My son rolled his eyes in disdain as he vented his outrage. “Doesn’t she know she’s a grown up? There’s nothing cool about an old person trying to act like a kid!”
Leave it to youth to give us the straight and unvarnished story.
We’ve all witnessed the desperate measures of the middle-aged, stuck in the past and refusing to move on. Jesus’s half-brother Jude wrote compellingly and ominously about “late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots,” a disappointment in their barrenness. In fruit trees and in human beings, there’s an expectation that fruit should arrive in season, a sense that the passing of time should not be wasted. Since I have to grow old anyway, I want to deliver a bountiful crop in the process!
MEANING, PURPOSE, AND SPIRITUALITY IN MIDLIFE
Michelle Van Loon has spent over a decade thinking and writing about the feasting and the fasting, the challenges and the rewards of the second half of life, and has observed that “chronological age does not automatically translate into spiritual maturity.” Becoming Sage is her response to autumn fruitlessness, but even more, it’s a call to put down deep roots in the truth, to cultivate meaning, purpose, and spirituality in midlife. At a time when the temptation is strong to put ourselves out to pasture, Becoming Sage is a field guide for breaking up our fallow ground and pressing into true biblical maturity through a healthy relationship with God, his church, our families, our friends, and ourselves.
Spiritual maturity requires a clear-eyed acceptance of God’s ever present chisel on the granite of our lives as we are formed and re-formed by the changes that accompany aging. In mid-life, if we are determined to become sage, we will lean into our apprenticeship to Jesus, a relationship-based process in which we agree with God that we are life-long learners who will spend the rest of our days integrating heart, soul, mind, and strength in loving service to him and his world.
Van Loon is fearless in her acknowledgement that the second half of life may not measure up to the expectations we spent the first half of our life cherishing and anticipating. Lifelong careers can go off the rails without warning; local church ministry may begin to feel like dead weight; our children may disappoint us by going in directions we never anticipated; and friends of the heart turn out to have been temporary after all.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BECOME SAGE?
Since change and adjustment define mid-life on every level, we are wise to take it in stride—rather than merely taking it on the chin! For faithful, life-long church members, the awkwardness of suddenly not fitting into a changing church culture can be enough to prompt an exodus, particularly if life is demanding that energy and resources flow toward aging parents or the needs of adult children and grandchildren.
Believers in the process of becoming sage recognize their need for input from a body of believers. Meaningful expressions of fellowship may look different now than they did when our homes were a hub for visiting missionaries or youth ministry pizza parties, but our need for relationships is still a priority. Since “church isn’t meant to be a destination but a launch pad,” we are free to be creative in our cultivation of a flourishing church life. (64)
Becoming sage is a gift that accompanies a growing relationship with God. With Him in the center of our relational life, we are better equipped to absorb the disappointments that come from shifting ties with family and friends. Those who have experienced the truth that God actually is sufficient can lean into seasons of loneliness with confidence and with the curiosity of a lifelong learner.
Becoming sage requires a humble acceptance of the physical limitations that arrive with aging. God is well able to indwell a middle-aged body, and there is timeless beauty in the offering up of the full package—our willingness and our weakness—as a living sacrifice to God.
Taking a long view, the legacy we leave behind, if we are committed to becoming sage, will benefit our children as well as our spiritual offspring. Our continual transformation into the image of Christ is a gritty process, but, in the mystery of it, the power of God is put on display in the miracle of willed forgiveness, depth of character, and a mature and generous love that can only be explained by a life that has been faithfully apprenticed to Jesus Christ.
Many thanks to Moody Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.