An End with No New Beginning

By Sara Mannen

For three years, the pace of my life was the equivalent of sprinting a marathon. I attended seminary full-time, wrote a thesis, worked three different part-time jobs, and cared for my daughters and husband. A couple of months ago, I crossed my finish line by receiving my hood and diploma. Just as inertia keeps moving a sprinter forward when they suddenly stop, I felt the whiplash of the sudden stop of the pace of my life. I cried on the way home from graduation. Not tears of joy or relief, but tears of sadness and grief.

I have reached the end of this race and there is nothing new on my horizon. No new mountain to ascend. No exciting ministry job. No idea of what my future might hold in the academic world. Instead of a new beginning greeting this end in my life, I stand on the edge of the abyss of what if? What if my corporate banking job is what I will do for the rest of my life? As I make these fears concrete by putting them on paper, the tears are starting to flow. What if I never get to teach in any capacity? What if I started down the road of following what I believe to be the Lord’s calling on my life to quit halfway? What if this is the end of the road for me?

As I stare into the depth of this unending abyss and feel the fears reverberate through the fibers of my soul, I am struck by my desire to escape the current monotonous nature of my life. Escapism doesn’t always manifest itself in a dreamy-eyed sigh longing for the world to come, but in the yearning for a new life now. While my hands become dirty from the filth of the money that I handle every day, I wrestle with the seeming unimportance of my job. My soul is discontented, and I wonder if my heart is as covered in grime as my hands. My job is tedious, boring, and menial. My fears are a reflection of my desire for a new adventure. A new direction in my life. Did Christ come to this earth and live a poor man’s life, laboring as a carpenter until he started his ministry so that I could have the career I desire? The Maker of the universe spent most of his time on this earth working an average, menial job. Why am I so terrified of the possibility that this might be my life too?

Ironically, as I struggle with no new beginning in my life, part of my thesis addresses what I really need. I need a new tropos (mode) of being, not an escape. Maximus the Confessor’s theology of deification or theosis states humanity’s central need in salvation is the restoration and healing of human nature: “For he did not come to debase the nature which he himself, as God and Word, had made, but he came that that nature might be thoroughly deified which, with the good pleasure of the Father and the co-operation of the Spirit.”[1] Christ did not become human to “abrogate the constitutive energy of the assumed nature. . . but he shows in both the newness of the modes [tropoi] preserved in the constancy of the natural logoi.”[2] Humanity needed a restoration of its nature to a new mode of being, not a destruction of its nature. The incarnation and the salvation Christ accomplished from his birth to death is not an escape from our humanity, including that which seems monotonous and unimportant, rather, it is a redirection to a new tropos (mode) of being human. I must learn a new mode of being. A mode of being that is content with whatever trial or struggle life brings—even if that trial is something as trivial as being stuck in a corporate job.

While in prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer elegantly states this in a letter to Eberhard Bethge. Bonhoeffer is comparing Christ’s resurrection with other mythological resurrections:

The difference between the Christian hope of resurrection and the mythological hope is that the former sends a man back to his life on earth in a wholly new way . . . The Christian, unlike the devotees of the redemption myths, has no last line of escape available from earthly tasks and difficulties into the eternal, but, like Christ himself, . . . he must drink the earthly cup to the dregs, and only in his doing so is the crucified and risen Lord with him, and he crucified and risen with Christ.[3]

Bonhoeffer lived these words through to his death on the gallows. The Trinity’s work in our lives through the Spirit uniting us to Christ and enjoying the Father’s love does not always provide us with a completely new life (for the sake of clarity, I am not discussing our spiritual life which is renewed and redeemed). There is no reset button, but as Bonhoeffer says we are sent back to earth in a “wholly new way.” The life, death, and resurrection of Christ heal my human nature and provide a new mode or way of living the life I have right now. Not a life that is constantly looking forward to something new or better. For me, I must drink the dregs of my earthly life which means that I will live in content and joy even at my corporate job while I stand at the edge of the unknown. This is my new tropos as I face an end with no new beginning.

[1]. Maximus the Confessor, Opuscule 7, 77C.

[2]. Maximus the Confessor, Difficulty 5, 1052A. The term logoi is what Maximus uses to indicate nature.

[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, New Greatly Enlarged Edition, ed. Eberhard Bethge (New York: Touchstone Book, 1997), 366–37.