I celebrated my 38th birthday on Saturday. Culturally once we get past 18 and 21, we tend only to focus on the ‘big’ birthdays – the ones which mark a new decade. But this has been a significant birthday for me. It has marked a transition for me – I am no longer young. Three factors have played into that realisation.
- In the week that I celebrated my 18th birthday I had my last day of school and my first A level exam. That was 20 years ago.
- When I was 22 I first met the man who would be my first long term spiritual director. He was 38 at the time. I didn’t think of him as being ‘young’.
- Just over a month ago I launched my book on Ignatian spirituality ‘Rooted in Love’. Amongst all the comments that are slowly filtering back – there is a notable absence of remark on my youth!
It isn’t that I am obsessed with the idea of being ‘young’ but rather a recognition that I need to let go of an identity which I have carried for about a decade. It began when I joined the team at Loyola Hall, a Jesuit spirituality centre in the UK. I was 27 years old. It wasn’t just that I was 27, but at the time I joined the next youngest person on the team was 18 years my senior. Added to my rather youthful appearance and the fact that most spiritual directors are north of 60 – meant that being the young one was challenging but gave me a handle – a sense of identity.
Obviously the shift hasn’t happened over night. It has been a slow gradual transition. But it is only in the confluence of events around this birthday that I have spotted the change.
I think many of the transitions that happen in life are a bit like this. The incremental change creeps up on us. Sometimes we resist the obvious shift – desperately trying to cling to the identity that we had before. The thought of change is just too scary.
But if we can dare to let go of the old identities, what emerges will be better. It may not feel terribly comfortable at first, and it may require a bit of reframing. But it will be better because it is more authentic; it is more honest.
I’m talking about age here because it is the transition which has precipitated the thoughts for me. It could be thinking about ourselves as a victim, or as a survivor of something. It could be clinging to a role which we no longer fulfill. It could be letting go of a vision of what a ‘perfect’ life should look like. Each of us uses different props to support our sense of self, and not one of those props will last a lifetime.
Is there an invitation to you today to let go of a dearly held image?