I was with two of my siblings and their spouses at my brother’s cottage in Minnesota. They were planning a trip to France next year and welcomed Fred and me to join them. But travelling abroad doesn’t excite either of us.
However, the question of retirement and how I can best live in this next stage of life remained uncomfortably with me.
I like what I do and I don’t want to stop doing it. But when I took stock of “what is” in my life, I had to admit how tired I am. This led me to examine how much I do as well as what I eat and how this is likely contributing to my fatigue.
Then I thought of Fred–my cycling, camping, and grandparenting buddy–and his health. He needs to rest a lot, and there’s nothing he can do to change that.
Add to this my challenging relationship with silent prayer and my ADHD tendencies that make me wonder sometimes how I can call myself a contemplative. I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life content to just be.
As I thought about how to make the most of the years ahead, I kept stumbling over the realities in my life and what I feel powerless to change.
One morning, still unsettled in prayer, I found this poem by Steve Garnaas-Holmes in my emails. He wrote it after canoeing in the Boundary Waters north of where my brother lives.
I will be your little canoe,
just big enough for you
and whatever grace you pack for the journey.
You paddle me where you will.
Surely I will drift,
and slip sideways in the wind,
but that too is your Spirit,
and you will right me as we go.
In still or troubled waters I will trust your touch,
surrender to your leading,
and go where you paddle me.
And when I find myself upside down and out of sorts
I will know you are portaging me to the next passage;
I will trust, and wait, and let you carry me,
until again, by your grace,
it is I who carry you.
When I read this, I recognized I was “upside down and out of sorts.” I understood then that I was being portaged to a new way of being. God was inviting me to trust, wait and be carried.
A few days later, Fred and I went to visit my eighty-five and ninety-year-old parents. As often happens on this four hundred and fifty kilometre drive, we talked about what’s been going on lately and what we’ve noticed.
In the meandering conversation, a new question began to emerge. It took a while for me to verbalize it succinctly, but I was being invited to let go of the question of what my retirement should look like and pick up this one instead: What does it look like to be a contemplative in my own skin?
When I held that question, I realized that God was using what is in my life to shape my passage into who I am becoming.
I see a way forward now. It is light and spacious. That doesn’t mean I won’t need to make some lifestyle changes, but all of a sudden, “what is” has been transformed from stumbling block to gift.
From now on I will tell you of new things,
of hidden things unknown to you.
They are created now, and not long ago;
you have not heard of them before today.
So you cannot say,
“Yes, I knew of them.”
Note: If you’re having a déjà vu moment, thinking you’ve read this post before, it’s because the draft got prematurely published on Monday. It went out to my email followers and, for a short time, was on Facebook. That was a bit of a shock–like realizing I’ve gone out of the house half-dressed! Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed my fully dressed post.
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I subscribe to Unfolding Light and, Monday to Friday, receive a daily poem or reflection from Steve Garnaas-Holmes. When I asked him for permission to use “Canoe” in my post, I let him know that I had passed on one of his poems to a friend who struggles with mental illness. Steve replied giving me permission to use his poems and added that he would pray for my friend. What a gift.