Confessions of a late spiritual bloomer

February 17th, 2021

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, mainly 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 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 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, award, or a round of applause.

And that is why it’s a relief to acknowledge that I’m a late bloomer finally, 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 an excellent 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 think 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 late spiritual 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 a 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 still more to become.

We are all late bloomers.

This essay originally appeared at Looking for God in Messy Places. Reprinted with permission.

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