Somewhere deep in the dark recesses of our minds, we all know that our lives will most likely end one day. Along the way we have these moments when things change the trajectory of our lives. It might be a crisis, a death, a near death, a deployment, an ending to a relationship, or—well you get the point. These transitional moments have a way of redirecting our lives.
When we’re more immature we tend to think that our lives are completely in our own control. What isn’t in our control we work our butts off to try and secure. When we’re more immature, strength is the greatest goal because it seems to our young selves to be the best way to secure our situations. Our youthful selves tend to be all full of bluster and energy, scripting for ourselves what we think we want (even though our brains aren’t fully formed until we’re around 26, making some of our earlier life choices at least slightly suspect). Some of us go through our whole lives trying to control our lives and the environments around us. For some, when their skin finally starts to sag and their hair turn gray, the fight lingers with hair dyes, plastic surgery, tanning booths, and angry raging against the plight of aging. To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, it just comes to vanity.
Last week on Road Signs I played a new song from The Cold War Kids called “Love Is Mystical.” At first I just thought it was more 20-something sense-making of love and relationships (which I do appreciate), but as i pulled the lyrics to talk about them, I realized something else was going on.
“Living life with no need for the brakes / Something happens when I lean on my mistakes” says the song’s bridge. It isn’t often that our mistakes are held up as something worth leaning on (though the President famously claims that he’s never made mistakes). But people who are honest with themselves know that mistakes and regrets are just part of life. In fact, it seems to be the course of natural lives that that’s the only way we actually grow up.
It turns out that, according to NME, Nathan Willet of The Cold War Kids had been reading Falling Upward by a Franciscan priest named Richard Rohr. It’s a book about how our mistakes and the “falling” of our lives opens up so many new possibilities to us, and in fact lead us to insight. Willet said, “It's about supernatural love – looking for inspiration and meaning, surrendering to feeling, love calling out your name; that journey we must go on to find it.” That journey is how we grow and relax into our lives.
The chorus to the song, heard over and over, says, “Love is mystical / Love will break the chains / You might feel invincible / And you might be afraid / Light in darkness will show you the way / Give you the power to believe again.” This is not a failed attempt at making sense of romance, but a deep thought about what transforms our lives and the only real point of life—love. The trick to love for all of our striving and straining to be strong (invincible) is that love is so doggone vulnerable. And vulnerability is simply an unavoidable part of what we do to ourselves, as well as what happens to us—mistakes and disasters happen and it’s really out of our control. The truth is that our striving to be in control is what prohibits our growing up, the strength that we think we possess is most often the surest sign of just how weak we really are.
On the other hand, surrendering to love that is mystical may the way to discovering just WHO we really are. Our ultimate growing up won’t come from being super strong and invincible, but from laying aside all of the illusions we have about ourselves to embrace our truest, best selves.