So Fall is here, and for many, it represents one more step in the journey. I have always associated the coming of Fall with the classroom, maybe because I have either been a student or an educator all of my life. And no matter what stage we are in, it is good to reflect on this—that we never finish our education. The journey always has a next step. It is not something that is completed at the end of high school, college, nor graduate school. It does not end when one has completed a doctorate, nor a post doctorate. Dr. Pentecost gave some of the most centering words I have ever heard, when entering my doctoral program: “Men, you are simply moving from unconscious to conscious ignorance.” And the older I get, the more I simply realize how much I do not know. As Max DePree notes, we are always in a state of becoming. Who we are is fluid.
Walter Wright, in his wonderful little book, The Third Third: Preparing for Your Future, got me to thinking about all of this. It is all about finishing well. But the key to this is starting and progressing well, and staying at it. As my pastor used to say to me in seminary—“Keep on Keeping On.” He hand scribbled it on the inside cover of a book he had just written, and it came to me amidst my second year of theological training. These words were timely, as I was becoming weary in the journey. Greek and Hebrew and Theology and living on twenty dollars a week can do this.
Wright’s book is written for those who assume life preparation is largely for the first or second third of life. Rather, we have to approach each of our three stages of life this way. Too many stop preparing in their mid-years, when they are focused on sustaining things, holding on to a job, keeping a marriage together, and providing for the kids. Most, when it comes to their final third, make no preparations at all (at least beyond aiming for a retirement income and a paid off mortgage).
What happens when the day comes you leave the work you have poured yourself into? It may seem an irrelevant question for students preparing for their life work. But how you approach life now will go a long way towards how you answer this. If we avoid risk and unfamiliar terrain in our early years, we will most likely play it safe in our latter years. But if we are willing to step out of our comfort zone at each phase of life, we will find that risk always offers both fear and hope. And hope energizes calling and invites us to become. Quoting from DePree, Wright notes: “In the end, it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.”
In one sense, every fall should be a venture into the wilderness. We should aim to go somewhere we haven’t been, experiencing something we haven’t encountered, learning something we have never known. We must live as if tomorrow might be the most important day. We must not die with anything in the reserves. If we don’t live this way, it doesn’t matter what age we are—we are already old.