First-half-of-life work builds a strong ‘container’ – answering questions such as ‘What makes me significant?’, ‘What will I do to support myself?’, and ‘Who will I go with?’ Second-half-of-life work is about finding the contents for the container. Jesus spoke of this in Luke5:37 –  “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.” Old wineskins once served an important purpose, but eventually must be discarded or the precious contents will be forfeited. Too many people spend their life repairing the container and don’t “throw their nets into the deep” (John 21:6) for the large catch available to them.

First-half-of-life tasks take “so much of our blood, sweat, eggs and sperm, tears and years that we often cannot imagine there is a second task, or that anything more could be expected of us…If we do not move beyond our early motivations of personal security, reproduction, and survival, we will never proceed beyond the lower stages of human or spiritual development. Many church sermons I have heard seem never to move beyond this first level of development, and do not even challenge it. In fact, to challenge it is called heretical, dangerous, or ill advised.”*

Rohr* points out two key insights with relation to the steps and stages of growth and development. “First of all, you can only see and understand the earlier stages from the wider perspective of the later stages. This is why mature societies were meant to be led by elders, seniors, saints and ‘the initiated.’ They alone are in a position to be true leaders in a society, or certainly in any spiritual organization. Without them, ‘the blind lead the blind.’

“If you have, in fact, deepened and grown ‘in wisdom, age, and grace’ (Luke 2:52), you are able to be…forgiving, compassionate, and radically inclusive.” Those who have done this “move beyond the boundaries of their own ‘starter group’ while still honoring them and making use of them. Jesus the Jew criticizes his own religion the most, yet never leaves it.”

The second insight is that “from your own level of development, you can only stretch yourself to comprehend people just a bit beyond yourself…Because of this limitation, those at deeper (or ‘higher’) levels beyond you invariably appear wrong, sinful, heretical, dangerous, or even worthy of elimination.”

It is sad – and a bit scary – to watch many religious people be so afraid of new ideas and change. Yet Jesus, in Matthew 4:17, admonished “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent literally means ‘change your mind’, yet the “resistance to change is so common that it is almost what we expect from religious people, who tend to love the past more than the future or the present. All we can conclude is that much of organized religion is itself living inside of first-half-of-life issues, which usually coincides with where most people are in any culture.

“Thus the first journey is always about externals, formulas, superficial emotions, flags and badges, correct rituals, Bible quotes, and special clothing, all of which largely substitute for actual spirituality (see Matt. 23:13-32). Yet, they are all used and needed to create the container…Just don’t give your life for mere style and sentiment.”

The catalyst for embarking on the deeper journey is often something we label as dreadful or total loss, yet it is often at the end of our own resources where we must fall into the vastness of God’s mercy and sovereignty. Too often we have little patience with mistakes or defeat – ours or someone else’s. We judge those situations as stumbling rocks on our journey and lament the day we floundered.

Leaning into inadequacy, embracing deficiencies, believing that God’s greatest gifts may be wrapped in bankruptcy and brokenness  – these are the launching pads for the deepest revelations of God. For His strength is perfected in weakness and His grace goes before and covers all.

Ann Halim, Editor, eWeekend

*All quotes not referenced are from Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, by Richard Rohr, pgs. 2, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13.

Reprinted with permission