Welcome to the first-annual Read Between the WINEs Summer Book Club! We’re reading The Grace of Yes: Eight Virtues for Generous Living by Lisa Hendey.
By Sarah Christmyer
Careers have growth cycles just like families do, and I found myself completing a phase in mine at the same time as our youngest left for college. The empty nest was matched by an emptiness of mind and purpose that I found very hard to take. Instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment and completion, I felt drained. The temptation to feel useless was overwhelming.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been on one sort of mission or another. I don’t know how to be without a focus, a reason for being. I considered throwing myself into church or volunteer work, but what? I needed to create and had nothing to do. I became fixated on the “empty nest” that my soul had become, and cried out to God.
Little did I know, God has a special use for empty nests. Worn and softened by love, shaped by past experience and compromise, they tell a story. They are evidence in a hard world of the possibility and triumph of love. They proclaim hope based on a life lived in service to others. They provide a refuge for lost and hurting souls. They are “generative” precisely because they can give from the rich well of experience. Because they have “been there,” they can “be there” for others.
Thank God for the grace of generativity—and thanks to Lisa Hendey for putting into words what it is!
Generativity is “a concern for people besides self and family that usually develops during middle age,” Lisa writes; “especially: a need to nurture and guide younger people and contribute to the next generation.”
Lisa beautifully explains the maturing of love from self-interest to selfless, generous love. Over time, through our families and other relationships, we learn the art of compromise. We learn to see with those around us, not just look at them. We learn to cultivate love not just to receive it, but for the purpose of giving to others.
“At its most genuine, generativity plants a pay-it-forward seed,” Lisa writes.
It involves taking that which you’ve received; making something of it; and passing it on to another.
No special training is required; simply that receptivity that is such an important part of being a woman. We allow what is planted in us, to shape us … and we give out of that. It may come most naturally as a grace later in life, but there’s no reason for younger women not to strive for it too. We all can “pay forward” what we get. Lisa closes her chapter with a poignant regret of not learning earlier to practice generativity. The joy she’s found in selfless giving serves as a challenge and inspiration to all of us, at any age, to set aside self-interest and give generously of ourselves and all we have received.
To Ponder, Reflect and Discuss:
- Early in chapter 2, Lisa describes the importance of “bending so we don’t break” and what she’s learned from that. Similarly, a nest that’s built of straight sticks becomes, with work and use, a soft cradle for baby birds. Creativity passes into generativity over time. How have you experienced that process and transformation in your own life?
- “There is a fine line we traverse when we endeavor to give the very best of ourselves … without losing ourselves in the process,” Lisa writes on page 28. Have you struggled with this? How might the concept of generativity help you through it?
- Generativity is not just for spouses and parents. Are you single? Consecrated celibate? Married but childless? Widowed? How have you seen generativity blossom in your life—or how does knowing of this grace encourage you?
Below, please comment on your thoughts from Chapter 2, your inspirations and reflections, and/or your answers to these questions.
About the Author:
Sarah Christmyer is a Catholic author, Bible teacher and speaker with a special love for lectio divina and journaling as ways to draw close to Christ in Scripture. She is co-developer with Jeff Cavins of The Great Adventure Catholic Bible study program, and author or co-author of many of the studies. Sarah is an adjunct faculty member at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, where she teaches Scripture to men in their Spiritual Year. Sarah blogs at Come Into the Word.
Next week, we’ll cover Chapter 3: The Grace of Creativity. For the complete reading schedule and information about our online book club, visit the Read Between the WINEs Summer Book Club page.
WINE thanks Ave Maria Press for supporting our Read Between the WINEs Summer Book Club. Specifically, thank you to Heather Glenn and her team for their marketing expertise.
Order your copy of The Grace of Yes, at St. George’s Books & Gifts. Free shipping on orders of $30 or more, and WINE will receive 10% of your order to support our evangelization efforts.
Chapter 2 is simply a wonderful chapter. I am a second ‘empty-nester’. First my children grew up, went off to college, launched careers and married. And then grandchildren came along once again filling my life with so much activity and joy. Then they too grew into teenagers and young adults. So as my nest was emptying a second time God sent me an amazing treasure – a woman invited me to join a Cenacle of The Divine Mercy.
Through this Cenacle of prayer and study, I read our Lord’s words to St. Faustina about being merciful in prayer, words and deeds (Diary 742). I began to realize that I had an abundance of knowledge, experience and skills with which God had blessed me in my faith and in my healthcare work for so many years – but I needed to learn to use those gifts not for ‘my work’, but for His work – in the plan he has for my life.
Lisa, your questions on page 33 reached deep into my heart – especially when you asked ‘Do we hold ourselves accountable to the beloved disciple standard of love’>
Laurie – I am so glad that you are reading with us and that this chapter was a blessing for you! That realization that we are formed in God’s image with particular gifts and talents for (as you said) God’s work in our world is a great blessing. It’s also a consolation for me in moments when I don’t feel equipped to handle something that comes up… in those times, I try to rest confident in the knowledge that God has given me everything I need to be his love in that moment. I’m not always perfect, but I’m coming to realize that as long as I give him my best “yes” in those times, I’m cooperating with his plan. So glad to “meet” you and look forward to sharing the summer with you!
“Little did I know, God has a special use for empty nests.” ~ What an understatement!
The first “empty nest” I experienced was when I lost my ability to physically work full time twelve years ago; I chose to pour myself into ministry at my parish and was blessed many, many times over.
