Lauren Winner’s book Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis came out nearly three years ago and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since. (Can we pause to acknowledge the emotional baggage the phrase meaning to read holds for me? Hope, anticipation, and a whole lot of guilt.)
Two things conspired to bump it to the top of my to-read stack: Winner’s new book Wearing God hits shelves March 31, and the whispers I’ve heard about it from well-connected friends have been effusive. And then there was last month’s National Readathon Day. If it had been the tiniest bit sunny I would have dragged the family out for a Saturday hike, but it was 33 degrees and rainy (the WORST combination) so we built a fire, poured giant mugs of coffee, and cozied up with our books. Still was mine.
Still won’t make my list of favorite spiritual memoirs. I skimmed quickly through a few lackluster chapters, looking for the good parts. But the good parts are good, and I found myself taking copious notes.
One of my favorite chapters was short—just two pages. In it, Winner shares a conversation she had with a friend:
My friend Ruth’s mother once told her, “Every ten years you have to remake everything.” Reshape yourself. Reorient yourself. Remake everything.
Sometimes the reshaping is not big, not audible; not a move, a marriage, a child, a heroic change of course. Sometimes it is only here inside, how you make sense of things. Sometimes it is only about who you know yourself to me.
I found myself quickly scanning the landscape of my own life. Was she right?
Ten years ago I was smack in the midst of a brutal two-year period. The stuff that’s easier to say about that time: we had a house we couldn’t sell, we had a string of expensive and rattling car wrecks, I had a yet-to-be-discovered allergy that was turning my face into something out of Phantom of the Opera. At no point during those two years did I sleep through a whole night.
And ten years before that I was a teenager, in high school. I was remaking (making?) myself, all right, but weren’t we all when we were sixteen?
But there was plenty of action in the intervening times, too. 21 was a formative year that fundamentally changed me. At 31, I went to counseling and spent the year taking things apart, so I could put them back together in a stronger, healthier shape.
Ruth’s mother isn’t wrong, but my pattern has been every five years, not ten.
When I was younger, I thought “remaking yourself” was the stuff of fashion magazines. But my college prof gave me a framework for this remaking way back on the first day of sophomore year. He explained to a roomful of 20-year-olds that if we felt a little undone, it was because we were supposed to. Freshmen think they know everything. Then you begin to study, and realize: you know nothing. The work of the freshman and sophomore years is to crack your worldview apart; the work of the junior and senior years is to put everything back together. You emerge intact, stronger, humble. Or that’s the idea.
You break things, you put them back together. That’s how you remake everything.
Sometimes you break things on purpose so you can reassemble them, stronger this time. Sometimes they are broken for you, and you have to put the pieces back together.
Sometimes the pieces rearrange themselves so quietly, so gently, that you don’t even notice until the shape is nearly complete, and you suddenly realize that you are no longer who you knew yourself to be back then.
Looking back, I’m the person I’ve always been—and yet, I’m not the same. Here inside, how I make sense of things—that has changed dramatically with a regular, recurring five-year rhythm. If the pattern holds, I’m in a year of change right now.
And if the pattern holds, five years from now, when I look back on today, I’ll say about my present self: I’m still me, but I’m not the same.
Maybe the reshaping will be big; maybe it will only be here inside, how I make sense of things.
Maybe it will only be about who I know myself to me.
Do you resonate with the idea of “remaking yourself,” or do you think it’s crazy? Has it been every five years for you, or two, or twenty? I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments.
Books mentioned in this post:
Of all Winner's books, this one has the lowest rating on Goodreads. I understand why: there are more than a few lackluster chapters breaking up the good parts. But the good parts are so good this book is well worth the effort, especially if you've resonated with Lauren's previous works.More info →