Taken Out of Context

How can life become simultaneously simpler and, yet, more complicated?

Take, for instance, meeting new people.

In one way, now that I’m comfortably installed in mid-life, it’s easier to enter a roomful of strangers. I’ve had years of experience entering rooms and now I know those first few moments of nerves will settle down long before I collapse from hyperventilating and eventually I’ll encounter at least one person with whom to chat.

On the other hand, the routine questions of opening dialog with a stranger are now fraught with hidden conversational tripwires that could send one or both of us into the seat-squirming world of social faux pas.

Asking the foundational questions of life – Are you married? Do you have children? What do you do for a living? Where do you live? – at mid-life and beyond are a little like playing Russian roulette. I mean, when you’ve been around screwing up on the planet for forty-nine plus years, things happen, right? And they don’t always fit neatly into a tweet-bite answer.

I attended a writer’s conference this past week where I made dozens of new acquaintances. Now, we writers are a twitchy bunch to begin with but put us in a situation that includes competition, editors, more successful writers and the possibility of rejection and you’ve got a recipe for emotional agida. More than once, I greeted a new person and tried to seem non-threatening, only to cause quivering bottom lips and red-rimmed eyes before my second question.

It was no different for me. Why, with nearly five decades of practice meeting new people, does it now feel like a final showdown for a spot on the Chinese gymnastic Olympic team?

I think it has to do with context.

When we’re young, there isn’t much to our story. We grew up somewhere, have parents, attended school and plan to do something or be someone. Most of our conversation is just one long trailer for the rest of what we are hoping will happen in life. That’s easy. Life is a hope, a promise, a dream.

But somewhere in our forties, we start to feature reruns. Like TV Land, we find comfort in retelling favorite episodes from the past and try to ignore the fact that we haven’t come up with any new plot pilots in ten years. Or, we live in our highlights reel. We edit out the fumbles, the bloopers, the pratfalls of our early adulthoods and only share the victory, not the defeat.

Sometimes our lives have taken on a movie of the week aspect – tragedy, illness, loss, disappointment, or failure force us to hesitate to advertise except to a specific, market audience. We send out feelers and if we sense our listener is only in the mood for headlines or a sitcom, we retreat to socially acceptable programming and wait for more compassionate ears for our deeper tale.

On the other hand, the air fills will oxygen again if we run into an old friend, someone who knows the context of our current situation. See, at mid-life, we’ve come to live with some of our choices. We still have dreams but maybe they’re down-sized or they’ve been in storage. Some of life’s promises have been fulfilled but others have turned out to be false advertising or as elusive as the ideal weight or the perfect spouse.

I’m sure that is why the Samaritan woman at the well was so excited to meet Jesus. Her headline to everyone about Him was “He told me everything I ever did!” John 4:39b How refreshing for a woman who had been around long enough to have had five husbands and to be living with a man now who wasn’t her husband to meet a God who already understood her life in context!

Emotionally, that woman was just like me. I don’t want to make excuses for my life and I don’t need sympathy or absolution from fellow travelers but I am certainly more at ease when someone can see my life within the framework of its larger setting. And that is why I am at home with God. He has known my life from before time when I was only a character sketch in His vast imagination.

There is a lot of focus from the church on reaching young people with the gospel and that makes sense but I believe some of us are called to reach out to people who have yet to meet Jesus at mid-life and beyond.

It’s messier.

There’s a lot of living that happens before forty, fifty, sixty, seventy. But any time we encounter the living Son of God is perfect timing because, while we may not have known Him, He has been with us from the beginning and sees our life in perfect context.

Conversion is not so much making a new acquaintance as it is running into an old, dear friend.

I should worry less about introducing myself and focus more on introducing those who cross my path to Jesus. Now, there’s a thought.

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7 Comments

    The Conversation

  1. Andrea says:

    I have an urgent prayer request at arise 2 write.
    andrea

  2. Karin says:

    “We send out feelers and if we sense our listener is only in the mood for headlines or a sitcom, we retreat to socially acceptable programming and wait for more compassionate ears for our deeper tale.” It’s my daily job to ask Christ to fill me with compassion for those in my care at the nursing home, or whomever I meet, who have a story to tell. It is my prayer that I might be Christ ‘with flesh on’ as they share their messy stories. Loved your post!!

  3. Praying, Andrea!

    Karin, you must be such a gift to those who have a need to tell their stories! Wonderful committment to praying for listening stamina and compassion.

  4. What a great post! I do hope you enjoyed the conference. I’m about ten years from my forties, but understand a bit of what you are talking about. Thanks for the insight!

  5. Marilyn Shipe says:

    Hi Lori! Great post! Take it from a 60-yr-old, I still struggle with issues. I think we will until the day we die. That’s life!

  6. Thanks, Marilyn! It’s all a struggle this side of glory, isn’t it? Thanks for dropping by. Come again.

  7. Cheri says:

    “I don’t want to make excuses for my life and I don’t need sympathy or absolution from fellow travelers but I am certainly more at ease when someone can see my life within the framework of its larger setting. And that is why I am at home with God. He has known my life from before time when I was only a character sketch in His vast imagination.”

    LOVED this word picture, of how God sees us in our larger framework. Awesome!

    And such a great life challenge at the end of your post!

    Hugs,
    Cheri