Are we nearly there yet: it’s the phrase dreaded by parents everywhere. Growing up in England, I spent much of my vacations trailing up and down mountains in the Lake District and North Wales. Being the eldest of three – and having been raised to be fiercely competitive – I was desperate to make each summit well ahead of my more laid-back siblings.
Fast forward thirty years and it’s a different story. Age, child-bearing and a failure to prioritize a healthy lifestyle have left their mark on my figure and on my energy levels. These days my legs protest at even a modest incline.
While I’m making a determined effort this year to eat well and exercise more, I suspect that my days of charging up mountains without pausing to draw breath are well and truly behind me.
I’ve noticed, too, that other bits of me don’t function as well as they used to. I volunteer my husband to carry the heavy bags for me when we go shopping. Some days my hip joints ache for no apparent reason, or my knees resist and stiffen when I’m climbing the stairs. Although I had near-perfect vision until my early forties, I now struggle to read a restaurant menu without first delving in my handbag to find my spectacles.
None of this would be so bad if I didn’t also make the mistake of using my physical limitations as a yardstick for assessing my spiritual development.
Naively, I assume the aging process and spiritual decline go hand-in-hand. After all, in my younger days, my beliefs were confident and unshakeable: I was fired up with all the things I wanted to do for God. My faith was real, but its outworking had an unhealthy link to my perceived invincibility rather than the astounding power of an almighty God.
I’ve had to re-evaluate the things I’ve done since those heady days as a new believer. Spiritual regrets cloud my memories: I could have been bolder about sharing my faith, or paid greater attention to those opportunities to serve others. In my darker moments, I’m tempted to think life has passed me by – spiritually as well as physically – and that I’ve somehow missed the chance to become the person God intended me to be.
The last few years have brought significant upheaval to our family, and I find myself in a season of confusion and – dare I say it – disappointment.
In September, our youngest child will head off to university, leaving my husband and me alone together for the first time in well over 20 years. All of a sudden, our three ‘kids’ are (mostly) independent adults, making their own way in the world.
My head tells me this is a good thing, but my heart is inconsolable.
This has coincided with a complete change in the leadership structure at our local church, so that I’m no longer sure of my role there. Leading worship – which has been a joy and a privilege for a long time – is awkward and uncomfortable. I wonder whether God has something else in store for me, but when I ask for clarity my prayers evaporate like morning mist.
An unwelcome thought nags at me as I wrestle with these issues: perhaps I’ll never do something ‘big’ for God. Maybe the story of my life will simmer down to a sequence of daily chores: a celebration of the mundane.
I read Paul’s words to the Corinthian church: Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16b). I embrace the stark reality of the first phrase, while failing to accept the truth of the second.
In my yearning for dramatic revelations and instantaneous change, I forget that God tends to use the small and unremarkable details of life to nurture and teach me. Too often I look for personal significance and vindication in my roles as a mum and as a worship leader and ignore the fact that renewal is about what God is doing rather than my own achievements.
Instead of worrying about whether I’m ‘nearly there, yet’, I guess I need to learn to appreciate the journey.
How about you?