Habits for a new season of life


Today’s lunch: squash soup with pancetta, and a salad with oil and balsamic vinegar. (The salad green is called valeriana in Italian, but I don’t think it’s the same as the herb valerian.) I’ll have some fruit, too.

Good morning! I have a lot more time to myself than I used to these days, and the circumstances are such that the most of things I always had in mind to do when the time came either aren’t an option any longer or no longer seem right. So, what to do? That’s the subject of this post. These are things that have worked for me, and I hope they might help someone else as well.

The first thing I say might sound abrupt, but that’s because I’m leaving out a big part my own period of adjustment on purpose. It’s this: I can’t just sit there and think, “Woe is me!” Sometimes big changes in life can come as a surprise and take some getting used to. There may be mourning to be done, relationships that need wisdom to handle, or a very blurry linguistic and cultural landscape to navigate. But I have noticed that any tiny steps I can make in a positive direction to tend to pay off eventually, even if I can’t see how it’s going to happen and it feels forced instead of pleasant. There has been genuine difficulty in my life over the past few years. But the best advice I got, at least for my circumstances, seems to have been, “Have a really hard cry for about ten minutes. Really give it over to God. Then get up and do something.”

So, in that spirit, here are some of the things I’ve been doing:

Meeting new people. I am used to making myself talk to people when I don’t feel like it. Yes, I’m an introvert. I’m even shy and easily embarrassed. And I fall on my face every time I try to speak Italian–I don’t even want to know how many mistakes I’m making or what rude things I unwittingly say! But I keep telling myself to get over it. I have found that many people have been willing to extend kindness and affection, even if I can’t speak well enough to easily forge close friendships. For this I am truly grateful. I have made friends with people of all ages and walks of life, and I trust that one day it will feel like I am really part of a community. But I won’t know if I don’t try, eh?

Good routines.  I notice that when I’m alone a lot, it’s easy to take the path of least resistance, so I’m trying to make sure I am disciplined. I read the Bible lectionary readings daily and have a regular prayer time. I make a to do list, and while I’m not driven by it, I do try to make progress with it. I try to eat attractive, healthy meals with a certain ceremony, as I do when I have family and friends around to serve. I ride my stationary bike, since I’m not close to a park. I walk a lot and use the stairs in my daily errands. I do housework and secretarial tasks, and balance between doing introspective activities and more expansive ones. Making sure I go out, and making time for friends, are part of this routine.

Putting out feelers. I don’t have a job right now, and I’m not sure what sort of job is appropriate and forthcoming at present. But I do think I have time for some purposeful activity that touches others, and so I try to take steps to figure out what this might be. I’ve talked to people in various programs, talked to people who might need art or English lessons, and I trust that putting out feelers will make the way clearer eventually, even if at first I go down some dead ends.

Getting outside myself. I love the merenda. And in general, I have remembered what I used to know well before I got so towed under, which is that looking other people in the eye and really listening to what they’re saying is a genuine pleasure, not just a duty and a means of charity. What a relief!


A recent New Yorker cartoon by David Sipress

Do goofball things that make you laugh! Sometimes when I find myself at home alone during the evening, I put on some old movie, whether in Italian or English, and I don’t worry about whether it’s a “smart” film or not. It helps that I’m beginning to be able to understand enough Italian that a whole new world is opening up. While walking around town, I take photos of clothes I’d never wear and play with the bokeh button on Instagram. I don’t care how lame it is!  I put smiley faces after my text messages 🙂 🙂 :-). I send Facebook stickers. And yes, I even watch cat videos! Yes, I know that art is ever moving, and not sentimental. But life is too short to be overly serious.

Seek God’s will. This is huge, too huge to describe here, and it includes all of the things above, of course. But I’ve sought intelligent guidance, and benefitted from it. Among other things, I’ve discovered a blog and radio program that I really like, hosted by Greg and Lisa Popcak. Here’s a recent radio program they did on forgiveness. (It’s long, but I really like what they said all the way through.)

I’ve looked at where I did things wrong in the past, and tried to change them. And since not every circumstance or relationship is entirely within my own power, there are a lot of things still up in the air. But that doesn’t mean I can’t live in God’s will. And as Peter Kreeft says, seeking God’s will wholeheartedly never fails to bring joy (not giddy happiness mind you, but joy.)

And so there you have a few things that a person who is a bit at sea in a new stage of life can do to make things better.  I know that a lot of my friends are going through similar things. They may still have children at home, but maybe they’ve sent their eldest off to college and are surprised to find themselves in mourning.  Maybe they’ve had to move when they didn’t want to. Maybe they are facing disappointment or difficulty with work or in relationships, or facing serious illness in themselves, friends, or family members. All of these are serious things that require acknowledgment and sympathy. But at some point, we all face that moment when we’re alone and we say to ourselves, “Okay, what now? How to start moving forward again?” That’s what this post is about.


