds 'success'.

But what is success?

Success has been, I believe, for me at least, discovering love and learning to live in love. In love and harmony with God and man. So I am glad that I have, in my time, been a bit of a prodigal son (in more ways than the obvious - though I did a bit of that too) - it taught me a lot, and helped make me the man I am.

There is much that I don't understand about my new, new life. For instance, other than nature, and photography, I seem to have lost interest in my hobbies... I don't want to make things, or play games. Part of me still feels as though I do, but when I sit down to it, I find that the joy of creating, or competing, is gone. So that leaves me with 'holes' in my life - I feel as though I still need an absorbing hobby (or two) - an 'escape' for those times when I just need to relax by doing something different and absorbing - something to 'take my mind off it'. Maybe it's just because I'm still tired, and still need to rest; part of the aim of this sabbatical. And perhaps the 'spark' will return when I am rested. Or perhaps it won't. I can't ever remember feeling like this before! And that's what I meant when I said earlier about this all being new to me; it's strange and a bit bewildering.

There may well be hard times ahead - life's like that - we're none of us immune from trials and tribulations. But hopefully, in having travelled through 'Part One', I have gained sufficient resilience, and trust in God and friends and family, that I can weather whatever life throws at me, whilst maintaining that inner tranquillity:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2016