Yesterday afternoon, when the temperature was still in the 60s, I was able to bully Gayle into helping me plant the remaining 120 tulip bulbs in front of the rectory—in anticipation of a rainy day today and the advent of a cold front. There is something deeply sobering about planting fall bulbs when one knows full well that soon the bitter snows will cover them and that it will be a very long time before any sign of the bulbs’ life becomes apparent. From the grave of an autumn planting will come new life: that annual miracle never fails to astound me and fill me with gratitude.
Like those fall bulbs, sometimes a part of us must die before another part can come to life. Even though this is a natural and necessary part of our growth, it is often painful, confusing or disorienting, especially when we don’t know consciously what part of the cycle we are in. In fact, confusion and disorientation are often the surest signs that a shift is taking place within us. These shifts happen throughout the lives of all humans, as we move from infancy to childhood, from adolescence to middle age and beyond. With each transition from one phase to another, we find ourselves saying good-bye to an old friend, the identity that we grew into in order to move through that particular time.
It’s clear to me that God calls us to become more and more a truer form of ourselves, so as we change jobs or enter new relationships, we grow into new identities, more authentic versions of ourselves. None of this is meant to be permanent, though, so when the time comes where God is calling us to move forward and grow some more, our life begins to feel unsettled. Sometimes all it takes is for us to look more closely at the changing surface appearances of our lives to realize that something deep is shifting within us. For example, we may go through one whole chapter of our lives creating a protective shell around ourselves because we need it in order to heal from some early trauma. One day, though, we find ourselves feeling confined and restless, wanting to move outside the shelter we needed for so long. That new part of ourselves cannot come to birth within the confines of the shell our old self needed to survive.
It’s a weird combination of emotions we may feel at these transition times. We may feel a mixture of exhilaration and sadness as we say good-bye to a part of ourselves that is dying in order for a whole new identity to emerge in its place. This is, from a Christian worldview, the continuing cycle of Good Fridays and Easter Sundays—the ongoing dyings and risings of human life in Christ. The natural world provides an outward sign (Catholics would say “sacramental”) of this interior movement: whenever an animal molts or sheds its skin it prepares for new skin or feathers to emerge. This is the great cycle of death and rebirth, physical and spiritual, to which we are forever linked. We are not called to become some kind of static, unchanging being, like a plastic statue of Jesus my grandfather used to have in his Dodge Dart. Instead, God calls us to surrender to the process of dying and rising, to letting go of our past selves with great love and gratitude, and to welcoming the new version of ourselves with an open mind and heart, ready for our next phase of our life in Christ.
Wishing you a week of gentle releases and grateful opportunities for acceptance,