On the pilgrim way: Living in the moment
I have always been a long-term planner, but I only discovered as an adult that not everyone has a mental diagram of the year ahead. My years have four corners – end of April, June, September and December – and as I write that down I suddenly wonder if one reason why I find the early months of the calendar year so depressingly interminable is because that section of “my” year has an extra month. In terms of efficiency, my long-term planning has its uses; but in terms of a full and faithful life it has real shortcomings.
Like many young mothers, I often found myself impatiently looking forward to when my children would be out of nappies, beyond the “terrible twos”, off to nursery, to school, and out of the difficult teenage years. I probably said more than once, in exasperation: “Do grow up!” I am so impressed by the way my daughter-in-law, an older mother of one precious child, is in no such rush.
My hurry to reach some imagined desirable future showed up again when I was much older. My parents came to live next door when they were in their early 80s. When they reached their early 90s I began to realise, to my shame, that I was looking forward to when my dear parents had died, because then I would be able to make a move that would be good for me and the churches where I ministered.
So I began – with help from a wise monk – to learn: to pay full attention to each day (attentiveness is an important word among spiritual writers), to wait and watch for God’s surprises rather than wait (impatiently) for my own plans and dreams to be fulfilled. Eventually, on my 55th birthday, I was offered a Church House post, which meant I could begin a new ministry and remain in my present house, with my parents next door. My mother lived to be 98 and my father 100!
At this time of year I often think about old Simeon who waited and watched all his long life for God’s Messiah and was not disappointed. We hear nothing of his achievements, but only of his waiting and watching. I feel very sad when I meet people who are disappointed with life – their hopes not fulfilled, the causes they worked for apparently failures, ill-health taking away their energy and abilities. I want to be able to be like Simeon and to say, with the psalmist:
For God alone my soul in silence waits (Psalms 62:1)
Sheila Maxey is book reviews editor of Reform
This article was published in the combined December 2012/January 2013 edition of Reform.