I finally found a writer's group I can fully vibe with.
They're local Chicagoland people who meet every Wednesday night, and then afterwards they usually go out to Lou Malnatti's for some late night hangout (as one does in this area.)
My first meeting there, there were two poems written from the perspective of older women basically lamenting their lost younger years - meaning, they did not understand what they had at the time. I've been thinking deeply about what they had to share. I was very grateful to hear what they had to say, and it made me pause and wonder if I was taking my own years for granted.
I've never really bought into the idea embedded in more conservative forms of evangelicalism that your younger years should be centered on finding a spouse and finding a way to settle down. I've also never bought into the idea that you should spend your time living it up (or YOLOing, as the hip millennials would say.) I think, really, the point of any life is to find that we are loved and created with intention by a God who wants to be there for us.
I have a Raymond Carver poem as my wallpaper on my computer desktop. It's called "Late Fragment." It reads:
"And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth." (source)
He wrote that as one of his final poems as he was facing a cancer diagnosis, and he was filled a sense of thankfulness for his life.
It's from that perspective that I honestly say that I don't believe in wasted years, or even wasted time (as far as our experiences are concerned.) I think ultimately, in some mysterious way, when we position ourselves to receive what life throws at us with open hands, anything can become a sort-of lived grace. A common Rabbinic Jewish teaching is to use everything in our lives as teaching tools, including our mistakes or things we consider wasted.
When we do this, we realize life is about owning our mistakes and attempting to move forward. It's about learning to love God and our neighbors. It's about paying attention to what God is communicating to us day in and day out.
Frederick Buechner once wrote, "Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” (From Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation)
I think we've been sold a bill of goods whenever there's an idea set before us of what an ideal life looks like. God is no less present in the world of a Walmart cashier than He is in the world of an entrepreneur.
When can call ourselves beloved, in both the specific and broad senses of the term, we free ourselves to see how God works in our own worlds. And, more importantly, we reflect that gift to other people. That's ultimately what makes life all the more richer: connection.
It is being beloved that we can enjoy life, and it is through viewing others as beloved that we can sense God too.
I don't know how I'll feel about this philosophy as I get older, but I figure anything that sticks close to what Jesus would teach is a pretty safe bet. I'm a huge fan of His, anyways.