Up until a few years ago I had a tagline at the bottom of my email that was a quote from Helen Keller. It said ‘Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.’
It summed up how I tried to live and the kind of spirit I wanted to bring to whatever I was doing. It was true to who I was at that time and it evoked a kind of an adrenalin charged, full tilt approach to life. It ended up taking us on various adventures and initiatives that were a lot of fun and often risky.
It fitted really well thru my 20’s to early 40’s, but there came a point in time where I dropped that quote from my emails and to this day I haven’t replaced it with anything else. Although ‘the older I get the better I was’ does seem like a good fit…
I was a bit sad at its departure and I found it hard to understand why I no longer resonated with it like I used to, but I had to be honest and say ‘that’s just not where I am at any more.’ Its not me and I can’t keep sending emails that have this on the bottom.
I actually found my mid 40’s a confusing time as I was no longer driven, ambitious, focused and all those other qualities that seemed to mark my years of ‘achieving’. In my mid 40’s I started to relax a lot more, didn’t care as much if things didn’t work out and I was less obsessive about being successful. I didn’t set goals like I used to, didn’t push other people like I used to and wasn’t continually dreaming about the next mountain to climb. It was seriously dis-orienting to find myself in a ‘room’ that was unfamiliar and yet a room that I couldn’t just seem to power my way out of.
I had a few lame attempts at ‘upping the ante’ and ‘getting focused’, but truth was my heart wasn’t in it. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, but it was that I didn’t care in the same way and for the same things.
At some point along the way I discovered Richard Rohr’s book, ‘Falling Upwards‘ and what a gift that was. Someone who simply articulated the shift I was experiencing from what he described as a ‘first half of life spirituality’ to a ‘second half of life spirituality’. He described my experiences so well it was like he knew me and was giving me some personal counselling. Ambition was being replaced with contentment (and yet also a discontentment because it felt like a part of me had died..). An ability to relax and enjoy life instead of constant productivity and yet a nagging sense that I wasn’t achieving as much… More time and energy for people rather than tasks. It was almost like my identity was inverting in some ways and I couldn’t control it.
I described it to someone once as saying ‘I get less done, but I’m a nicer bloke for it.’ Truth is I think I probably got just as much done, but it happened from an intuitive awareness of what to do next rather than a couple of days of planning and strategic thinking.
So ‘a daring adventure or nothing at all’, no longer describes the energy I bring to life. Yet at the same time I want to be able to live with adventure, faith and risk. I want to follow Jesus wherever that leads. I guess I have become increasingly aware that some of what I have ascribed to ‘Jesus leading’ over the last 20 years was more like my ego needs meshed with some of God’s grace – probably a lot of God’s grace…
Rohr describes it like this:
The phrase “two halves of life” was first popularised by Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist. He says that there are two major tasks. In the first half [of life] you’ve got to find your identity, your significance; you create your ego boundaries, your ego structure, what I call “the creating of the container.” But that’s just to get you started. In the second half of life, once you’ve created your ego structure, you finally have the courage to ask: What is this all for? What am I supposed to do with this? Is it just to protect it, to promote it, to defend it, or is there some deeper purpose? The search for meaning is the task of the second half of life
Recently we picked up the book of Philippians in church and I was struck again by Paul’s words ‘To live is Christ. To die is gain.’ These weren’t trite words, or words that sounded good on a business card for a tentmaker apostle. They were words that summed up his life – that actually described the energy he brought to his life and ministry.
I’ve been meditating on those words for several weeks now and I have realised I love those words – I love the simplicity and the focus of what he says and the sweep of what those words mean.
‘To live is Christ – to die is gain’ is an unselfish statement in every way, but more than that its a Jesus centred statement – one that captures the life of faith in a powerful nutshell and one that I would love to say ‘yeah that’s me!…’
Truth is that’s what I hope to be but I think to attach that to an email would be something of a lie. But it is something to aspire to – something to focus on. To live each day as Christ – at work, at the shops, at the beach and so on. And I do think I am getting better at that and it flows more naturally, but I’m also aware (oddly much more aware now) of how dark I am – how much evil lurks inside and how easy it would be to lose my way.
I’ve also noticed that the second half of that statement makes much better sense to me now than it did even five years ago. ‘To die is gain’, just sounds bizarre to someone who has so much to do and so little time! But as life has shifted in its equilibrium and as I have got to know Jesus better I find that it resonates more. I don’t want to die. Not yet at least. But it no longer looms as a ‘gong’ sounding over an incomplete life. It is beginning to feel more like something to anticipate and look forward to with longing. ‘To be with Christ is far better’, Paul says, but perhaps it is a measure of our attachment to this world that those words seem to lack any potency.
Tomorrow I turn 50, something of a landmark I guess and according to Sam I will become ‘the oldest dad in the world’. Nice one buddy!
But I feel like I am out of the woods now when it comes to that sense of disorientation and confusion that Rohr describes as normal for men in mid life. I feel like I have been able to let go of the selfish need to seek adventure and new initiatives, and am now better able to listen to God. It comes with what may appear to be a decreased energy for adventure, but I’m coming to realise that its more about a desire to do what is line with where God is leading us, rather than asking him to put his blessing on another good idea of mine.
So my hope is that those words will define the life I live and will continue to help me stay focused in this second half. That said, you probably won’t see them appear on an email any time soon… but they’d be nice on a tombstone one day hey?