Unfolding Life

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By Dr. Ed Gray

My wife and I recently spent a Friday date night at home watching the latest Downton Abbey movie.  She did not expect to cry. Thanks to Rhonda’s interest through the years, we watched all the seasons and the prior movie. Without that context, I would have no appreciation for all the characters, personalities and storylines that unfolded during “A New Era.”

As a counselor I listen to people’s stories. In this movie there would be a career full of counseling for me. So as not to be a spoiler for those who have not seen the movie, I will speak in general terms of the unfolding of these characters’ lives in their roles as parents, spouses, sons and daughters and workers.

Parenting is challenging. Our expectations for our children do not always work out the way we hope. Adjusting to what happens with love, grace and acceptance is far more important than getting the outcomes we imagined.

Marriage is hard.  We continue to grow and change through the seasons of our life. There are joys, disappointments and strengths that come from weathering storms of life together. Love that resists temptations and supports each person’s growth in the marriage is worth far more than status and wealth.

Tragedies happen.  Health and career can be unpredictable. Some things are out of our control. How we turn to one another and support one another makes outcomes bearable.

Death is not the end of the story.  Life continues to unfold with the legacy of our lives and relationships.

There is joy and hope in new beginnings. In life we must learn to move forward in new roles, embrace opportunities and new relationships. Each new stage of our lives becomes “our new era.”

People make mistakes. Some are really bad. Despite the choices people make, most people are doing the best they can, even when it appears inadequate. “May our judgements be gentle” is wisdom we must use when it is so tempting to be harsh when we do not understand the context of a person’s situation.

There is an unfolding.

As I reflect on the movie, I am struck by the unfolding of my life and the lives of the people that come through my office. I am humbled to walk with them in their pain and difficulty. The focus may be on events of the past, current realities, and/or hopes for the future.  We live this side of heaven. There is our storyline to be lived out that is not yet fulfilled. Life is challenging and the daily choices we make are significant.  

When I am hurt, mad, depressed, or anxious in a relationship or situation, the central question for me is, “Who do I need to be in this moment?” It may be a simple choice for me individually or it may be in the challenging context as a parent, spouse, brother/sister, worker or neighbor. I need to calm down and focus on myself. I need to act intentionally, not simply react out of my raw emotions. Coercing others to meet my needs and expectations is the wrong focus. The wisdom of the flight attendant saying, “In case of the loss of cabin pressure. . . put your own mask on before you assist another person,” seems most appropriate before I speak. I cannot say how many times I reacted and failed to follow that advice in my personal and professional life.  

How can the Spirit direct my thoughts, words and choices so its fruit reflects my attitudes and choices? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control become a “go to” template for my choices. If I choose the Spirit’s fruit I have a better chance of hope, freedom, and integrity in relationships instead of selfishness and the pain of disconnection with others.

May we all better choose to live in the fruit of the spirit in the unfolding of our lives as parents, spouses, siblings and co-workers. The best of our storyline is yet to unfold.  (Galatians 5:22-23)

Dr. Ed Gray is Professor Emeritus of Counseling at Harding School of Theology. He is the author of 12 Conversations materials facilitating marriage relationships and navigating different stages of life.  


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