The book is very small – Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer. It may be small, but it carries a powerful punch! In the last chapter of the book, he discusses how we so often use metaphors to describe life in general, but that we should be wise in the metaphor we choose because so often the words warp into reality. If we choose a war metaphor (“it’s a battlefield out there”) or a fatalist metaphor (“life is like a game of chance – some win, some lose”), we set ourselves up to live a life constantly on the lookout for the next enemy or obsessed with beating the odds.
He proposes using a metaphor of seasons instead. This metaphor doesn’t discount the struggles we face or the joys, the losses or the gains. Instead, it encourages us to embrace it all and look for opportunities to grow no matter what is happening. He spends time explaining each of the four seasons and how the metaphor takes shape in real life.
What really struck me was something he said in Winter. Palmer quotes a classic piece of Midwestern advice: “The winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them.” Then he applies this concept to the Winters of life:
“Until we enter boldly into the fears we most want to avoid, those fears will dominate our lives. But when we walk directly into them – protected from frostbite by the warm garb of friendship or inner discipline or spiritual guidance – we can learn what they have to teach us. Then we discover once again that the cycle of the seasons is trustworthy and life-giving, even in the most dismaying season of all.” p. 103
My life has been in Winter for a while now. The death of your spouse is the death of many more things than just your husband’s body. It’s the death of your retirement dreams, the death of a co-parent, the death of financial stability, the death of your children’s “normal” childhood. This Winter sets its icy fingers deep into your soul, and every direction you turn, you feel an icy wind chill threatening to freeze you all over again.
There are days that I sense Spring is just around the corner, but then the icy blasts come rolling through my life again. I make a parenting decision and have no one to back me up. I see the sadness in my kids’ eyes and know exactly what it’s about even though they don’t say it. I crawl into a cold bed at the end of a long day – alone, again.
When I read Palmer’s statement “until we enter boldly into the fears we most want to avoid, those fears will dominate our lives,” I knew instantly what my biggest fear is: singleness. I have been “spouse-less” for two years already, but I still cling to “couple-ness” as a way of thinking. I want to avoid at all costs the idea of being a single.
It’s not that I am afraid I can’t be successful. I am confident that I can accomplish all of the tasks necessary for living on my own.
It’s just terribly LONELY that way. I miss having someone to share my days with. And let me tell you – trying to artificially place one of your teenage sons into that role DOESN’T work (believe me, I’ve tried!) I miss the companionship of asking someone how his day was and having him ask me in return. I miss having someone eat any recipe I cook and like it.
Maybe because I never really lived a single adult life back in my 20’s, I struggle to understand its rhythm now. Maybe because God wired me to be married, I can’t quite get into this single living. Maybe because I am overwhelmed with parenting three teen boys, I don’t see the benefits of being one. Whatever the reasons, I agree with Palmer – these fears end up dominating your life.
Every day, I find myself sliding down a slope of sadness and frustration with life. I make a decision regarding the kids and then start second-guessing myself, wondering if it was the right decision, wondering how Tim would have handled it, wishing he were here to help enforce it. With even just the smallest resistance from any of the boys, I tailspin into an emotional mess. “If only…” “What if…”
Palmer’s advice here is to “enter boldly into the fears.” So then, what I must figure out is what does it look like to “enter boldly” into singleness at my age, with my family already established. What does godly singleness look like for me?
I think that is what my year will be about this year – discovering singleness and in that process learning what God has to teach me through singleness. God is good, all the time. He is trustworthy and life-giving, in all seasons, in all circumstances.
Whether I want the cold Minnesota winters to come or not, they do. And I get the winter clothes ready, the snowpants, boots, and gloves. And even the sleds so that I can have fun in the winter wonderland. Whether I want singleness or not, it’s here. It’s time to embrace it and find ways to enjoy it – I’m tired of having the fears dominate my life. It’s time to be single and filled with JOY!