I’m blogging through Father Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality Through The Two Halves Of Life. Even if you haven’t read the book, please stick around and join the conversation here if you’re facing a mid-life transition. Father Rohr offers us all some meaty food for thought.
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“I must tell you that, in yet another paradox, your circle of real confidants and truly close friends will normally grow smaller, but also more intimate.” Father Rohr launches Chapter 12 with this observation. I recently wrote about this phenomenon at Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog. He urges those of us who have arrived at this place in life to be patient with those who haven’t, noting that most people and institutions are busy with first half-of-life issues. “These are ego needs and not soul needs,” he notes.
The question becomes, “How can I honor the legitimate needs of the first half of life, while creating space, vision, time and grace for the second?” The holding of this tension is the very shape of wisdom.
Many second-half-of-life people become impatient with first-half-driven institutions, including the church. “Historically, in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, you just went off to the side and became a monk or a nun, but now even religious life suffers from the same institutionalization, and is not always a satellite of freedom or the wisdom school that it was meant to be.” He notes that many people involved in really meaningful ministry find their primary support from a couple of other friends, and, in a distant second, from the larger institution. “Larger institutions might well provide the skeleton, but the muscle, meat, and miracles invariably happen at the local level.” As he delineates how this works itself out, Rohr tells us that this information shouldn’t discourage us, but should help us adjust our expectations of what first-half people and institutions can and can’t be. “Don’t expect or demand from groups what they usually cannot give. Doing so will make you needlessly angry and reactionary. They must and will be concerned with identity, boundaries, self-maintenance, self-perpetuation, and self-congratulation.”
It is always interesting to me that the “power of the keys” that Jesus gave to Peter both to “bind and to loose” (Matthew 16:19) is invariably used to bind so seldom used to loose – unless it is to the church institution’s advantage.
Rohr suggests that even we extroverts become more introverted as we get older so that we can reflect and process what life has given to us and taken from us: “We move toward understimulation, if we are on the schedule of soul.” He also notes that new voices may have resonance in our lives, suggesting that “if your politics do not become more compassionate and inclusive, I doubt whether you are on the second journey.” No single group or affiliation meets all of our needs if we’re growing into second-half people. “More calm and contemplative seeing does not appear suddenly, but grows almost unconsciously over many years of conflict, confusion, healing, broadening, loving, and forgiving reality.”
Maturity, then, moves beyond “us versus them” dualistic thinking and toward both synthesis and new action.. “In the second half of life, all that you avoided for the sake of a manufactured ego ideal starts coming back as a true friend and teacher. Doers become thinkers, feelers become doers, thinkers become feelers, extroverts become introverts, visionaries become practical, and the practical ones long for vision. We all go toward the very places we avoided for the last forty years, and our friends are amazed. Now we begin to understand why Jesus is always welcoming the outsider, the foreigner, the sinner, the wounded one. He was a second half-of-life man who has had the unenviable task of trying to teach and be understood by a largely first half-of-life history, church and culture.”
This chapter touched on a number of things I’ve been experiencing in recent years: the shift in some of my friendships, the growing impatience with the self-preserving nature of institutions, the self-reflection and the change in emphasis in the way I interact with the world. Father Rohr’s words gave me words of my own that gave me language for the changes I’ve experienced.
I’ve had more than a few challenges when it comes to church. In recent years, however, I’ve felt a bit of an emotional disconnection from the institution. I serve with a ministry that networks churches. I write and speak about church issues. I attend a local church. And yet…when those in charge degrade into institution-guarding instead of kingdom-building, I find I am more at peace than I ever used to be about watching them do their self-serving thing from a distance without trying to intervene (“Hey leader-people! Your behavior is hurtful and WRONG!”). Back in the day, I might have been right, and I might have spoken out of love, but my impassioned pleas for change almost always fell on deaf ears. My error came as I misread soul for ego, and expected that institutionalized groups – and the alphas who ran them – be what they never could.
Father Rohr’s words about institutions being devoted to first-half concerns clicked for me. I have occasionally wondered if I’ve lost the fire in my soul that once led me to advocate in one congregation after another for the underdog and agitate against bloated or self-protective bureaucracy. I have plenty of second-adulthood energy for individuals who are truth-tellers and God-seekers.
It’s a far more peaceful place to be. .
How about you? Do you find that you’re changing the way you relate to the institutions in your world as the years go by?