Hello there, ten years younger me. Yes, you! I can see you sitting there in one of your favourite local restaurants having dinner with your husband on his 40th birthday. And I’ll bet you’re both wondering what your 40s will hold? Hey, and what’s with the tears? Don’t cry! You’ve got a great decade ahead of you. You’ll never believe me if I tell you what you’re going to be living through in your 40s. But take it from one who knows what she’s talking about! After all, I’ve just lived through those years of being 40-something, haven’t I? And we were out just last night with all the immediate family for the husband’s 50th. Yes, really, ten years, gone in a flash, in the blink of an eye!
What’s that? You want to know what there is to look forward to – what fun will there be, and what, if any, rewards? And are there any challenges or dark days ahead? Hmm, well now, where shall I begin?
Well, perhaps we should start with those tears (and, yes, you do still cry more readily than most, but, as you’ll have to tell someone a few years from now, it’s not because you’re a woman! I know, I know, unbelievable you even have to say it in this day and age, but that’s what’s going to happen). Those tears are about the stress of work – and juggling being a wife, a mum to little kids, and a PhD student – aren’t they? Well, trust me, it doesn’t stay like that forever. And, before you know it, you’ll have a whole new bunch of stuff to shed your tears over.
It was the wonderful husband’s question that got you crying at his 40th birthday dinner, wasn’t it? ‘Do you really have to do this PhD?’ he asked. It didn’t take too long to realise the correct answer was ‘No, I don’t have to do it’. The original motivation for it had all gone, and the struggle to make enough money, and find time for home and family and friends and just living life, had all become too much. Anyway, you might like to know that you pull out of the programme a couple of months after his birthday and you never go back. It is hard at first. It does feel like real failure. But you do come to terms with it over time – though you’ll have another wobble around your 50th birthday when you get all the journal articles, research data and draft chapters out of their dusty boxes. You’ll flick through the two-thirds completed thesis and feel a pang of regret that you never did finish it. But the feeling will pass – even if, six months on, you still haven’t destroyed the paperwork as you meant to that day!
But even the unfinished PhD will open some important doors. You move on from teaching business and management, convinced that God is calling you to become a counsellor. You begin the three-years of training necessary to qualify in exactly the same week that you start a new half-time job on a three-year contract. And you tell anyone who’ll listen just how amazing God’s provision and answers to prayer can be! But six months in, it’s all a bit less crystal clear than it had seemed. You see, the job you’ve taken on with the diocesan training team means you deal daily with people training for ordained ministry and you spend weekends away with them supporting and facilitating their residential training.
And it’s while you’re on the first of those training that weekends that things start to change. By now you’re not so sure about the counselling training. You had a conversation with one of the other Christians on the counselling course, and you both agreed that it felt a bit like ‘having to leave God outside the classroom door each week’. And you can’t find a way to live with that – in the new psychological lingo you’ve been learning, the cognitive dissonance is too great. And it’s these uncomfortable thoughts that go with you into that first training weekend. At the Sunday morning Eucharist as the residential draws to a close, you find yourself standing among all those training for ordained ministry as you receive bread and wine together. And in the stillness of the chapel, you sense God saying ‘I want you to be ordained as well’. Cue tears. A quick escape to your room, a hasty prayer on your knees, and a request for clarity about whether this is God’s call or your own daft thought process. Then you’re straight back downstairs to join the others for Sunday lunch as if nothing has happened! But everything has happened and life is never going to be the same again.
Fast forward eight years, and you’ll find yourself blogging about this on your More Thoughts, Vicar? blog under the name of LevyRector. Oh, I know you don’t believe me and you think I’m making it all up, but you might as well start getting your head around it now – you’re going to be a vicar before your 40s are out.
Of course, other things have changed by now as well – the little kids have become teenagers – the youngest is now taller than you. Oh, and husband, he carried on growing in his Christian faith and he’s now the musical worship leader in one of the parishes where you serve as the Rector.
So, yes, there’s lots of change ahead – lots of fun and plenty of rewards in this new life and ministry. Plenty of challenges too of course! I’ll leave you to discover all of those for yourself.
But I’m afraid there’s also real sadness ahead too. It’s good that you become a vicar because it means that you’re trained and on hand to take your brother-in-law’s funeral after his death by suicide just before his own 50th birthday. You do that (as a Church of England priest) in a Roman Catholic church in the far west of Ireland. Yes, I know, that definitely sounds made up, doesn’t it? But ask the local priest whose incredibly generous, ecumenical hospitality made it possible. Or ask one of the hundreds inside the huge, packed church or lining the streets outside. You’re going to bury D in a wind- and rain-swept cemetery on his mother’s birthday. Yes, really. I told you it was traumatic for all involved. And you’ll all still be reeling from it several years later. It’s a particularly long and tough journey of bereavement this one.
And so then you’ll hit 50. It starts well with a short family trip to Barcelona and a fabulous summer holiday in Italy. Daughter gets straight A* grades in her GCSEs and husband and son are both happy and content at school and sharing a love of sport and films. You’re tending to work very long hours so, after the summer and October half term breaks, you resolve to cut back and create a better work-life balance. And that works out quite well until husband’s 50th birthday weekend when you find yourself juggling family visitors and a crazy Sunday service schedule that leaves you wiped out on the energy front. But you do catch your breath when it’s all over and so you find yourself blogging your response to this daily prompt a day or two late, and making the most of the opportunity to tell 40-year-old-me what lies ahead.
But, then, knowing you – 40-year-old-me – you won’t want to know what lies ahead, because you love stepping out into the unknown and meeting and greeting the challenges and opportunities of life as they arise. And you’ve never been one to worry about change. In fact, you’re usually the one going looking for it while those around you like things just the way they are.
But still, there it is, I’ve lived that decade ahead that you’re now starting to wonder about. I guess there are some things I’d do differently if I had my time again, but I’ve no real regrets right now. I just hope it all works out for you. As for 50-year-old-me, I’m off to see what the next decade holds – I’ll let you know when I find out! Go well, God bless!