The second “empty nest” was a literal one when our youngest left for college; this time, I chose to reconsecrate myself to Mary, using 33 Days to Morning Glory. In doing so, Mama Mary took me for quite the ride which ended up with me presenting the idea to our Associate Pastor and Adult Faith Committee … which led to facilitating the 33 Days group retreat to approximately 60 parishioners. What a time of unexpected, untold blessing!
Currently, there is no question that I am “empty nesting” yet again as I transition to a new parish. I find that I am forcing myself to “be still and know that He is God” (aka: delving into scripture, going to Eucharistic Adoration, praying a LOT, etc.) to make sure that I am following His lead and not my own … all the while knowing that when the time is right, He will ask me to serve Him, again, … and probably in a capacity that will make me grow some more! 😉
Lisa, your book has so resonated with my own spirit … and we’ve only finished Chapter 2!! I’m looking forward to uncovering more of your wisdom in the weeks to come. Peace, prayers, and every blessing!
Catherine, I’m loving your fresh perspective on the “empty nest” that can happen at any time of transition… lovely! So happy we’re reading and praying together about our Yes!
From midweek in Indiana, at a waypoint on the GPS, here come my insights. For me, generativity is similar to stopping at a waypoint on a journey. I can recognize it as a waypoint and continue on, or I can make it a full stop. Instead of a sense of being done with “generating,” as my children leave my care, instead of saying: this is the end of the line, my choice is to choose the virtue of generativity.
Generativity comes from the same root as word generation. In Genesis, often the narrative speaks of “the generations of …,” and then names a person who has given life and gifts that have been passed on to future families. My husband and I are only a single generation. Thus, my generativity is living in relationship with those who gave me life, my parents, and with those to whom I gave that life, my children and their children. Generativity for me is learning to give and receive, to and from both directions of generations.
But generativity is also accepting. Accepting the changes in my life, acknowledging all the gifts that have been given to me, expressing gratitude, and accepting the thanks of others who recognize gifts they received from me. My children are grown, have generated children themselves, and I continue to give and receive from them and they from me, and I am thankful.
Another way I live the virtue of generativity is teaching both insights and skills in a university program of school psychology and school counseling. This teaching choice keeps me involved with the next generation, who will give away all the gifts which I give them, into the future. Generative living passes on all our gifts into the future to persons who carry them forward to give away to others. What gratitude I have towards those who developed all these gifts which I can now give away to future generations!
So much wisdom here Carol! I love the Genesis reference you share and also your living example of what generativity looks like in your life. Thank you for the inspiration!
I was telling my young adult daughter about this chapter and the concept of generativity over the weekend. I feel the call to mentor and nurture young people at this stage in my life but didn’t have a name for it before. Thanks to Lisa’s book, I now I have a way to think about this in the context of my faith and strive to be a better mentor for the young people in my life. I’m thankful for this gift made known to me through “The Grace of Yes.”
I was telling my young adult daughter about this chapter and the concept of generativity over the weekend. I feel the call to mentor and nurture young people at this stage in my life but didn’t have a name for it before. Thanks to Lisa’s book, I now have a way to think about this in the context of my faith and strive to be a better mentor for the young people in my life. I’m thankful for this gift made known to me through “The Grace of Yes.”
This chapter on the virtue of generativity touched me very personally. In it, Lisa talked about “the maternal instincts I knew I was sorely lacking at that age.” This is not easy for any mom to admit, because as moms we want to be the best we possibly can be for our children. And when we don’t “feel” motherly or are not sure what to do, it is very, very hard to go out on a limb and ask for help. Who would possibly understand? I am so grateful Lisa went out on that limb in chapter 2, because when I read her account of her early fears of being a mom, I breathed a sigh of relief, “I’m not the only one!” My husband became a dad the minute our first daughter was born. Something clicked in him that didn’t click in me. But I didn’t give up, and I slowly, but surely, grew into the mom God was calling me to be. And not just to my first child but also to the five children that followed her. I never, ever expected to be a mom of six! After all, I am an introverted only child! But I have to think that this plan for our family was God’s way of inviting me to say “yes” to Him, while breaking me out of my fears, comfort zone and lack of belief in myself. I still have moments when I feel completely overwhelmed and uncertain, but at the same time, I know this is God’s plan for my sanctification. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I am far from perfect, and sometimes I can struggle with feelings of regret for not being a certain kind of mom. But I also know that God doesn’t want us living in the past. We need to be honest, real and hopeful for what is yet to come.
I am still very much in the thick of mothering my children, pretty far from experiencing the empty nest. But I think that’s probably where many of us begin cultivating this virtue of generativity. As I age and my children grow, I trust that this virtue will expand. However, I have been on the receiving end of generativity. Women, who are ahead of me, who have “been there” so they can “be” with me now (as Sarah described in her reflection) have been willing to mentor me, to answer my questions, to encourage me in my struggles. Some of them I have met within WINE: Women in the New Evangelization, which is all about meeting women in their need and empowering them in their gifts. I am grateful for this experience, and I pray it will only help me be more generative when my time comes.
I really enjoyed the discussion on your list of the three people you truly love. When I came up with my list and pondered your questions, I realized that I was much more of a taker than a giver. It also made me realize that I don’t stay as connected to them as I’d like. So I reached out to two of them right after I was done with the chapter to set up ‘dates’ and let them know I missed them. When I do see them, I definitely plan to focus on giving not taking.
Thanks for making me look at myself harder and think about what God wants me to be.