Yesterday I drove out to visit my mother who lives in an assisted living community in Pennsylvania. At 87, my mother is doing okay, though she grows increasingly frail with each passing year.
The visit got me thinking back thirty-two years ago to the year I spent following graduation from college. Life in college had been pretty wonderful, but also intense and pressured, and I had looked forward to being out of school and on my own without any particular plans.
I was surprised, when, six months post-graduation, my life essentially fell apart. I hadn’t realized how much I relied on the identity and network of relationships that college life had provided. I ended up on my mother’s doorstep, sleeping on a pull-out bed in her little New York studio apartment for two months until I could begin to figure out my next step. During that time of profound vulnerability my mother was a strong and stable support for me, for which I was very grateful.
It struck me yesterday that I am now almost precisely the age my mother was back then, and that my two oldest children find themselves at the present moment six months post-graduation. Along with pretty much all their peers, they too struggle in making that adjustment from college to what comes next. I hope to be a stable support for them.
We go through seasons in the course of our lives. At times our frailty is right there on the surface; at others, we manage a measure of strength and stability upon which others can lean. But even in the seasons of strength, we know that we are never far from the basic vulnerability that marks us as human beings. The floundering twenty-two yet lives within me, and I know that in a mere wink of an eye, if I live long enough, I will reach the season of life in which my mother now dwells, where walking, seeing, hearing and remembering present challenges, and life presents constant reminders of our dependence upon others.
Our stories and Jesus’ story intersect. Somewhere around the age of 31 or 32, Jesus engaged in his ministry, embodying the very essence of strength and stability upon which others could depend. The Lenten story, however, tells of how Jesus intentionally entered into that place of total vulnerability in which we all eventually find ourselves. In the Garden of Gethsemene, his network of friends fell away. All alone, his physical and emotional energy drained from his body as he prepared to meet his death. In the end Jesus was too weak to carry his own cross; a stranger, Simon of Cyrene, had to be compelled to carry his cross for him to Golgotha.
We are all in this thing called life together.
Dear Jesus, In our times of strength, help us to be strong for others. And in our times of frailty, help us to remember that you know what we are feeling, having walked before us through the dark valley. Amen.