A New Series on the Second Half of Life

Several months ago a dear friend of mine, Jenn Williamson, and I did a blog series about our journey into the second half of life.  I have since transferred those posts to my Live Ordinary Well site, for practical reasons only - I didn't want to pay for two blog sites.  With that said, I wanted to give you some background on what this series was about.

Between us, we have over 25 years of service to the local church.  In case you didn't pick up on it in the "meet the characters" section, there is a very interesting contrast that seems to be hidden within our stories.  While, I, Matthew, went from the highly innovative, fast-growing world of Austin, Texas to the corn fields of Illinois, and Jenn, went from the American wheat fields to inner-city Lyon, France, we both went through an emptying process to make our transitions, while continuing an emptying process that is remolding us to live in our current contexts as our true selves.  As seen in our lives, the necessary changes to embrace the second-half of life, such as living a more contemplative life, reinventing the self, intentionally breaking away from long accepted modes of being that were at one time helpful but are now destructive, as well as slowing down for the purposes of depth,  don't necessarily come from leaving the city to live on a farm.  In fact, we have both witnessed, an almost more destructive busyness in this part of the world.  Rather it seems God invites us into a deconstructing preceded by a reconstructing internal journey that is sacramentally manifested through on an external journey away from our comfort zones and learned ways of being.  And it is this journey, whether it is a large city to the small country side, or the country side to a large city, or somewhere in between, that we want to engage through this website.  

THE MODERN DILEMMA: While we have had both early and definable success according to the Western measurables; we both find ourselves at emotional, vocational, and spiritual thresholds in life, often called the space of liminality.  Our culture has named this place "mid-life crisis", yet other's with a more holistic vision for life, have used terms such as "Second-Half-of-Life" or "the special world." 

What we are finding as we go through these stages of life, and have sought out wisdom and direction from peers and colleagues, is that protestant church and western culture as a whole has been very silent about the issue of the “second half of life”.  Even the phrase “mid-life crisis” gives the impression that it is a season to be tolerated, remedied, or powered-through, rather than welcomed as a threshold we should graciously cross as we grow into the likeness of the divine within our context.

In the realm of professionals, ministry leaders are especially prone to what has been termed “burnout” which finds its roots in disillusionment, emotional exhaustion, overextension, and emotional depletion which then leads to the abstraction of the self, or depersonalization, from the ministry context in order to get the job done.   A survey conducted by Fuller Institute of Church Growth among ministers averaging the age of 47 (mid-life) reported that 80% of ministers have had their families negatively affected by their ministry and 70% reported experiencing chronic loneliness.  While 37% acknowledged having been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church and 12% confessed to actually engaging in sexual intercourse with a church member.  The prevalent burnout which is made visible through these destructive habits (along with many others) is the unavoidable result when the unrelenting demands to sustain a life and ministry mirrors Western Corporatism instead of Kingdom shalom.

It is our belief that the commonly termed “mid-life-crisis” and/or “burnout” is actually a result of an interior conflict that arises within us around the mid-point of life, that does not need to be remedied rather embraced in the way of spiritual formation.  The resulting conflict is the realization that the speed at which and the goals for which we have been living are unsustainable, along with the epiphany that they are no longer worth sustaining.  We have reached the point of paradox - the first half of life was about upward mobility (building the resume or accomplishing the dream), yet the second half of life is about downward mobility, as the created ego-self begins to die and resurrect as the true-self.  Because we are a dualistic culture, it seems to logically follow, that if we accept that the second half of life is about downward mobility then surely we have wasted the first half - in other words, we don’t know how to live with the tension of both halves being necessary components for a full life.  However, if we learn to accept the reality that it was the commitment to upward mobility that actually equips for the downward journey, to become the real, God-intended self, all the while realizing that the first half of life has a life span, that should run its course well before we are laid to rest in the grave.  Our culture, church culture included, seems to keep directing us back to holding to this sort of upward mobility, yet holding onto upward mobility instead of embracing the tensions that come with the second-half of life, is not unlike an infant holding on to a pacifier and blanky into her teenage years.   

Unfortunately, the remedy offered to both business and ministry leaders and professionals are the same -  “power through”, “it’s just mid-life, keep going, you’ll be good”, or something along the line of, “accomplish more, do more, make it happen.”  We believe these so-called remedies not only perpetuate the problem, they assist the individual in actually avoiding the second half of life that the divine is pulling them toward.   

THE PURPOSE OF THIS SERIES: As we grapple through this process, we thought it might be best to steward the very tensions we have faced, the lessons we have learned, and the experiences we have been through in our downward move toward spiritual health, rather than continuing on a path that would spiritual deplete us.

Our hope is to simply initiate a conversation, using this site as a platform that names and helps others to see this part of life for what it is; invite you to be vulnerable about your own experience; and assist those who have been through similar experiences into a spiritual formation rhythm that embraces the second half of life as a place where the good, the true, and the beautiful are not only realized, but lived out.  In the menu bar of the site is the label, "letters".  We, have dramatized our own personal journeys and will be using our own experiences to engage each other in the form of letter writing.  Each week 2-4 posts will be made as "letters", to and from, each other.  At the end of each letter, much like a blog, we invite you to engage with us - tell us your own experience, critique ours, give us advice, take advice, etc.  Whatever we do, it is time we build solidarity around this journey into the second-half-of-life, so that more of us can embrace it with grace, peace, and joy.   

We would like to invite you to join us.  One of the major factors we have observed is that this transition from the first to the second half of life is not limited to those in spiritual leadership.  Rather, this is a reality that faces all of us, and most of us don't know what to do about it except attempt to swim back to the shores that are reminiscent of our youthful success and status.  So, whether you are a christian leader, an artist, a Buddhist, a business leader, an atheist, or someone who refuses to be categorized, we value your experience and your stories.  It is our hope that you can learn from us, but even more so, and probably selfishly, that we can learn from you.  We look forward to hearing from you! 

Oh, and have a happy new year!