I love Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s musings in her book, Gift from the Sea — she asks a great question!
But his shell — it is simple; it is bare, it is beautiful. Small, only the size of my thumb, its architecture is perfect, down to the finest detail. Its shape, swelling like a pear in the center, winds in a gentle spiral to the pointed apex. Its color, dull gold, is whitened by a wash of salt from the sea. Each whorl, each faint knob, each criss-cross vein in its egg-shell texture, is as clearly defined as on the day of creation. My eye follows with delight the outer circumference of that diminutive winding staircase up which this tenant used to travel.
My shell is not like this, I think. How untidy it has become! Blurred with moss, knobby with barnacles, its shape is hardly recognizable anymore. Surely, it had a shape once. It has a shape still in my mind. What is the shape of my life?~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh
It’s my birthday month and I tend to be more reflective in February than in others. It’s also the beginning of a new decade, one might call it the beginning of “elderhood.” Lindbergh’s question, “What is the shape of my life?” resonates deeply but also stymies me a bit. Maybe as a former math teacher, I’m looking for a single geometric name for that shape.
My early professional life was a series of /\/\/\/\ mini-hill formations as we moved every few years. I would gain momentum in one school district as a teacher, as a respected leader in the classroom, and then move, having to start all over. I did that more times than I care to count. And I remember clearly the day when my husband and I discussed yet one more move and how I wanted that move to be the last one.
The Vertical Climb
We settled in for 16 years – one neighborhood, one school district, and clearly my professional life expanded in an upward direction, as a teacher, assistant administrator, administrator. I experienced what some might call the classic vertical climb.
Flower Petals – a favorite shape
But my life is much more than my vocation. In those professional years, I was also wife, mother, minister’s wife, daughter, sister, friend. I valued how the circles of my life overlapped at times, so the shape might have been then the petals of a flower, distinct, connected.
The Spiral Shape
The spiral tendency within each one of us is the longing for and growth toward wholeness. Every whole is cyclic, and has a beginning, a middle, and end. It starts from a point, expands and differentiates, contracts and disappears into the point once more. Such a pattern is that of our lifetime and may well be that of our universe.Jill Purce quoted in Psychology Today
Some suggest our lives are most like a spiral. Today that seems appropriate as I think about Lindbergh’s words, walk along the gulf, and notice the swirls captured in the calcified exoskeletons broken and beautiful on the beach. Spirals move forward and upward (or downward depending on your perspective). They return to what was the starting place but yet not quite so … farther along the curving path.
So my life might be cyclical, spiralized. Those mini-hill formations of my early years did not begin and end at the same place each time. Instead with each teaching placement, I grew as an educator, always working on my craft, finding ways to meet the diverse needs of students more effectively, more efficiently. And that period time when climbing the vocational ladder, I was not continuously moving upward, but also working round and round as not every step was vertical. There were clearly cycles of confidence and despair, of strength and weakness, of insight and questions.
The Cycles of Life
Now, elderhood. What shape will my life take in these next days, months, years? How does the cycle change? Clearly raising children and loving on grandchildren is a cycle, a spiral, with similarities and distinct differences. Our relationships with our parents as children, young adults, then as older adults finding our roles reversed represents a cycle of life, growth, and change. Transitioning from vocation to retirement, and then to that extended period of time beyond retirement is a cycle that warrants attention.
“For in him we live and move and have our being.”Acts 17:28a NIV
So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.James 1:16-18 MSG
One thing is clear, even as I approach this new decade, my life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3), that in Him I live, move, and have my being (Acts 17:28), and this spiral is ever moving towards the day of redemption, for I am His new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
How about you? What shape is your life? I’d love to hear from you!