Everything Old Is New Again (Or Is It the Other Way Around?)

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV)

I’m getting old. Well, not really old, I suppose, but I recently turned forty-nine. So now I’m middle-aged. And I suppose I’m having some sort of a midlife crisis — though it’s nothing like I had expected it might be.

One of the most difficult things for people to do is shift gears from thinking of themselves as being in one age-group to being in another. And living there, comfortably, before so many years pass by that we need to shift those gears again. My mother once told me that she still felt the same inside (she was middle-aged at the time) as she did when she was a little girl. I thought that sounded sort of pointless. Why go through all the trouble of growing up and getting older unless you changed into a newer, and more perfect, person?

September 11th of 2001 was my 39th birthday, so I sort of slipped into middle age at about the same time the century changed. Now we’re in a new century — a whole new millennium of the Christian Era — and it’s kind of disorienting. Not to mention demoralizing. Shouldn’t everything be new and perfect?

Everything isn’t new, but it is different than I remember it being when I was a kid. Mom was right; I still feel much the same inside, but the world outside is different. Not radically different from the past, but there has been a progression — in some ways happy and hopeful, in others scary and depressing. We live in a century dark with menace, yet we are the beneficiaries of many advances.

Why is it that so many of the people who supposedly believe in “progress” seem to see the world as if it were still fifty years ago? All we have to do is take a good look around us, and we can clearly see that it is so not fifty years ago. The old labels that, for years, so comfortably identified everything are out of date. By the time I came out as a lesbian, near the end of the Nineties, life for LGBT Americans was already changing. And though the essentials haven’t changed, being a Christian is in some ways a very different experience than it used to be.

Being an LGBT Christian — something many people are still having difficulty seeing as possible — really means moving into uncharted territory. We LGBT Christians have a tendency to feel that we’ve got so much painful baggage, we need to jettison everything from our pasts — however dear — to make a healing fresh start. But then we discover that it isn’t possible to make a whole new start in life. Our lives are very much an ongoing enterprise. Despite our best intentions to the contrary, there is much that continues to be painful, and we must keep reaching back into the past for sustenance.

The story of God’s people is the story of one fresh start after another. And no matter what happened to them, or how many mistakes they made, they found themselves reaching — again and again — back to the past. Reminding themselves how God called Abraham forth from the land of his birth to found a nation, and how God rescued them from Egypt, and led them through the wilderness to the Promised land. And, after the exile in Babylon, led them back again.

We have every right to the good things from our pasts, however mixed together they might be with pain. There were people who loved us, and showed us kindness, however cruel others (or even they) might have been at other times. We need every good gift God has given us on our ongoing journey, and because God saw fit to give it to us, it is ours to keep. We will make mistakes and stray again, but we need to remember how God has taken care of us, forgiven us, and given us chance after chance to carry on.

When I thought I had to leave everything behind and transform myself into an entirely different person, I was filled with anxiety. How on earth does one even begin such a task? I took the concept too literally, and nearly threw away many precious things — and people. Then I began taking a new stock of them, and reconciled with many people and experiences from my past. Now I go forward with a rich store — not totally healed, but healing.

My midlife crisis has become as much a matter of looking back, and making sense of the past, as it has of moving forward. I haven’t bought a jazzy red Miata or taken up with any sexy young chicks. And as I sift through my life so far and recognize how much of it I can keep, I am heartened. I’ve stopped goading myself to transform into a different person, and made peace with who I am. I feel that at last, the long process of coming out has become complete.

May we all go forth into this New Year with at least one resolution: to make peace. With God, with other people, with our pasts and with ourselves. The peace that we want to see in the world must, after all, begin with us. May the Lord bless us and keep us. We can be sure that, as “He” has all along, “He” will.