Advice for a Hopeless Friend: The One Thing that Makes All the Difference

I had lunch with an old friend, somebody in town on business with whom I connect every couple of years. She was sad, frustrated and resigned, and aside from telling her that I cared about her, and to take good care of herself, I had no solutions for any of the issues with which she was struggling.

Actually, struggling was too strong a word. This previously feisty woman, always full of zest and resourcefulness, was resigned, apathetic even. And she wasn’t the first old friend whose sad transformation I’d recently encountered. In fact, I’ve been through a series of lunches, coffees, calls and emails from old friends who are hitting the same general wall at pretty much the same moment.

In a nutshell, they ran out of runway too soon. Francine got laid off and is going too quickly through savings. June is already living on social security and having had no kids, worries about who will take care of her when she’s too old to do things like pay her own bills. Martina, the friend who had blown into town for lunch had kept her job, but was working frenetic hours at a career she’d burned out on years ago. Her financial adviser had run her numbers, and told her that unless she continued on at this pace for five more years, she’d run out of money at 87. “At this pace, I won’t last five more years, and what a waste my life would have been, that I never got the chance to do the things I’ve dreamed about in retirement.”

Martina would have called me for lunch anyway, to see if at the last minute, I was free. But this time she called me before setting any of her other appointments, to make sure we could grab an hour together.

You see, she’d read my blog about “doing my utmost.” “How can I, in my situation, do my utmost?” She asked. “When, at least in my case, it’s hopeless.”

I listened deeply, poked around enough to know that she had done everything in her power to address the situation, like downsizing, bringing on expert financial advice, seeking out friends like me for perspective. But I had no answers, no solutions, no road map. I listened, I hugged her goodbye, but I couldn’t stop thinking about her and what more I could have done.

This morning, I woke up with it—the missing piece. What I realized is this: that no matter how much evidence is piled up against us that we have blown our opportunity for greatness, how much fear we have that we are paying for old mistakes, wasted precious time, burned out trying to get the world to do what we want in order to make life less painful, we always have a choice. There may be absolutely nothing about our external circumstances that we can do anything about. But we can always choose to take the leap from victimhood to forgiveness—of ourselves, others and the world. We can be patient with the present moment and we can always choose to light at least one candle of hope that the future will find some surprising, unexpected way to defy our dimmest expectations.

I remembered a wonderful quote from Olive Schreiner who wrote for many of us in Dreams of the Hunter. Olive provides us with a role model of how someone who is truly defeated by life’s circumstances, can yet find meaning in life.

“I have sought; for long years, I have labored….Now my strength is gone. Where I lie down worn out, other men will stand, young and fresh. By the stairs that I have built, they will mount. They will never know the name of the man who made them. At the clumsy work they will laugh; when the stones roll they will curse me. But they will mount, and on my work; they will climb, and by my stair.”

So no, I don’t have a solution for June, or Martina or Francine. But inspired by Olive and all those who despite the evidence have managed to do their utmost simply by taking the leap of faith of viewing their lives as meaningful, I do have a prayer.

Dear God,
Life has let me down and I have fallen short of my aspirations. I’m unhappy in the present moment and worried about the future. And yet, here and now, I stand before You making the one choice that is always mine to make: to pay heed to You who always stands ready and able to beckon my spirit to venture forth again.

So, God, I ask you to use me, anyway.
Take my fears and use me, anyway.
Take my failures and use me, anyway.
Take my arrogance and use me, anyway.
Take my guilt and use me, anyway.
Take my confusion and use me, anyway.
Take my regret and use me, anyway.

I offer all of myself to you.
Use me to serve many or few.
In pain or in joy.
Use me as you will.

And know this, that in the very act of saying this prayer to you, you have already granted me the one thing that makes all the difference: the certainty that this is always something for which I can hope.

Amen.

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Responses to Advice for a Hopeless Friend: The One Thing that Makes All the Difference

  1. Eularee smith 08/19/2012 at 9:44 AM #

    Excellent post. I teach 50 Plus on finding work, but honestly, it is more of a coaching job. Like the wisdom imparted here. Took your retreat but life interrupted the last couple of sessions. I intend to finish this week. Inspiring.

    • Carol Orsborn Ph.D. 08/19/2012 at 9:57 AM #

      Hi Euralee,
      Thanks so much. You’ve been on my mind, after emailing you with retreat assignments every day for three weeks, and wondering how you’re doing now! Thanks for filling me in.

      Carol:)

  2. Caryn Isaacs 08/20/2012 at 5:48 AM #

    A lovely affirmation. I used it to do my tapping this morning. I also had the once a year lunch with girlfriends last week. I felt terrible afterward because it seemed our usual laugh and gab sessions had taken on a negative tone. I even sent an apology letter to them after and hoped we could get a chance to talk about some of the positive things that were happening in our lives at another time. I think this is time for a Twitter plug. I can’t always control the situation I am in at the time, or call each friend to include them in my delight, but I always have time to tweet a quick how-de-do when I’m flying high. Then, when we finally see each other, we can have a starting point of joy, instead of sitting on the baggage we’re carrying.

    • Carol Orsborn Ph.D. 08/20/2012 at 6:55 PM #

      Hi Caryn,
      I noticed the same thing–that many of my exchanges with friends that used to at least have some upbeat notes have taken on a somber mood. I like your advice–and hope to strike a balance with myself and others between deep, compassionate listening and reminders of hope. It’s sometimes tricky to not sound judgmental when shifting from one mode to the other, and a true spiritual challenge to embrace it all simultaneously.

  3. Cheri 08/20/2012 at 11:28 AM #

    Ahhh that “choice” word….I deal with this everyday. I’ve noticed some people are pre-wired to make the better choices – the healthier choices! They don’t go through so much of that gut wrenching battle.

    It takes me a lot of work to get to that choice of “an attitude of abundance and gratitude”. Life is by all means not fair. Some of us give up. Some of us carry on – as victims or in gratitude. I notice that people with faith win the battle more often.

    As my wise, brave and beautiful mother Grace used to say “Cheri, life is what you make it.”

    • Carol Orsborn Ph.D. 08/20/2012 at 6:52 PM #

      Interesting, Cheri. I do think that those with faith tend to make better choices–but the tricky part can be either choosing faith in the first place, or at least making one’s self a candidate for it! I like what you mother said–and what a great name!

  4. Gaea Yudron 08/20/2012 at 4:19 PM #

    As we age, it becomes more and more valuable to engage in the spiritual aspects of being. We may (and almost certainly will) suffer losses and disappointments, but the heart essence within is unaffected by these outer circumstances. Thank you for another very good post.