“Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him…”How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” – John 3:1
Every once in a while, something (or someone) happens to us that forces us to confront everything we thought we knew. We awake as if from a dream. We see the compromises we made, sometimes for decades, to meet other people’s expectations or to protect our status or position, or just because we didn’t know any better.
The wake-up moment may be the realization that you’re in an abusive relationship. Or that your work is hurting others or killing you. Or that you’re an addict, hurtling toward catastrophe. Or that you’ve been dead wrong about your politics or your religious convictions. Or that you’re gay, or in a body that doesn’t match your spirit’s gender, and you need to come out or you’ll die.
We used to call it a midlife crisis, but the radical re-orientation of self to calling can happen at any age.
Nicodemus experienced just such a crisis. And you know what? It’s embarrassing to have a midlife crisis. Even if we’re punch-drunk on new love, our natural conservatism fights against our impulse to blow up our lives publicly. It’s why Nic went to see his man Jesus in the middle of the night. He was awake to something altogether new and utterly compelling, but that doesn’t mean he was any braver. What would people think of him? Getting a platonic crush on this scruffy, anti-establishment rabbi–Nicodemus! A respectable Pharisee! He would be a laughingstock.
And yet. Could he really go back to the way things were, knowing now how things could be?
We have to evaluate our whole lives in the wake of our waking-up. It will cost us. It may cause us to leave behind our work, our marriage, our mortgage, our political party. It’s a painful process, including one that may cause distress to others as we live into God’s calling. But there’s no going back into the womb of the status quo.
Jesus, we won’t always welcome the midnight epiphanies that blow up our lives, but we’ll thank you in the end. In the meantime, keep us company and give us courage as we get born again and again and again. Amen.
Molly Baskette is Senior Minister of the First Church of Berkeley, California, and the author of the best-selling Real Good Church and Standing Naked Before God.