Early Friday evening, on the deck of our house in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, we dined on grilled fish over a bed of sautéed vegetables paired with a white Bordeaux. A gentle breeze stirred the warmth of spring at sunset. First-of-the-season tiger swallowtails flitted among the flowering viburnum, which emitted a sweet, spiced fragrance. As our two old dogs and new puppy lounged nearby, Keith and I marveled at how God had brought us together at midlife and how our lives and prayers had changed.
I said, “When my children were in grade school, my number one prayer as a single parent was to live long enough to get them raised. I figured if God granted that prayer, whatever came next would be gravy. Extra. A nice bonus.”
“Life is never gravy,” Keith said. “As long as we’re living, God offers us growth and purpose.”
I smiled. “No, life is not gravy, more like meat and potatoes, manna and quail, water and wine.”
In the first half of life, most of us are preoccupied with our identities, relationships, and work. In Becoming Sage: Cultivating Meaning, Purpose, and Spirituality in Midlife, author and The Perennial Gen co-founder Michelle Van Loon defines these three spiritual growth stages as: “God, I believe in You,” “God, I belong to You,” and “God, I’m working for You.” But to reach the second half of life’s spiritual maturity, we must traverse stage four: “God, where are you? I’m alone in the dark,” also known as the “dark night of the soul.”
Unhappiness always and loss often accompany stage four’s darkness. As Van Loon states, “there are no shortcuts.” But on the other side of this transition stage, we discover deeper relationships and wholeness within ourselves.
Cultivating spiritual maturity in the second half of life is the “meat and potatoes” of Van Loon’s book study, each chapter ending with a reflection guide and group discussion questions. We look at our churches, families, friendships, our bodies, finances, happiness, vocations, and wisdom differently in the second half of life. And as we see the end of life ahead, we think less about changing the world and more about our legacy in loving others.
We grow up, grow whole, and grow old. Apprenticed by Jesus, we may also become sage.
That’s not gravy, that’s the essence of maturity.
As we finished dinner, I thought about the decades-ago dark night that brought me to the God “believe, belong, work” stages after years of atheism, and the dark night loss Keith endured before we met, and the dark night I experienced, coming to Jesus while we built our lives together here in the Blue Ridge.
“We are so blessed,” Keith said, “especially since we know it could be otherwise—and it will be.”
I nodded. “Life can be hard; we are not in control; we all die. That’s why it’s so important to count our blessings.”
Keith placed a few vegetables and morsels of fish on three plates. Manna and Quail. Three muzzles perked up.
Amen. Amen. And amen.
A year ago, I was honored to review one of the chapters of Becoming Sage and this winter received an advance copy. As a guide for Christian Living, I highly recommend Michelle Van Loon’s new book, available for preorder and releasing next week.
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