by Caitlin Clendenin
My favorite season of the year is fall. I love when the days start getting cooler and I retire my tried-and-true iced coffee for a hot pumpkin-flavored latte. I love slipping on a sweater and taking long walks, enjoying the crisp air and colorful leaves.
For me, fall is the time of year when life seems to “settle in.” As a teacher, I am back in the flow of a regular work schedule. But fall is also a beautiful, yet sobering, reminder that life is finite: time passes and the cycle of life-death-life repeats again. Even the earth seems to proclaim that everything is passing.
It was on the first cool day of fall that I found myself sitting with a friend I hadn’t seen in five years. During those five years, she’d had two children. While giving birth to her second, her doctor discovered she had advanced ovarian cancer. As I sat in her backyard watching her children play, the trees overhead already announced that winter isn’t far off. I listened as she described what it was like to be approaching the winter of her life, though only in her mid-thirties.
Our conversation revealed three good ways we all can live this season well.
1. Make company with someone who is suffering
We don’t choose suffering, and we aren’t always able to anticipate when it will strike in our lives. Perhaps, the best way to learn how to bear suffering is to have witnessed it being endured well by a close friend. It is easy to only focus on ourselves, but there is great value in turning outward and being present to others.
Henri Nouwen once wrote that “every Christian is constantly invited to overcome his neighbor’s fear by entering into it with him, and to find in the fellowship of suffering the way to freedom.” True freedom from ourselves and our own preoccupations comes by way of this fellowship.
2. Practice gratitude
Author Melody Beattie said that gratitude can “turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” Gratitude helps us to see that what we have is exactly what we need, and even more.
God is enduringly faithful, and when we practice gratitude, we are allowing ourselves to notice and thank Him for that. I am making it my daily habit to choose to thank God for at least one thing at the beginning of each new day. This simple practice is showing me that my life is filled with gifts, great and small, that I might otherwise let go unnoticed.
3. Find joy in the present moment
When we are practicing compassion and gratitude, the natural consequence is finding joy in the present moment. Sometimes I become too focused on my to-do list and I miss the people and situations right in front of me.
There is truth to be sought, goodness to be embraced, and beauty to behold in this life. Each moment is teeming with the potential for true, everlasting joy. When we begin to accept it, we unknowingly attract others to do the same, for as St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.”
No time like the present
These practices are lasting, regardless of what season of life you may be in. There is no time like the present to begin living them, and to discover that, as Christians, life-death-life is our story, and it is a hopeful one full of promise.
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
— St. Teresa of Avila