My friend Chris turned 30 and got depressed. We both worked in radio and while it’s a fine occupation, one can begin to wonder what difference that last show really made in people’s lives. Ask anyone who works with the public and they’ll tell you that people don’t call when you’re doing well and tell you how great things are. They instead call when they are annoyed and often Chris would be the fielder of those calls with me picking up his slack.
He was at a crossroads and for Chris, an upcoming promotion would indeed change his career, something us men define ourselves by all too often. Turning thirty was his re-birth into a greater way of life. I trailed him by a mere year or so, if memory serves. But at 30, I left my radio career behind for ministry and I never looked back. Besides a wonderful marriage and the love of a loyal dog my career has hinged on two web-ministry ventures, a semi-rebuilt Campus Ministry and a book with one on the way.
Recently, I’ve felt called to do more with spiritual direction, and specifically with those folks who are in transition at a young age–those looking for rebirth in their lives. I’ve been blessed to do this with university students, recent graduates, Catholic volunteers and a random older parishioner or two. Some days I’m challenged by them, wondering if their darkness will ever lift and why God doesn’t seem to lift their dread. Most days, grace abounds and we’re able to God working in our lives clearly and abundantly. And all days, regardless of desolation or consolation, I am simply blessed by the lives of these people. It is a privileged position that I have to sit and listen–and listen carefully. Some are asked to repeat an important line to bring it more into their consciousness, so as to witness to God’s love and life exhaling from their lips. It is there that we find grace in noticing, noticing our life and God’s love for us embedded somewhere in it–perhaps so deep within that it went unnoticed until that very moment where the lightning of grace strikes.
It seems to me that this is what a birthday should really focus on. We are not merely a year older, nor a step closer to death–two inevitabilities, we realize right off, of course. Rather, we are also entering a rebirth. An opportunity to find grace, notice it and move into life–more abundant life and to have it to the full. Where will this year take us? Where are we feeling reborn in our careers, our relationships, our life in conversation with Christ? Where will God call us and will we be willing to answer “yes” or “not now”? Who brings us into this abundant life and do we show them overflowing gratitude?
St. Ignatius would call this the search for the Magis, the greater, and a birthday for me, is an opportunity to look for just what that is in my life. The truth is that I really am becoming more generative as I age, I give back a bit more to others as a mentor now, than ever before. To do this, I also need to stay current and invest in new ventures for myself–being gutsy to try new things and open to God’s grace to witness to something new. Often it’s not for the feint of heart, finding myself amongst donated human cadavers, in the heat of Nicaragua’s summer, playing with refugee children, or simply living amidst the sacred and the secular on a state University’s campus and finding where religion is both neglected and openly welcomed.
Turns out most days, my life is quite exciting. And yet, the prospect of sitting and listening to others and noticing where they are and where they’ve been is where I find myself most joyful. Whether that’s as a ministry mentor for others like myself or a spiritual director with the young or as a writer, hoping to bring some inspiration where times are gloomy–it is all grace and peace and stillness and a great time to rejoice in what life God has given to us all.
So today, I ask for prayers for me on my 42nd birthday. That I may always be open to what God has in store for me. The number 42 is the number worn by Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier in major league baseball. Robinson, may not have been the best player in the Negro Leagues, but he was called to take on the hatred of early racism, even from his own teammates. He flew around basepads and was able to bring an entire race of people into a new and wonderful life, filled with a bit more freedom than they had before. Nobody in baseball can wear that number now (unless it was issued to them before it was retired. I believe Yankee reliever Mariano Rivera is the lone wearer of #42 now in MLB).
May we all have the grace to stand up for justice despite what may befall us for our stance or where it might lead us. May we be willing to hear God’s voice in our lives and not harden our hearts in bitterness. Rather, may we take time for quiet to hear the gentle whisper of Christ calling us to listen to our hearts, to the plight of the poor and to be fed with the gift of grace.