Change is in the air. The hot, humid days of summer are giving way to the cool, crisp days of autumn. I often notice this seasonal transition in a singular moment--the moment when I detect that distinctive early-morning chill. However this fall, I’m not only noticing the current season changing, I’m noticing the season of my life changing.
I’ve noted the signs for a few months. It makes sense given several formidable and coalescing events in our life. In March, my mother-in-law, age 87, fell and broke her hip, requiring a total hip replacement. On May 4th, our precious granddaughter, Harper, was diagnosed with leukemia. On July 3rd, my father-in-law, David Lewis Booram, died at age 90.
As it so often happens, in the middle of all these trials, we also had a monumental celebration—the 10th Anniversary of Fall Creek Abbey! We gathered close to a hundred “friends of Fall Creek Abbey” for a picnic, and another 130 or so folks for an educational event the next day.
All this has been a lot to take in.
In July, after burying David’s dad, I began our yearly July sabbatical with a palpable fatigue and heaviness of soul. For the next couple of weeks I practiced soul care as best I know how. I lived each individual day slowly and consciously, staying in the moment, and doing what sounded good in that moment. Long bike rides, long hours of reading and journaling, lunches out alone, and visits to the art museum filled these “Beth” days, as I like to call them.
As I addressed the cries of my soul, I began to realize something quite clearly: I need and want to continue our work, and I need and want to work less. I knew beyond any doubt that I couldn’t continue to work as much as I’ve been working. That I didn’t want to live a “work-centric” life as I have the last ten years. It became apparent to me that I don’t have the drive or energy to work as much. I need to rest more, play more, introvert more, and cherish my family even more.
As I processed this growing awareness with Nancy, my spiritual director, she provided a name for what I was going through. “It’s called an existential shift.” she said.
“Existential shift?” What a nebulous term, right? In reality, it simply describes a change in what gives life (existence) meaning. Nancy explained what she meant by sharing a brief description of the last two life stages of a model developed by psychologist Erik Erickson.
The seventh stage, entitled “Generativity vs. Stagnation,” typically happens from ages 40 to 65. It’s a season where we’re focused on making a mark, doing something that outlasts us, being part of a bigger picture, being useful and accomplishing things. If we fail to live fully in this stage, we stagnate.
The eighth stage is entitled “Ego integrity vs. Despair” and begins around the age of 65 until death. It’s a season where we contemplate our life and accomplishments and come to terms with how we’ve lived our “one wild and precious life.” If we suffer from significant regret because we didn’t achieve what was important to us, we become bitter and despairing.
Nancy shared that in stage seven, we ask, “How do I live well into the future.” But in stage eight, the question becomes, “How do I live well to the end?” Boom! If Nancy had shared this last question with me a year ago, it wouldn’t have resounded. However in that moment and today it resonates with deep meaning, naming a question I’ve come to intuitively embrace. I’m experiencing an existential shift. This is my question. Change is in the air.
Here’s the remarkable grace of it all: A year ago I would have felt resistant to this change. I was living full throttle, in the thick of generativity, with little desire to slow down or pare back. But over the last couple of months, and certainly impacted by all that we’ve been through, life has become even more precious; time with David and our family has become even more precious. And somehow along the way, I’ve received an inexplicable grace from God to accept the change. I haven’t wrestled with or resisted this change as I thought I would. Something has happened in me, to me, a shift, as organic as a changing season.
Change is in the air, in the seasons of my geography and the seasons of my life. I hope to welcome them both.