Nine years ago, Oscar-nominated film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, debuted. The story was certainly curious. The main character was born as an elderly person and then aged in reverse over the duration of the movie. When he was biologically still a child, he looked like a senior citizen, and by the time he was a senior citizen, he looked like a teenager. He came into the world unable to control his body, and as he aged/became younger, he died as an infant, unable to control his body again. Although the process was reversed, the stages of life are not all that dissimilar to the stages we face – dependency, increased control over the self, and, if we live long enough, increased dependency as we age.
I have had many conversations with parishioners about this process. “Getting old is for the birds!” they often tell me. Once you have lived the majority of your life in relative independence, wrapping up your life with a return to dependency is a scary, frustrating, sometimes mentally debilitating process. In my conversations with parishioners, the common thread seems to be about the mental, emotional, and spiritual anguish created by the lack of control that illness and aging creates.
I have realized recently though how the aging process does not create a lack of control. The aging process simply highlights the reality of life all along – that we are not in control. We like to create illusions of control throughout life – how we spend money, what jobs we take, what we eat and wear, and whom we love. But the reality is that our jobs are highly informed by our vocations – that calling that God enables each of us to do through our gifts and talents. Our money is all a gift from God – a trust we are given of which we are to be faithful stewards. What we eat and wear is highly correlated to circumstances out of our control – class, race, and nationality. Even who we love depends greatly on the paths we take – what geographic radius we live our lives in and who God brings into those paths.
Of course, all of that does not ignore the agency God gives us and the work we do in gratitude for our many blessings. We are to be good stewards. But our reminder, especially in Lent, is that we are just that: stewards, not creators. Our collect this Sunday was a tremendous reminder of that: Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP, 218) What might you change this week, or what might you do differently in prayerful recognition of from where our control, care, and defense comes? I look forward to hearing your reflections!