Never Too Young You Don’t Need to Change; Never Too Old You Can’t
“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.” —Joseph Campbell
I’m a cargo shorts/flip flops kind of guy. Through my 69 years, I have stayed in that attire into December, sometimes January. I have noticed that in recent years, I have been shedding the aforementioned attire and slipping into jeans and tennies earlier and earlier. Part of me says, “You’re getting soft; you’re caving in, man. Slacker.” Another part of me says, “Lying frozen to death in a snowbank doesn’t lend itself to making new beginnings...unless, of course, death is your new beginning.”
It’s the ancient principle of shedding something in order to gain something of greater value. The New Testament principle of “putting off” and “putting on.” The caveat is that for this transformation or renewal to take place, often you and I must, as Campbell asserts, “be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned.” I don’t know about you, but when I was younger the life I had planned out for myself and what, in fact, has panned out are quite different. When I was an adolescent, I planned to marry Janis Joplin and also rule the cosmos. Well, thinking it was a caring gesture, my mother got me on some meds and there went those dreams.
On a serious note, it requires discernment to ascertain what are God-given dreams and plans and what arise from either the false self or sheer naiveté. I’m sorry, but I have no use for a prevailing mantra, “You can become anyone; you can accomplish anything your heart desires.” Don’t get me wrong; I think we should aspire to the heights and inspire our children to do so, but let’s be motivational, not delusional. As a kid I dreamed of becoming a Major League second baseman. It never happened and at 69 I’m pretty sure it’s not going to. “Old skin” — an old dream — had to be shed. If we fiercely cling to such dreams and not allow them to die, we risk ending up disillusioned and bitter. Additionally, fixating on such dreams distracts us from focusing on God-given dreams or potential new beginnings that arise from our soul.
There are voices that clamor for our attention when it comes to the possibility of new beginnings/significant change. Toxic voices from our family of origin may still attempt to convince us, “You always were...you always will be.” “You’re just like your...you’ll never amount to anything.” There are even voices in the Bible that would be certain of no new beginnings. Jeremiah the prophet asked and asserted, “Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you...” Of course, Jeremiah came to be known as “the weeping prophet,” so maybe that was just his depression talking.
But a greater voice — the very voice of God embodied in Jesus — offers new birth to all, the most transformational of all new beginnings. So, there is always hope because Jesus always offers it. As years have passed, I’m slowly learning two keys. First, I must posture myself in ways that I can receive “the life that is waiting for us” because there are ways in which I am doing life that militate against new beginnings taking place. One example: my life has been much more focused on doing at the expense of being. I am now convinced that being silent, being still allows for the birthing of new beginnings and all my busyness distracts me from or allows me to avoid the deep soul work that often precedes new beginnings. Second, this posturing, this focus on being is not a passive waiting. Posturing necessitates changing a prior one and embracing a new one. Shedding or putting off is often hard, if not painful, work. It’s the arduous process of the caterpillar discovering a new beginning. Tatiana, in Monarchs, describes this preliminary work as “...caterpillars before their transformations, weaving their chrysalis with determination.”
These new beginnings seem to be both work and gift. The work of shedding, the labor of letting go. The gift of a new beginning may often turn out to be what I neither orchestrated nor anticipated. Grace given and a joyful reception.
This season, some of us are in the chrysalis; some of us are emerging. In either case pay no attention to the critic, the scoffer, the cynic. Listen to the One who always beckons you to embrace new beginnings.
“And then the butterfly untrapt itself from the chrysalis and spread its wings out At last! its eyes were wide open and it marveled at every blossoming flower and sweetness of the nectar with sheer joy it flew back to tell the caterpillars about its awesome discovery but none of them believed it. They doubted it because they have never had wings to fly and witness the world above ground. And so with every inch in the air the butterfly decided to fly away...”
—Sonia Ettyang, Untrapt Butterfly
Steve is a retired therapist and a very part-time interior painter who is a perfectionist, but he’s learned to roll with it. He serves with the breakfast Club each Sunday and has led Imago teams to Honduras for years to serve the poor and loves the work and the friendships we’ve developed. He is not aging in the most graceful fashion so don’t bug him. Kidding, kind of. He loves bringing laughter to others and is known for an occasional pun, always hopun people enjoy.