The windows of his second-story office looked out over the quad. We were having what had become one of our regular afternoon philosophical chats.
Dr. L- was my mentor. He had taken me under his wing in my first term at college. Any class he offered, I took. Eventually he hired me to tutor his intro logic students.
The conversation turned to the school and to his gratitude for being a faculty member there. He said, “You know, this place makes a point of taking a chance on late bloomers.”
“Yeah, that’s great,” I thought. Then it slowly dawned on me. “Late bloomers…. Wait. You’re talking about me!”
Hearing myself described in that way sort of stung. Late bloomer? Somebody you have to take a chance on?
To be honest, I was a late bloomer. My high school grades had been mediocre, largely because my work ethic left a bit to be desired. Another first-term professor had told my then-girlfriend, “When he actually studies he can be sort of impressive.”
These days I self-identify as a late-bloomer. A perpetual late-bloomer. It’s a spirituality I can live with.
You see, sitting in that office with Dr. L-, I had initially heard the term “late-bloomer” as a description of somebody who had arrived at where he should be later than expected. Worse yet, I had needed help getting there. And I had thought about life as all about arriving on your own steam.
When you arrive, I thought, you would finally pass inspection. Be marked as acceptable, respectable, lovable.
The idea that you got to the platform behind schedule—and that you had needed remedial help to get there—meant that you hadn’t really arrived at all. You were sort of a fraud.
Achievement had been my strategy for arriving. The prize for getting to the arrival point would be self-acceptance. So the very thought that I was some sort of fraud could only mean one thing. Get more achievements to prove my worth.
How exhausting! My guess is that you’ve recognized this as the hamster wheel that it really is. The pursuit of achievements never ends. And if our self-worth hinges on achievement, we’ll always be stuck needing to prove it with yet another career success or award or round of applause.
And that is why it’s a relief to finally acknowledge that I’m a late bloomer. Just like everybody else.
So here’s what I mean now by “late bloomer.” That whole arriving business misses the mark. Not only about who we are as human beings. But also about who God is and how God relates to us.
We’re all a work in progress. And none of us gets anywhere all on our own. We are what philosophers and theologians call contingent beings. God is forever nurturing and supporting and mending us before we could even realize it. God’s love perpetually creates, sustains, and recreates us.
Life is about growing. Growing spiritually. Growing in our relationship with our Maker, with each other, and with ourselves. We are always not what we are going to be next. And that’s a very good thing. It’s how God designed us.
Christian Wiman put it like this. “If you believe at fifty what you believed at fifteen, then you have not lived—or have denied the reality of your life.” (Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss) I would add, if you’re really living, you won’t believe at sixty-three what you are believing at fifty.
As we grow, so too does our perspective on God. We are finite. God is infinite. God ceaselessly seeks to lean farther and farther our lives. With our assent, God stretches us to receive more and more of God’s inexhaustible love. To receive more of God.
We are all spiritual late bloomers, because there is always more of God to know and to receive. More in others to appreciate and more of ourselves to become as a result.
The story of Jesus’s transfiguration conveys this point. Peter, James, and John had been following Jesus for some time. By now, you would think that they had good fix on Jesus. And then, while they lingered atop a mountain, they saw who Jesus is in a startling new way. They hardly knew what to make of it. (Mark 9:2-9)
Eventually, a voice said to them, “Listen to him.” Just keep listening. There’s always more to learn. There’s always more to become.
We are all late bloomers.
Spot on Jake. Two points really spoke to me…..
1) “If our self-worth hinges on achievement, we’ll always be stuck needing to prove it with yet another career success or award or round of applause”.
2) “We are always not what we are going to be next”.
I played professional baseball for a while, 7 seasons in the minors, every level BUT the big leagues. after that was over i built me new identity on worldly success, just a different platform than baseball. In my mid 40s I reached the end of my rope, gave my life to Christ and built a new, and much sturdier, platform based on that relationship with Christ. His work on my life has been amazing.
Point #1 above is indeed an endless hamster wheel of fleeting fulfillment, Point #2 is gets you off the hamster wheel, once you let Christ into your life and begin a relationship with Him vs a casual acquintance.
Good post. – Shane
And, clearly I should proof read my comment before hitting the “submit” button.
You are not alone in this
Thanks for sharing this part of your story Shane. It sounds like our outwardly different paths have a whole lot in common when you look deep enough. Blessings!
I whole heartedly believe that I am a late bloomer but to say that we are all late bloomers is a stretch in my mind. There are certain others whose lives take off on account of their spiritually balanced life. I think their personal emotional maturity and empathy for others also lends to this balance. They aren’t necessarily late bloomers, I think. We are all perpetually blooming perhaps. Maybe I didn’t understand what you meant by being a late bloomer.
Regardless, thanks for sharing!
Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts, Maria. I have removed your phone number. Quite a few folks read these posts and the comments are open for all to see. Blessings.
Strikingly beautiful post. We’re all spiritual late bloomers because there’s always more of God to know and to receive. More in others to appreciate, more of ourselves to become. So much depth in this lesson Jake, and I love how inclusive it is! Personally, I wasn’t gifted in such a way to chase achievement but it’s encouraging to be reminded that I can listen more to Him knowing there’s always more to learn, always more to become. Delighted you’ve slipped “contingent being” into this lesson, you know how I like that! I’ll be back to re-read this probably many times, thanks so much!
I, too, Bishop Jake was (still am) a ‘Late Bloomer’. I felt I was called into ministry as a young person but was turned down by the Church initially, because of my lack of a formal education. Later in life, successful in business, I had to finally give in to God’s call – first to become a Franciscan Brother (SSF) and later, when I discerned a further calling; into the Anglican priesthood. Only after that – at the age of 54; I felt the call to be married to a widow with 2 young children. (I am intrinsically gay, but my future wife (and the bishop who married us) accepted our call to be married). Since that time, we have journeyed together in a tandem relationship with God and one another – a process in which we are both still learning – about LOVE – “The great love of God as revealed in the Son”.
I can’t say how Many times over my life those words “ daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more….”
have rung out in my head – ( I usually feel the Bishops finger imprints on my head too) I have always I guess, been positioned as A late and daily bloomer – I always thought of the words in regard to how my life is being moulded but until now never really thought about how it also applies to my understanding of God and how that too should daily increase
Great lesson – thanks
Thank you for this Jake. God’s peace. Be safe in this snowy weather.
This is a very insightful blog for me. I was the second youngest student in my high school and seminary classes…graduating from HS at 17 and seminary at 25, I often felt inadequate because of my age and lack of “experience” in the world that my seminary classmates had. And now, at age 60, beginning my Doctoral studies I have a much better understanding of age, experience, and life. This late bloomer (blooming after graduation) is blooming at the right time in Seminary again. Is it crazy that I will hopefully defend my dissertation and graduate before my 66th birthday? Some say yes and I often times do. However, I seem to be in the right spot, with the right experiences, and a willingness to integrate all of it as I study and write. Thank you, my friend!
From one late bloomer to the other, this is really good