I have just returned from a week at Launde Abbey in the rolling hills of the Leicestershire countryside. It was a retreat for clergy of a certain age who had served for a good number of years and had quite a few more years to go until retirement. The title of this piece – Celebrating wisdom – was the theme of the retreat. Whilst I was there I read a bit bout the history of the place. It was an Abbey before the dissolution of the monasteries. The small chapel is the only part of the original building. A country house was built on the site. In the 1920s Launde Abbey was bought by a gentleman without consulting his wife. Not such a wise move. She did not like it as it was too remote and so the house and land was given to Leicester Diocese.
On the retreat we were given tasks to help focus our thinking about who we were. How did we get to where we are? Why are we where we are? What might the next five, ten years look like? Where is God in all this? As we discussed our work in small groups I was surprised by how many resonances I found with other people’s stories. The certainty of youth had given way to ‘fifty shades of grey’; ambition and drive had become more nuanced and subtle; speed and energy had mutated in slower reflective practices. That which had been important in the past was less so now. The word that is so often put with mid-life is ‘crisis’: a recognition of what we are losing or never achieved followed by a ‘foolish’ attempt to gain or re-gain our youth – a motorbike or sports car, a trophy wife, etc. I have no idea how old the gentleman was who bought Launde Abbey without consulting his wife but it did seem to me that this was a rash act and could well have been an early form of mid-life crisis.
It can be so easy to look back at missed opportunities and try to re-gain what we have lost but this retreat encouraged us to look at the bigger picture; past, present, and future. It is only when we look at the whole picture that we can see the patterns and themes of our life, the changing priorities, and those things which are most important. But throughout it all is the constancy of God, ever present with us and calling us to follow him.