by Joanie Butman
During our annual Christmas gathering, my family threw a surprise birthday party for me, complete with a life-size cutout in a sequined dress with wine in hand, along with handheld ‘Joanie faces’ people waved upon my arrival. You can’t imagine anything more horrifying than seeing a sea of your face when you enter a room. And that life-size cutout seemed to follow me wherever I sat. She now resides in my living room and continues to startle me every time I walk by. Another cutout is from a long-ago Halloween when I dressed up as a nun. For anyone who experienced a Catholic-school education like mine, the vision of a lady in black with a ruler in her hand can still evoke terror. She is installed in my kitchen along with her motion-activated voiceover stating, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you!” An excellent reminder as I reach for dessert, and to stick with my resolution to lose the five pounds I gained over the holidays.
These two competing cutouts illustrate an internal battle that has been waging for as long as I can remember: party girl Joanie vs. obedient Joanie. It’s the classic devil/angel on your shoulder cartoon struggling for control. Anyone who knows me can testify as to who wins most of those battles. Party girl Joanie has had a good run. In reality, neither presents a wise choice – extremes rarely do. Listening to good-time Joanie led me to people and places I had no business being. Listening to her counterpart left me feeling doomed from the start because I could never satisfy her list of shoulds and should nots. In fact, just as it did in Catholic school, thinking you’re on the fast track to hell can lead to raucous behavior – Might as well enjoy yourself on the way down, was my thinking.
Admitting to turning 60 is anathema to many, but for me it’s miraculous – and that has nothing to do with any health challenges. The mere fact that I survived my teens and 20’s defies all odds. So, turning 60 is definitely something to celebrate. Personally, I find aging liberating. There’s an element of truth to being older and wiser. Intellectually, I may still be lacking, but mentally and spiritually I’ve achieved a level of wisdom that can only be acquired through time and experience. The wisest thing I’ve learned is that I no longer have to listen to those competing voices, though I admit they are hard to shake. Both whisper false promises and have proven time and again to be untrustworthy and self-serving. Even so, evicting them continues to be a life-long process. I know I’m not alone in saying the biggest obstacle to any physical or spiritual growth has always been getting out of my own way. I now have a physical reminder of that fact as everywhere I turn, there I am.
So how do I get away from me? By surrendering to the Light. Here is where I look to the Wise Men I discussed last week for inspiration. I did some research about why they were called “Wise Men.” Though there is much speculation and historically-based suggestions, no one can say with any certainty exact details of their age, origin, schooling or even their names. They could have been named Mo, Larry and Curly for all we know. What makes them Wise Men in my mind is simply that they discovered the Light and were willing to surrender everything (their comfort, belongings, reputation, time) to follow it. I pray that someday I will be remembered as wise for the same reason - not for the length of my life but for how I chose to live it.
I don’t need to get on a camel to escape those competing voices in my head, though I do plan a symbolic bonfire to dispose of the cutouts. God plants a piece of Himself in each of us. I need to discover and tap into that Light as the Wise Men did and listen to His still small voice. His promises are always trustworthy with our best interests in mind. Nevertheless, surrender is difficult because old hurts, habits and hang-ups never stop clamoring for attention and continue to be successful when I’m not diligent. Surrender needs to be a daily, if not minute-by-minute, exercise. Though never easy, choosing to discover and follow His Light will always lead us on the right path regardless of age. I will close with another piece of wisdom I’ve learned over my sixty years: it’s never too late to make that choice.