January 29, 2024 • Article, Third Third, Third Third Journal
Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes.
Romans 12:2, TPT
Who do you say you are? What is the story you tell yourself about your life? What is the narrative that guides you and defines you? Maybe you are the “take charge” person. Or when you’re with your family everyone knows they can count on you to bring fun to the gathering.
I was called “Miss Red Cross” by friends when I was in my twenties. If there was an emergency, a hospital stay, or someone needing comfort; I was there. And still am. But, ever since I was trained in counseling, I learned that my history of helping others could be described clinically as being a rescuer. Argh! That doesn’t exactly describe the authentic and loving reasons I do what I do. But, unless I decide and define who I am I can be defined in ways that don’t fully reflect my values and sense of purpose. I can’t change what people think about me, but I can decide what narrative I create for myself.
Finding Meaning in Narratives
Narratives are open-ended and long-term; they evolve and help to explain a series of events. Our narratives are the result of many stories and give us the freedom to refine, edit, add to, or transform ourselves just in the telling. Our narratives give meaning to our stories.
As a way of exploring how we find meaning in our narratives, I offer three practices that, taken together, will give you the tools to answer the question: “Who do you say you are?”
- Seek a responsive community. I gained clarity on how my life speaks by seeking friends and community who also wanted to know where God was leading them in this season of their lives.
- Write your life. After drawing upon the insights of my community, the journey within began when I accidentally came upon the idea of writing a memoir. As I write, I expect my memoir to lead me to a more intimate examination of the events of my life, to shape them into a coherent narrative about my past, which will then offer insights into my future possibilities.
- Celebrate yourself. Finally, this is an essential: Have fun! Every day I will speak more self-affirming language into my spirit. After all, transformation begins internally as we align our minds with God’s perfect will.
We don’t continue to grow and transform without the support of trusted friends and community. Change is a process and journey where we bring together our own personal and internal reflections with the feedback of friends and companions we can trust. Consider this quote on community: “How does one keep from ‘growing old inside’? Surely only in community. The only way to make friends with time is to stay friends with people… .” Whether you are just entering the third-third of your life or, like me, delighted to have many years of experience beyond 55, take a moment and ask, who is your community? Who can be a sounding board for your emergent thoughts as you each listen to your hearts?
My Personal Narrative Journey
I began my quest, by asking a friend how would he describe his narrative. He responded with, “I don’t think I can put into words what my narrative is. I hadn’t thought about it.” His answer was pretty typical of others I asked. We don’t often have a place where we can think about what our narratives tell us about our past, but that also allows us to imagine a different future.
So, imagine my joy when in 2022, I was invited to join a Flourishing in the Third-Third of Life cohort and realized the value of a community that was actively participating and collectively engaged in creating new narratives. The cohort is six weeks and the final week is titled New Narratives. Together we unpacked not only our personal narratives about aging, but just as important, we were asked to critique the stereotypes that form our narratives, which are embedded in our culture.
Think about what the ads, social media, and maybe even what messages in your church congregation might say about aging. How many times have you said about yourself, “Oh, I’m too old to do (fill in the blank).” Resist stereotypes and explore messages that align with who you say you are. Think with the vitality of Caleb as he looked to conquer new lands in the third third of his life. (“So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.” Joshua 14:10b-11, NIV.) Now, what if you and a friend or a small group asked yourselves, “What would it take to update my narrative to reflect who I am regardless of aging stereotypes?” Then, just listen. This is one way to gain a fresh perspective on the events of your life that can set you on a path of discovery.
Another way to uncover my authentic self will be to begin my memoir. The idea came to me totally unplanned. As I searched for a new audiobook by mystery writer, Donna Leon, I noticed she had written her memoir, Wandering Through Life, at the age of 80. Leon opens her memoir by stating, “Like most of the events of my life, the thought of assembling this book came to me accidentally.” She had my attention. Not only do I consider myself a “wanderer” through life, but much that has happened has happened as an accident; what I call an unexpected blessing.
So, this year I will begin writing my memoir. Don’t expect to see it on the New York Times bestseller list because it won’t be for publication. Maybe, it will only be for my granddaughter’s delight and bewilderment, or maybe the dumpster. Regardless, I want to take some time to write, reflect, and listen for the nudging of the Holy Spirit to gain more clarity on how I can define or redefine myself as I age. Writing my memoir will focus my attention on the outcomes, not the missteps. Then I can more clearly see how God has been present, even in the wilderness. I want to value what it took to arrive at where I am today by using the 20/20 clarity of hindsight.
Finally, to add a bit of whimsy and fun to this exploration. I will plan to take the apostle Paul’s advice to the Philippians in the fourth chapter of the epistle he wrote to them from prison: “From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things . . .” (Philippians 4:8, CEB). On New Year’s Eve I saw this post on Flipboard: 105 of the Best Two-Word Phrases for a Quick, Heartfelt Message. Here are a few of the heartfelt messages: Thank you, Be Kind, Have Faith, Enjoy Life, Accept Yourself, Start Somewhere, Love Endures, Love You, I’m Loved. How can you infuse more of your thoughts and words with uplifting phrases. Try it: Appreciate You, You Rock!, Thank God. If your old narrative included “judgy” words, then begin a new narrative that focuses your thoughts on what is “excellent” and “admirable” about yourself and what brought you to where you are.
I offer these heartfelt messages to you: Be Yourself, Dream Big, Infinite Possibilities, and You Matter! Also, Continue to Flourish (I know it’s three words!). In this third third of your life, claim a narrative that offers possibilities and allows you to be your authentic self: Create a Personal Narrative think tank with friends; start a blog, begin a podcast, write a memoir, and speak kindly to yourself and others. Don’t wait for someone else to tell you who you are. Define who you say you are; then live it.
Banner image by Wavebreak Media on Freepik.