At the age of 52, my husband went back to school. At 54 he walked across the stage to receive his Master of Communications Management. He was easy to find in the crowd for his was the only grey head in an ocean of youthful colour.
Also, I spent the past year as a member of a discernment committee for a candidate for ministry for the United Church of Canada. This man, in his mid-30s, gave up a stable, lucrative job in IT to follow his calling to a field with no guarantee of stability and lower wages.
Both of these men, when it was not really necessary to do so, chose to renovate their lives. It would have been easier for them, in some ways, to stay with the comfortable and the predictable. But at a deep level, both knew the comfortable and predictable was no longer an option.
I watched them work through the steps of surviving a school/career renovation.
Lesson 1: Decisions, decisions
The day my husband stepped out the door to go to his first study week, he did so with both my hands on his back guiding (pushing?) him to the door. “Go!” I said. If I had not, it’s possible he would have turned around, said, “What was I thinking?” and stopped before he even started. Making the decision to undergo a major change in life is scary. Sticking with that decision might be even harder. He had a full-time job, he was responsible for the care of an aging mother, he coached hockey and baseball, he was a husband and a father. How would he fit everything in? His decision was not his alone; the family had to buy in. If finances are an issue, everyone must agree on where to save and how to spend. Compromise and openly talking out all the decisions helps to smooth out the process.
Lesson 2: Be patient
My ministry candidate friend had to wait for a year before he qualified to enter discernment. Then a full year of discernment is required. My friend, who is so gifted for the work he is choosing to do, had to fight the “Enough already! Can I not just get started?” feeling. Two years later he will begin his studies this fall. When we decide to overhaul our lives, we want everything NOW. But renovations don’t happen overnight. They are always inconveniently long. Be patient.
Lesson 3: Practise acceptance
My husband was away on one of his study weeks when my son’s team won the spring baseball championship. For two years, our weekends had to accommodate “Dad’s homework time.” My husband achieved the work/life/study balance exceptionally well, but his school time meant missed hockey games, rugby games, and even Father’s Day. When renovations are underway, life doesn’t proceed according to the normal plan. Strive to make things work as well as possible, but to accept what happens.
Lesson 4: Appreciate mayhem
My ministry candidate friend had to move to a new city to undertake his studies. His new apartment wasn’t ready for a week after he had to move out of his old one, so all his belongings went into storage. With the career change, the financial change, and the move, his life was in turmoil. Mayhem is unavoidable, so the only thing to do is to sit down wherever you can and drink wine out of beer glasses.
Lesson 5: Change involves an emotional roller coaster
Both of these men in my life began the change with apprehension. Is this the right thing to do? They both wondered. Then came excited anticipation. Then outright fear. Then bravery. Reassurance. Misgivings. Excitement. Desperation. Joy. My husband’s graduation day was filled with pride and joy. The day that our congregation celebrated the completion of the discernment process for my friend, he wept with joy at the front of the church. Ride the emotional roller coaster and enjoy the view.
Lesson 6: Look for the joy
Those little glimpses of joy along the way keep us going. When the discernment committee met for the last time, the church choir was practising in the next room. As we signed the papers to send my friend off to theological college, the choir’s version of “The Hallelujah Chorus” could be heard through the wall. Coincidence? Perhaps. Joyful? You bet. Look for the joy.
Lesson 7: Friends help you through it all
You could do it alone, but why? It’s a long drive from Hamilton to Ottawa, so my husband cut the trip in half by staying with friends in the GTA. When he finished his study weeks in Hamilton, he climbed into the car with anticipation of a good meal, a bottle of Merlot and some relaxation. Friends make coping with everything just a little bit easier.
Every renovation is renewal
That is something we all need so that we don’t become stagnant. When the current of life stirs up the stagnant waters, just hang on and ride those rapids for a while. Just know that after every set of rapids awaits a calm pool.