40/40 Vision: Clarifying Your Mission in Midlife

40/40 Vision: Clarifying Your Mission in Midlife February 13, 2019

Peter Greer and Greg Lafferty
40/40 Vision: Clarifying your mission in midlife 
Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2018.
Available at Amazon.com

By Graham Stanton

40/40 Vision is for anyone who has realised that they have fewer years left to live than years they’ve already lived. Midlife. The years when satisfaction with life bottoms out, when (at least in the US according to Greer and Lafferty) suicide rates peak, when the use of anti-depressants peak, when the challenges of pain, death, and loss begin to bite. But alongside, and often the result of these challenges, midlife also throws up the big questions of life: “what is the meaning and measure of my life?”, “what really counts?”, “what future do I envision and how do I get there?” (p.26).

Greer (a recent member of the 40-something club) and Lafferty (a more seasoned veteran of the second half of life) want to bring a dose of biblical wisdom to anyone stuck in the midlife doldrums. They turn to the book of Ecclesiastes for advice in ten different areas of life: In summary, they invite readers to

  • find contentment in the face of disappointment;
  • find delight in God over dissatisfaction;
  • pursue honest intentionality in the face of our mortality;
  • pursue generosity rather than indulgence,
  • rest rather than hurry
  • accept the opportunities of aging
  • embrace vulnerability to overcome disconnection,
  • find grace and faith in the face of injustice and uncontrollable tragedy;
  • have an identity apart from your job; and
  • trust God with your legacy.

The book is full of encouraging stories and littered with inspirational and challenging quotations. (I do wonder though whether the fact that both authors are male will make the book less accessible or engaging for women. The book is clearly addressed to both men and women, but illustrations about men and quotations from men outnumber those about or from women by at least two to one).

Overall the underlying message is to live with a firm trust in God’s enduring purposes, even in the second half of life. If you’re facing a mid-life crisis, or know someone who is, then you’ll find some useful advice here.

However, at least for this reader, there is more than a whiff of the self-help genre here. It’s not quite 10-steps-to-a-happier-midlife; there is an ongoing appeal to a Christian worldview that grounds the advice that Greer and Lafferty have to offer. But I suspect that many readers may find this to be too much of a Christian version of North American consumer aspiration.

Two uses of Scripture were particularly jarring. Greer and Lafferty take Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 6:19 to “take hold of the life that is truly life” and shift our attention from laying up a firm foundation for the coming age, to a present age quest for excitement: “Taking hold of the life that is truly life – isn’t that what we all want in midlife? We want something more thrilling than we’re currently experiencing. We want some of that you-only-go-around-once gusto” (p.95). Jeremiah 29:13 gets an aspirational makeover to say, “when the thrill is gone, pursue it again in God and don’t stop until you find it. He himself promises to be discovered by you” (p.71). I welcome the sentiment, and find a life of thrill and gusto reasonably inviting; but how does this sit against Paul’s ambition from Philippians 3:10, “to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead”?

The pushback against my critique would say that the Christian life doesn’t have to be painful and depressing to be faithful. And I quite agree. I have experienced the biological high and greater happiness that comes from being generous to others; I agree that there can be dire physical consequences of overwork and that a day of rest can lead to greater productivity. These experiences are worth pointing out and may also serve as a pre-evangelistic encouragement for people struggling with midlife to look more closely at Christian faith. But it seems to me that the appeal to self-interest, even when it is set alongside the spiritual benefits of these practices, does little to dislodge the core idols of our culture.

Even though my forties have now slipped past (but hey, 50 is the new 30 right?), the biggest spiritual challenge I face is the reminder that this life is not all about me. For my 50th birthday good friends (who are a little further along in life than I am) gave me Christopher Ash’s little book, Zeal without Burnout: Seven keys to a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice (The good book company, 2016). The central truth is the reminder that we are creatures of dust; that God is God, and we are not. That idea isn’t absent from 40/40 Vision. The introductory chapter includes the encouragement that “opening our eyes to our mortality and limitations can allow us to live more fully” (p.16). But embracing mortality and submitting ourselves to God seemed to me to get a bit lost along the way.

Perhaps 40-40 Vision and Zeal without Burnout could make a useful combination. From Peter Greer and Greg Lafferty I found practical tips and inspiring stories to be intentional about making the second half of my life as productive as I can. From Christopher Ash I was reminded that whatever productivity I accomplish will only come as God’s gracious gift.

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