Yesterday I wrote a very brief overview of Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. Basically Rohr says that people first build their identities, then experience a necessary suffering that serves as a crossover, and finally God calls them on to a further journey of faith during the second half of life. Rohr notes that not everyone chooses to move into that further journey, but rather they will spend their lives continually focused on building and maintaining their identities.
Does everyone agree with Rohr’s viewpoint? Probably not, yet it’s worth considering. I would say my own life does fit that pattern.
Back to the Beginning
When I began writing this series I shared a few of my own questions about midlife.
- What have I accomplished compared to my original dreams?
- Where’s the guidebook for this stage of parenting?
- What can I share with others to encourage them as they go through this stage?
- How can I share God’s faithfulness to me through all the years?
Rohr’s pattern of the spiritual life helped me think through some of these questions. And I hope by sharing my own experience, you’ll examine your own life and spiritual journey.
My First-Half Story
I’m thankful that I had parents, family and a faith community that helped me build and shape a strong “container” for my life. Early on I knew part of the answer to, “Who will go with me?” because I had a strong bond with my parents, siblings and extended family. I also knew the answer to “What makes me significant?” because I understood that I was created by God for his purposes and, more importantly, that I am a child of God through faith in Jesus.
I also had a firm idea for vocation. From the time I was in second grade I planned to support myself as a teacher. So during college I prepared to teach high school English. My plan was to work for several years, save money, and then earn degrees that would allow me to teach British literature to college students. Well, the wheels sort of fell off that bus just before I graduated from St. Olaf College. I realized that I really wanted a job outside of education that would give me a different perspective after being in a classroom for most of my life.
By God’s grace, a gentleman from St. Olaf, whose job was to help launch graduates, called me and asked if I would be interested in an internship with a hospital public relations department. Not only did that internship provide me with the opportunity to build a writing portfolio that launched my writing career, but it also put into motion all the connections that were necessary for me to meet my husband. Shortly after we were married, we made friends at church who were our community.
A Necessary Suffering
As we know, being human means we will endure losses, death, disease — some kind of suffering. And it doesn’t wait for midlife.
Sometimes it seems like everything that can go wrong does go wrong. I can remember three specific times in life that it seemed that way.
- Job changes for both my husband and myself, remodeling a money pit, learning to parent our first child, miscarriage of twins, health challenges for all of us, and a horrible accident experienced by our second child
- A move to a new community, providing care during the declining health and passing of my mother-in-law, another job change, and tenuous financial security as we counted out every penny to make ends meet
- The Crossover: Exploring a new career in a totally new community, completing my work as a home educator, the empty nest, my father’s failing health and passing, the struggle to parent adult children, a shift in relationships because our children were no longer part of our community, job changes, another move, and a new tension between legalism and grace in my life
For some reason the third season of suffering was different. The first “seasons” helped me develop compassion and empathy — and a lot more — that I couldn’t learn any other way.
However, during that third season of suffering I truly felt crushed. It’s difficult to describe. Earlier in life I had one hand firmly gripped on God and another hand firmly gripped on my life/my identity. Now I clung to God and his grace with both hands. While everything else seemed to be shifting sand, God was faithful. When I didn’t think I could endure one moment longer, I prayed — I begged — God to help me get through it. And he did.
My Second-Half Story
Each of those seasons spanned a few years. Now I feel like I’ve moved into the second half of my spiritual journey. Not because I’ve reached a superior state of being or knowing, but rather because I’ve gone through the “humbling pain” described by Rohr. I’ve loosened the grip on my earlier ego-centric life because I see how lacking it was.
I recognize moreso how much I depend on forgiveness — not only from God, but also from everyone around me. I finally see how much unhealthy pride was woven into my identity.
The excitement for me during this second half is seeing how God will continue his good work in me through his Spirit. He will continue to develop my love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And this is what he calls me to pour out — pour out within the context of my family, community, and vocation.
What will I do with this great salvation I’ve been given?