The heading of my blog today might seem confusing and even counterintuitve to men. This confusion is in large measure due to our not being taught nor shown a way of living in the second half of life. It is similar to a man who has had a successful first half of life, assuming that the second half will be the same, yet having the unsettled feeling that he has missed the purpose of his life. Again today I am reflecting on Richard Rohr’s good book on learning how navigate the second half of life. He observes that Thomas Merton has pointed out that we may spend our whole life climbing the ladder of success only to find when we get to the top that our ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.
The image of the ladder is a good metaphor of the man who comes to that fork in the road on his journey, where he has to ask himself, “Is this what my life is really about?” “Am I supposed to “grind it out” for the second half, the way I have in the first half?” Who am I as a person?” Why do I do the things that I do?” Who am I trying to impress?” These are some of the questions that arise as a man looks at the fork in the road. The choice is to continue climbing the ladder or coming to the realization that I must how go down the ladder. I tell you men from personal experience, that God will lead you to point on your journey where you will be almost forced to make the choice of whether to start down the ladder or keep climbing. Usually it will be a failure, a loss, a disappointment, or what Rohr calls a “necessary suffering.” You will hit the wall and realize the ladder is not going to hold you in your desperate attempt to keep up your reputation and image.
I want to tell you men, as someone who has been through the descending process, of course, falling imperfectly as I lost my grip on the ladder, that God is mightly at work in the descent. You will “fall” into this experience, since none of us choice it. It is something done to us. The idea of descent is a prominent teaching of Jesus. For example, “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal” (John 12:24-25 – The Message). Be assured when you come to that fork in the road, it is God who has orchestrated the timing.
Why haven’t we been able to help men when they come to this fork in the road. One good reason given by Rohr is that we are spiritually lazy. “When we are lazy, we stay on the path we are already on, even if it is going nowhere.” The down-and-then-up principle does not fit in our Western view of progress and the successful life, nor our desire for upward mobility. Many men do become “spiritual lazy” when they come to the fork in the road. They choose the easier road of the familiar, self-achieving road of personal success and fulfillment, while they become starved and confused spiritually.
There are many strong, male voices today who are saying to men caught in this middle life fork in the road to take the journey of descent. Put your trust in the Lord Jesus and allow him to lead you, even thought it will be the experience of “the darkness of faith.” You are being called to trust, that further along on the journey that you will be a better man. God himself will lift you up. Listen to what Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I’ve prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start” (Luke 22:31-32 – The Message). