Some time in early March of this next year, I will turn sixty-three. As much as I might protest, declaring I still feel like a young man in his thirties, it will do no good to resist. Whether I like it or not, I am steep into the second half, or, to use Wright's language, I am moving into my third third. Little wonder I am reading more and more about this next phase of life. It started with Buford's book Halftime, a book that had a certain impact on my life in the early 90's. More recently, Wright's book, The Third Third, has been a helpful read, for it provides a bit of a map.
And a map is necessary, for you can get lost at this point of life. There are no end to the maps for the front side of life—road maps to the career one should pursue, the university one should attend, the mate one should look for. But there aren't many maps for this third third. There is this false assumption by some that this period is associated with decline, letting go, waiting it out, and traveling aimlessly. And as a result, I observe a number of people who seem to be lost at this juncture. Now I must also admit that some of the lost seem to actually delight in their lostness. After years in professions where they may have been engaged in SWOT analyses, goal setting, vision casting, and strategic plans, it's nice to get up and enter into another unplanned day, where watches and roadmaps have been discarded.
But I must confess I need a map. I need one because I am convinced this part of life is the most important part of the journey, something affirmed in Rohr's new book, Falling Upwards (my latest read on the subject). As he sees it, the first half of life is merely preparatory for the second half. It is the gate. In this first half, we write the text. In the second half, we write the commentary on the text. Having worked through the necessary questions—who am I? what are the boundaries I must submit to? how can I support myself? if I should marry, who will this be? what are my projects that will bring success?, we move into the second half, where the real issues are sorted out.
Rohr describes this second half as the time in life you begin to learn to hear the deeper voice of God. You have come to grips with reality, with what matters, with what is worth investing in. No longer are you trying to keep up an image or live up to other's expectations. You are finding what life is like in union with God. Faith is no longer defined merely by rules, but by a deep desire for intimacy with God. There is a certain gravitas that has replaced the thinness. Life is not becoming more confined but is actually becoming more spacious. One is no longer obsessed with being right; rather, one is more interested in being in right relationships. And in these relationships, people have less power to infatuate, less power to control or hurt.
Not everyone gets to this second half. All too many seek to stay in the securities of the first half, and never grow up. They refuse to drop their nets, as Jesus demands. They avoid the risks—the necessary suffering one must experience to move into the second half. But the truth is, change and growth, death and resurrection must be programmed in. Some falling is necessary.
I will always remember the day I was working with my daughter, helping her to ride a bike without training wheels. She insisted that I put them back on. She did not want to fall, but as Rohr notes, you learn to recover falling only by falling. If one stays in the protective bubble of the first half, you can become a well disguised narcissist, an adult infant. If you are willing to move forward, "fall upward", you will learn to become resilient, age well, overcome adversity, find your way through complexity, and bloom with each opportunity. And it may be that the best opportunities are the ones that come in the third third for those who are looking.
Wright underscores this, though he uses different language. Moving forward, be it to the second third or the third third involves some risk. We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are! We must journey forward to a place we have not been. Risk avoidance is not for those who live well in the third third. So here's to living well in 2013—receiving all that God wants to do in us!