When I was a child I thought that the world of my elders was an infinite set of givens.
I took it as a given that my parents were married. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I realized that marriage was never a given. Being married was a dynamic process that, at times, threatened to blow itself up. And it almost did. But not quite.
I took it as a given that people had certain jobs, or that they were employed. I took it as a given that I would enter into a world of employment and do certain things. It was in the waning months of my time at home and into college that I began to see that this, too, was an illusion.
My child’s vision had seen a given. Because it was all I had seen, I thought it was permanent.
But the problem was that life does not work this way. Not ever.
SPOILER ALERT: There is no “arriving” in life.
Single people: you don’t “arrive” at your life goal on your wedding day. There’s a marriage that follows. And, as I say above, that relationship is always a dynamic process.
In The Sparrow, the wise older married woman says she has to decide afresh every ten years if this new person who is completely different from the man she married (and from the man she recommitted to ten years previously) is worth learning to love afresh.
Married people: you don’t “arrive” at your life goal when your kid is born.
Grad students: you don’t “arrive” when you get your job. In fact, landing that great job, sometimes landing a large amount of dollars in a cool city to go with it, can make the failure to experience “arriving” a thoroughly depressing affair.
I was at a fortieth birthday party a few months ago. At one point, the conversation turned to words of wisdom from other men who had passed that milestone. One that stuck with me was this: “If you’ve been diligently pursuing your vocational goals, you have probably accomplished most of them by the time you turn forty. Now you have to figure out how to look toward the future without that kind of hopeful vision for the future driving you.”
In other words, the idea that you’ve done it all already, and haven’t yet arrived, is where the midlife crisis comes from.
Life is full of dynamic processes. We are part of that dynamism as we change, grow, and contribute to our world. And, the world itself is ever changing and opening up new possibilities and heading in unexpected directions and, sometimes, leaving us behind.
There’s a point in all this for theology, but I’m out of space and will have to take it up tomorrow. So here’s a teaser: the baby church in AD 200 had the luxury of thinking its faith was a given for all places and times. The church in AD 2000 should be looking at the world with a more sober grownup’s vision.