Transitioning into the 2nd half of life

This year has kicked off with a flourish and I’ve been left with a few sensations of things that were brewing in my sub-conscious over the holidays (that I would have ordinarily reflected upon and processed while sitting on the beach, but alas, parenting requirements too precedence).

What has been lurking below the surface is best described as a feeling of loss regarding novelty. Let me give you an example. I love epic movies. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy  was a serious highlight for me during the years in which they were released. There is just something about the opening scens of an epic movie that move me! Movies just don’t move me like that anymore. The novelty of that experience has now become, well, bland. I’ve been drawn to Richard Rohr’s teachings on Adult Christianity where he teaches about the two stages of life and spirituality. I’ve now realised that feeling associated with a loss of novelty in life is actually a symptom of my transition into the second stage of my life. 

One of my favourite quotes by Rohr is that, “We’ll all become old fools. We have a choice though between becoming a grumpy old fool, or a wise old fool”. I love that, and for a while it’s been a goal of mine to become the latter. But there is something weird in hearing a teaching about the second stage of life, that begins at roughly 35 years old, while being on the younger side of that liminal point. Now that I’m nearing that point, with a few years to spare, listening to the teachings again has much more meaning, and in a significant way, his words make more sense.

The basic idea is this: our lives are segmented into two halves, broadly. There is the building up phase until about the age of 35 and then thereafter there is the integration phase (although I’m tempted to say it’s the breaking down phase) for the next 30 or 40 years of our life. Rohr articulates wonderfully how our ego, drives and ambition are absolutely necessary processes and how we need to go through those phases in order to really understand the Gospel of Jesus, and to follow what Jesus asks of us. For example, we need to have a life in order to lose it. We need to have an identity to lose, and so forth.

A scriptural example of this transition can be found in Solomon’s writing in the Book of Ecclesiastes. He begins with the powerful maxim, “Everything is meaningless”. Now read the first chapter in light of what I wrote about the loss of novelty above.

1 The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

3 What do people gain from all their labours
at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.

This text is traditionally read with a lamenting sense that the writer is both right and wrong. He is right in the sense that there is really nothing new under the sun and that there is a repetition to our world that can be tiresome and worrisome. People interpret him as being wrong in that, with a knowledge of God’s work in the world, everything is meaningful. This latter interpretation is the easier one to assimilate into a faith position. However, as I’m now transitioning into this second stage of life, I’m connecting deeply with the writer’s sentiments, but not in a depressing way.

In many ways I’ve achieved what my ego (in the psychological sense) has set out to do. I’m happily married. I have an amazing son. I’ve built a successful business. I’ve got a lovely home, drive a great car and financially am relatively settles. I’ve achieved much, and yet in the midst of all this, there is a question that rises regarding the meaning of it all. What is next? Where to from here? Is my life rhythm destined to be linked to the rhythms of nature i.e. I move from day to day doing the same things, or is there more to this?

Rohr links some of the nasty characteristics of the first stage of life (e.g. an exclusionary approach to religion) with the possibility of not really encountering the Gospel of Jesus. I wonder if that is the challenge I’m experiencing? The invitation is there to encounter Jesus in a new way.

Then, as I’m writing these words a text arrives from a fellow Christ-follower, who connects to the Big Man in profound ways. The text reads:

I sense God is so proud of you, for who you are, and the man you have become. I hear Him saying that He loves the way you apply your mind to things to discover the unseen perspectives. He sees the worship in that. He says He misses the playfulness of an unencumbered heart.

The unseen perspectives part is timely because I left a discussion last night feeling like I was crazy for promoting an idea I feel a calling for, but that’s another story. The last bit about playfulness is even more pertinent considering the loss of novelty I’ve been sensing.

Have I really lost a sense of novelty, or have I lost a playfulness that comes hand in hand with the freedom that Jesus gives?

How’s that for a rhetorical question?

So one of the first things I did after getting the text was to go and stomp in some puddles with Daniel. More of that please.


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