An Unconventional Way of Celebrating 60
I recently turned 60. Months before the date, my loving family and friends began asking me how I wanted to celebrate: a party, a weekend with friends, a trip, etc. Each was fun in its own way, and I considered them all. But when I finally gave myself permission to stop and consider—apart from any of these ideas—what my wish would be, I realized that what I longed for was something very different. I longed for time to be still, to listen for the voice of God; I longed for renewal.
The seeds of this birthday wish were planted eight years ago when I began my work as a hospital chaplain. As the sole Protestant on the Spiritual Care staff at a Catholic hospital, I learned—and continue to learn—so much from the godly Sisters and priests with whom I have the privilege to work. Perhaps most impressive for me early on was this: the Sisters were obligated by their communities to designate time each year for retreat. This, I must emphasize, was separate from their vacation days. It was considered part of the work; a requirement for sustenance and growth and fidelity in their vocation. How enlightened! The little bit I have tasted over the years of the benefits of retreat have only served to make me want more, but lacking a community or authority mandate….it hasn’t happened. Here, in the context of a milestone birthday when I felt free to choose whatever I wanted, was my opportunity.
I took the time to pray until this longing metamorphosed into a concrete plan that would actually serve as a birthday celebration.
As I prayed, the steps became clear.
1. Where—The meeting place would be a local retreat property run by the Sisters of Mercy.
2. Who to Lead—The leader I asked was a woman I’ve long admired: a Christian counselor and godly, prayerful woman who passed her 60th birthday milestone nearly 20 years before mine.
3. Whom to Invite—I felt strongly that I wanted to spend the day with women, but didn’t want to exclude men—especially those in my family, from the celebration. The solution was to spend the day with sisters, and in the evening, have a dinner celebration in our home with spouses, etc., included.
4. The biggest challenge—Do I invite only my friends with whom I share a faith? My like-minded sisters? Or, with full disclosure, do I invite all of my closest friends and let them decide whether or not to come to the Christian retreat and dinner, or just the dinner. In the end, that’s what I did, trusting the Lord to sort it out.
Following is an excerpt from the invitation that I sent to my family and friends:
I’m turning 60. As I’ve considered the options for marking such a milestone I realize that what I want most of all is time to be still; to trace the movement of God in my life over these past 60 years, and to re-tune my focus for whatever is ahead.
I want to know that this adventure of trying to live for God will only deepen and grow. I want to defy that still, small voice within me (and the huge, monstrous, deafening voice within culture) that relegates these years to a post-peak descent, sprinkled with occasional perks and graces. I want to know that this temporal existence—even and especially NOW—has the potential to explode beyond the boundaries I have drawn with my own subtle but potent (and fear-fed) values to stay safe, stay in control and look good while you’re doing it (with, of course, only a modicum of success at any of them). And I KNOW that “explosion” can happen because we follow Jesus—the unpredictable, uncontrollable, unsafe incarnation of love and goodness and truth and freedom.
So that’s what I want to focus on, but I don’t want to do it alone.
I want to have a “retreat” day. I want to invite my sisters and a few close friends…..
To my surprise, of the 15 women I invited, only one declined the retreat day.
It felt like heaven. Sitting in this holy, prayer-soaked retreat center with the women who mean the most to me in the world; knowing each one had worked hard to wrest this time from their busy schedules. For my Christian sisters, this was familiar territory. For those who may not be practicing Christians…what joy to see them all together!!! And, how brave of them to accept and open themselves to this new experience.
The morning began with Jessie—our facilitator—reading a well-chosen Scripture, inviting us to respond, then sending us out to enjoy the beautiful grounds in silent contemplation. That order was repeated throughout the day.
My greatest gift of the retreat:
I had stated in the invitation that I wanted to “trace the movement of God in my life.”
Little did I realize that so much of that that movement would be reflected in the faces of those women in the room.
My only complaint:
One day was not enough. Sharing in group time and over our meal was so sweet; sharing quiet together, even sweeter. We all left, I think, longing for more.
Perhaps that longing had something to do with the verse that Jessie chose to form the substance of our meditation that day. I offer it to you now:
Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.