Newness

As spring slowly surfaces, I find myself thinking about newness. My life is full of the new right now. Not as much as S.’s life, perhaps, as every day delights him with its surprises: toes! socks! bananas! that baby in the mirror! But this time is a chapter of newness in my life as well.

There is the wonder and fear and uncertainity of new parenthood. There is the challenge and excitement and anxiety of beginning work in the world of theology. Each day I am faced with my limitations, my insecurites, and my desire to feel sure of myself. When my world has so much new in it, I often feel unsteady, unsure of my footing. Who am I and where do I stand?

Part of my reflections on newness has been on the ambiguity of my work. I am a work-at-home mother, which means I cram a full-time job (caring for a child) and a part-time job (working on a new practical theology initiative) into days that are equally packed with making a home and running a household. But none of these vocations fits nicely onto a business card. Which makes it difficult at times to describe to people what I do, the madness that makes up my days. I don’t feel wholly stay-at-home mom, since I’m always half-working as I’m caring for S. as well. I don’t feel wholly theologian, since I don’t (yet) have the magical three letters following my name that would make the work of research, writing, or teaching official, though I do all three in various ways. And I certainly don’t feel wholly homemaker, since I barely manage to keep our lives running behind the scences (and F. does much of the work as well). So I waver between these tenuous identities, feeling neither-nor most days, even though I should try to embrace the both-and.

I feel more uncomfortable with the newness of these identities than with their ambiguity, though. I’ve never had a profession that could be easy summed up in cocktail party conversations, so I’m ok with having to explain myself in terms of work. (People always want to know what on earth a Catholic lay woman would do with the same MDiv degree as a priest anyway!) But being a new mother and a budding theologian means that the learning curve is steep, and I can never rest comfortably on my laurels. Just as soon as I think I’ve got one thing figured out, the game changes again. And I know this will be my reality for an indeterminate amount of time into the future, maybe even until my children are grown and a doctorate is complete. I try to live in the present and not give into the temptation to micromanage the future. But this daily challenge is made all the more difficult by the newness of it all. Am I naive?, I wonder. Have I completely missed the mark here? Can I comfortably assert myself in this way?

There is beauty in newness, I know. Or try to remember. It is the hope of melting snow and tender green shoots pushing up towards late winter sun. It is the astonishment in a baby’s unfolding discoveries of how the world works. It is the passing of a torch from one generation of writers and thinkers to the next, the mentoring of eager youth by the wisdom of experience. It is the renewal of rebirth, the new creation of resurrection, the triumph over cynicism and despair.

But newness is equally unsettling. The scream of a newborn at the shock of the world outside the womb. The tentative first steps whose wobbles inevitably lead to falls. The insecurity of love when it is fresh and untested. The unease at being the stranger in the midst of a close community. The disorientation of culture shock that exhausts at the same time as it invigorates.

Sometimes we seek newness and change; sometimes it is unexpectedly thrust upon us. But we usually long to pass through the newness to a more comfortable place of experience and understanding. Right now I am having to live into the newness of my life and its many vocations, without knowing when I will feel less like an amateur. There is no graduation day ahead of me that will mark the mastery of this chapter in my life. There is no promotion to a higher level in sight. There is only an invitation to live faithfully and to remember that this newness – of becoming a mother or becoming a theologian – is something I longed for in days past. God’s answer to prayer is sometimes exactly what we asked for, although we had no idea what it truly was that we were asking for.

The psalmist prays, “Create in me a new heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” My challenge this Lent is to embrace all this newness with a new heart. Some grey March days this is easier to do than others.

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