An upstate New York church recently asked me if I would do a Zoom talk for their parish book club, which had just finished reading “Walking Together,” my 2010 book on spiritual friendship. They sent me some questions in advance — challenging questions that forced me to sit in silent reflection and struggle with answers that would not be easy. I emailed the moderator and asked if the group was likely to be disappointed if my answers were very different from what they might expect. No, she said. Fire away.
From my computer screen at home, I spoke to a few people gathered at the church and another attending via Zoom. I answered questions with total honesty, even though I knew what I had to say might be challenging to hear. When I finished, two people said they were saddened by my answers because they were hoping I’d be even more convinced of what I’d written, not less so. I wondered if maybe I’d been too honest with them, but quickly realized that I could either disappoint them or disappoint myself. If I chose the latter, it would mean not only disappointment but dishonesty for everyone involved, and that wasn’t an option.
It’s not surprising that I had shifted my opinion about something I’d written more than a decade before. Think back on your own life and how your perspectives and positions change over time. Evolution in perspective is good thing. I am not the same person I was 10 or 20 years ago, or even one year ago. With every year, every day comes new experiences and relationships, challenges and revelations that shape us and, in some instances, transform us.
As I wrapped up the book talk, the moderator thanked me, for not only answering the questions but for giving the book club members “permission to change their minds.” That idea took me aback. Every one of us has a right to change our minds about things big and small, no permission required. It may be something minor—such as a favorite food that no long suits us or a type of music we’ve outgrown—or something monumental—such as leaving a job that no longer brings us joy or changing course on a political opinion that doesn’t ring true to us anymore.
Adapting and evolving is part of the spiritual journey each one of us is on. Our lives are not meant to be static; they are constantly shifting, and we can either go along for the ride or dig in our heels and refuse to grow. For my part, I never want to stop evolving, learning, changing, even if it means disappointing people. And we’re almost certain to disappoint people when we don’t live up to their expectations, but that’s no reason to stay stuck in a place we don’t belong. If the Spirit is nudging us into new territory, it’s time to pay attention.
Being willing to change or, even better, being enthusiastic about change, is one of the greatest gifts of this stage of my life. Age does, in fact, have its privileges, if we’re willing to be open, to be wrong, to be challenged, to be curious. As I approach my 58th birthday, what I know now is just how much I don’t know, and that is a glorious revelation because it means there is still so much more for me to learn.
Where are you on the journey? Are you open to the Spirit’s invitation, floating down the river of change like a sightseer in awe of your own life, or are you clinging to the familiar on the shore as water rushes around and over you? What would happen if you let go and trusted the current of your life journey? Give yourself permission and see what God has in store.
This column first appeared in the Sept. 10, 2020, issue of Catholic New York.