6 thoughts on “Habits for a new season of life

  1. Laura,

    But that doesn’t mean I can’t live in God’s will. And as Peter Kreeft says, seeking God’s will wholeheartedly never fails to bring joy (not giddy happiness mind you, but joy.)

    I’ve just rediscovered the best modern writer I know on this topic, Dallas Willard. I read his books pretty closely in the late 90s, but wasn’t quite ready to receive what he taught. Last month Willard was recommended by a fellow whose own spiritual journey intrigues me, so I read a brief paper by him on love (Getting Love Right, just $1 on Kindle) and was hooked.

    Willard’s main point is that it is quite possible to grow ever more like Jesus, and that there’s no mystery about how to do it. For those who already believe that–I did, and it sounds like you do as well–Willard explains the various techniques (spiritual disciplines) so that one can identify areas of weakness and apply one or more disciplines appropriately to strengthen them. (One thing I appreciate about Willard is his insistence that the disciplines are tools to be used as needed, not on an arbitrary schedule.)

    What excited me about reading Willard again was that much of what Willard teaches about how to become more Christlike is confirmed by my own experience over the past 20 years. I can testify that his teachings are correct because on my own journey I’ve used many of the more mundane disciplines he mentions (e.g. not hurrying, apologizing, not having the last word) and have seen tangible improvements in those areas. I wish I had known that when I first read him! But I’m glad to know it now.

    1. Rick, sorry it took so long to reply to this! I have had a couple of urgent and distracting deadlines.

      It sounds like Willard is a very simple Christian, in the best sense of the word. If we could even just better learn the three things you mention in this comment, we’d probably find ourselves growing greatly in humility.

      I think Kreeft’s point is similar: There’s a great satisfaction in knowing that there’s something you can do to be more at peace, and it’s simple, like Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus sitting at Christ’s feet. That doesn’t mean your troubles will go away, but it does mean you can know you’re facing in the right direction. Various disciplines may seem more complex, but in the end, they’re all about this same thing, contemplating the love of Christ.

      1. Laura,

        It’s definitely true that Willard focused on a few deep truths and never wavered. His career arc reminds me of Jacques Ellul, who spent around 50 books elaborating the themes in his very first book, Presence of the Kingdom. (Willard only wrote seven books, thank goodness!)

        One of Willard’s few truths was that life in Jesus’s kingdom is all about the pursuit of peace (or shalom, as he puts it)–peace with others, peace with ourselves, peace with God. And peace not simply as the absence of activity, but the pursuit of harmonious activity, i.e. getting in sync with the realities of God’s cosmos.

        And I think he offers an understanding of contemplation that can break through the Protestant mindset. Most Protestants want to do something, and since they see contemplation as glorified daydreaming they latch on instead to theologizing, which at least has the appearance of activity. Willard turns contemplation of Christ on its head–rather than simple mental appreciation, he focuses on emulation, i.e. who wouldn’t want to be like the greatest man who ever lived? Our love for Jesus deepens as a result of our steady effort to become more like him.

        I also like Willard’s characterization of the gospel as the announcement that everyone is now welcome to enter God’s kingdom, a place God has made safe all to live just as Jesus did.

      2. “Most Protestants want to do something, and since they see contemplation as glorified daydreaming they latch on instead to theologizing, which at least has the appearance of activity. Willard turns contemplation of Christ on its head–rather than simple mental appreciation, he focuses on emulation, i.e. who wouldn’t want to be like the greatest man who ever lived? Our love for Jesus deepens as a result of our steady effort to become more like him.”

        I’d say this is pretty close to what I understand of Catholic theology.

  2. Laura,

    If I could edit my previous comment, I’d make it clear that “Getting Love Right” was the inspiration I needed to dive back into Willard, not a summary of his work. Renovation of the Heart is probably the book that comes closest to being both a summary and a practical reference.

  3. Hello Laura! I rarely read blogs these days, but earlier I was thinking about how I have missed those days when I had time to check in. So with a little extra time in my schedule today, I typed in wordpress and noticed your more recent posts. This was a good one to catch up a little with you. It sounds like you are in a simiilar place that I was a couple years back..wondering “what’s next?” after spending years homeschooling. I spent about a year and a half trying to build a piano studio (which I loved,) but was realizing that it would likely never be more than just a handful of students. It seemed like something I was forcing to happen and was feeling adrift. Last November, I was looking around online trying to figure out what I should be doing and came across an 11-month certification program for special education. The application was due a week later. It was around Thanksgiving and I had company, but after I sent company home I hammered out the application thinking I would at least apply and decide later if I was accepted. Long story short, I am half-way through the program and loving it. I am nearing the end of student teaching and loving working with these kids. All that to say…it seems so obvious to me that this was God’s guidance and provision. You are patiently seeking and looking to Him, so I am sure He has something in store. I look forward to seeing what He has planned for you! I will be sure to check in to find out. 🙂 Meanwhile, enjoy this time when you have space to ponder and grow. And btw, Dallas Willard’s book, The Divine Conspiracy was highly influential in my life during those years adrift.

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