One of my new favorite authors, Joshua Gibbs, wrote somewhere (I wish I could remember where) about how the purpose of each stage of life is to prepare for the next. I remember that Gibbs was writing about high school and teenagers, so he was also saying it another way: enjoying the present moment is not the point of living. It sounds rather harsh to modern ears, but it’s a thought I’ve been stewing on for a long while. Joy in the present is right and good, but it is a by-product of life’s true purpose: to prepare for the future.
I do not love Winter — that long, dark wait for Spring. And yet, if there is one thing to love about Winter, it is the hope that lives in the tips of the trees. The buds we see in Spring are made long before the dark comes. They are wrapped up tight at the end of Fall and set along the limbs to wait for the return of the light. When I walk among trees in December and January, I do not see the emptiness of the tree but the readiness for what will someday be. I look for swollen buds along bare branches that speak of hope to come. They also speak of work already done: the gathering of resources as the light fades, and the shedding of all that is not needed in the dark journey ahead. Fall prepares for Winter, just as Summer fills the storehouse for Fall, and Spring sets out all that will be used by Summer. Though I do not love Winter, I am thankful that Winter guards in quiet rest what Spring will need for its exuberant dance. The work of the moment is to prepare for the next, and in that work there is joy.
Our modern age has come to speak of “mid-life crisis” as a natural (if painful) stage of life for most everyone in middle adulthood. In walking through one of my own though, I have begun to think it is natural only in the way that famine and disease are natural. They occur, but that does not mean that they are inevitable, much less right or good. When they occur, they are usually the result of either extreme unforeseeable circumstances or a failure of preparation (or both). The late frost or winter storm may bite the ready tree more deeply than it can bear, but the failure of the tree to prepare for spring will also lead to its suffering even in the mildest of seasons. If it is true of winter, it is also true of summer. The Spring of youth rejoices when it reaches the bright Summer of adulthood, but if it stops there — if Summer fails to look towards Fall — it will lose the crop before it has even sprouted, and the coming Winter will bring deeper death rather than the hopeful buds of new life.
Forgive me for talking so long in metaphors. Let me ground it for a moment.
A few months ago, an old friend made me promise to write a new blog post before the middle of April. I shrugged and agreed half-heartedly thinking I may or may not eventually get around to it. When April 1st popped up on my calendar this week, I took a look at my blog and realized I have only posted once since last summer. (I count the two halves of The FB Dilemma as one post since they were two parts of the same train of thought.) How has time slipped by me so quickly? Why have I posted so little? The easy answer: I started a new full-time teaching job.
After the peace of my sabbatical year — after so much time to think about what I’m doing and why, to rest and heal and rediscover life in the US — getting back into the classroom was a little like diving into a cold lake and immediately swimming a marathon across it. Thankfully I didn’t have to move countries, cities, or even houses. I was glad to find a little private school right here in coastal Georgia that needed a K-12 music teacher. I plunged in last August and began teaching general music and choir to 150 students from four to eighteen years old. It has been (by far) the most intense student load and course load I have ever taught. In September and October I didn’t think I was going to make it. I was drowning. In November though, barely afloat, I began to sense a change. In January and February I felt myself find something resembling a rhythm or stride. Now, though exhausted, I can see the finish line. Not only do I think I am going to make it across, but I even think I will be strong enough to do it again next year.
My new school is the diametric opposite of my previous schools in every way except one: the kind, generous, and supportive spirit of my colleagues and administration. I am profoundly aware that God has blessed me with amazing people in every place I have been. It was true before, and it is what I began to discover here in November: a beautiful and gracious community of teachers. Without them, and without God’s gentle kindness throughout, I would have given up teaching. I might have even given up music. Neither, however, has happened — and that is purely a gift of grace.
In the last few years, I have spent much time wondering what I’m doing and why. That I have been so undone by that wondering makes me realize that in my Spring, I did not see or understand what the true work of Summer would be. It is now high noon in the mid-Summer of my life. The day is hot, the work is hard, and the sense that the light will soon begin to fade is creeping up on me. Though I have a stronger sense now of what I’m doing and why, the work is so much harder for only having just begun. The temptation to give up and bury myself in a hermit hole is still strong.
So what do I do? Sing.
In the words of Josh Garrels’ song “Home”: