At last I finished reading Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life1 by Richard Roar. This was the first book I read so far in which the author acknowledges a midlife crisis.
First Half of Life: Building Identity
Rohr begins his book with an explanation of the first half of life. Typically from birth until about age 30, people build their identities as they answer the following questions:
- Who will go with me in life?
- What makes me significant?
- How will I support myself?
Interestingly, these three questions align well with David Brooks’ concept of “The Four Commitments: The Choices That Create Your Life.”
- Who will go with me in life? Spouse/family and Community
- What makes me significant? Faith/philosophy
- How will I support myself? Vocation
Our identities are also shaped as we learn to respect authority, abide by civil and church laws, and gain a sense of goodness, value and importance through the lens of our religion, ethnicity, and country.
Mary Oliver asks, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” How we live out the answer to this question shapes who we become. That “shape” Rohr refers to as a container — an identity that holds the contents of the second half of life.
As young adults we make plans and commitments, but we don’t take into account — at least I didn’t — the midlife crisis, or as Rohr calls it, a necessary suffering.
Rohr explains that the crossover into the second half of the spiritual life comes when the achievements of the first half of life fall apart. The container is tested, stretched, broken, or found wanting. It happens to all of us, because suffering is part of being human.
“Normally a job, fortune, or reputation has to be lost, a death has to be suffered, a house has to be flooded, or a disease has to be endured. God … [has] to give us a push — usually a big one — or we will not go … on a further journey. No one chooses the upheaval.” – Richard Roar, Falling Upward, Introduction
God turns the suffering that could destroy us into an invitation to draw nearer to him and to part ways with our worldly kingdoms, thereby allowing us to live more fully in God’s kingdom.
Any attempt to engineer or plan your own enlightenment is doomed to failure because it will be ego driven … failure and humiliation force you to look where you never would otherwise.” Richard Roar, Falling Upward, chapter 5
The skills we’ve developed and the people who surround us will not be enough to face the necessary suffering. We will have to turn to God, and if we accept his call to the further journey, he will prove that he is faithful to take us through the crisis. He alone is sufficient. What we believed to be true of him becomes a deeper knowing of him that can be hard to explain to someone who hasn’t gone through it. But once you have, there’s no going back to the first half of life. You’ve been changed.
Not everyone chooses to take the further journey of faith. Instead they stick with the tasks of the first-half journey of building identity and ego.
Second Half of Life: Taking a Further Journey
The further journey moves us toward a more mature faith that we can’t get to on our own. As Roar writes in the introduction, “To go forward there is always something that has to be let go of, moved beyond, given up, or forgiven to enter into the larger picture….”
God uses the “humbling pain” of suffering to help us let go of our earlier ego-centric life. No longer are we fixated on self; our containers are ready to pour out the contents.
The second half of the spiritual life is characterized by a closer union with God, spiritual discernment, wisdom gained from experience, and good fruit (patience, compassion, understanding, forgiving, and inclusion). We spend more time in prayer and depend upon God’s Holy Spirit instead of our own opinions and insight. We cherish forgiveness, seeing that there is a great deal to forgive in life.
The question now becomes, “What is it you plan to do with this great salvation you’ve been given?”
1 Rohr, Richard. Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011.