I am an enneagram type 4. This won’t mean a lot to many people but if you know, you know. I have big feelings. So, when a year draws to close and a new one begins, I fall into a reflective mood.
Perhaps I should backtrack a little.
In the last few months I have said goodbye to the part of London I have lived in for 31 years (on and off). I said goodbye to the school I have worked in for 10 years (on and off). Our home has been packed up, cleaned and left behind. A new home has welcomed us. Unpacking has taken place.
I began therapy. I broke up with my therapist. My husband began a new job, we were welcomed into a new community and Christmas happened. I started having anxiety. Like a cage wrapped around my chest.
Alongside all this, I found a shoebox.
A shoebox of photos. Photos from 20 years ago. Photos of a teenage me. Photos of a girl heading full steam into adulthood. Laughing, drinking, trying out new hairstyles. Falling in love. Dreaming. A girl confronted with the mess of divorce. A girl embarking on a new phase of life.
With all that has happened in the last few months, perhaps it is understandable that I am feeling tender towards that girl. Nostalgic for a time when all my friends loved within 5 miles of me and we had endless days to talk, dream, laugh and get inspired.
But I think it is more than that. I am a little bit lost at the moment. I know this feeling well. When we headed off to theological college, it was similar. My compass points weren’t quite in order. Infertility had robbed my security in the future. I remember the thrill of a new beginning but I also remember the fear of being the same person in a different situation and there were no safety nets for me. No people who knew me.
Feeling lost doesn’t frighten me anymore. I know that this will pass. The truth is, the pain of this season will hopefully bear more fruit as I learn more about myself and become comfortable with not having all the answers. Being lost may lead me to wander into something new.
As the new year arrives, I am making no resolutions. In the past, my resolutions often stemmed from a lack of self-care. I didn’t love my body so I told myself I needed to change it. That it was to blame. I didn’t speak kindly to myself. I was my own harshest critic so when any further criticism came it validated those thoughts. ‘Of course I don’t have children, why would I? I can’t even look after a cat without losing it’.
But this year, I am not looking to change who I am. Instead, I want to know this person made in God’s image. I want to understand myself better. I want to honour teenage me and be kinder to myself. I am the same person I was last year. My body got me to this place so I will thank it. My mind got me into some excellent conversations so I will continue to stimulate it. My heart continued to push me into deeper relationships and I will honour it by loving with unabashed vigour.
May the coming year bring each one of you new opportunities to discover the person you were created to be.
I will see you on the flipside my friends. I will be the one with the shoebox, a box of tissues, a cosy blanket and willing ear to hear your stories.
Hello Sheila, I came across your website today, as the year has begun again and I am in yet another phase of grief and hopelessness. Thank you for your words. I am 58 , married for 34 years and involuntarily childless. It is a hard and lonely road. This season has been made worse by our stand in (female!) vicar. I lead the village choir and was participating in the Christingle Service. The vicar chose a long, torturous Isaiah reading – the story of “barren” Elizabeth. Already surrounded by joyous children and their families, for my husband and I to sit and listen to an antiquated reading using the word “barren” around 9 times plus God “lifted her disgrace in society” was unbearable and insulting. It has tainted further for us what in any case is a difficult season, particularly as we have lost all our remaining relatives in the last two years so are quite alone. We raised a complaint (anonymously) about the reading via a churchwarden and received a brief message back saying the vicar did not think she could pick and choose from the Bible and some of it makes uncomfortable reading, but she regretted any distress caused. I have written a 6 page note to explain how such a reading affects a childless person and two friends have read it. But I have not yet sent it to the vicar because we did not want to be even more anxious over the Christmas period over her response and fear we will just be trodden down anyway. When even the vicar is unkind the world looks bleak. As a childless couple we now see our friends becoming grandparents and the pain of not “belonging” resurfaces again. We feel bruised and battered on all sides and life seems not worth living, not only because of lack of children but because of lack of understanding, empathy, kindness and inclusion from others. Thanks for listening. A
Hi Adele, I am so sorry you had such a tough Christmas and particularly in a place which should feel safe. I think it is really good that you’ve given such thought into how you can help your Vicar to be more aware and empathetic. I hope that this new year will bring you some encouraging experiences where people actually “get it” and you feel less alone. Thank you so much for getting in touch. S x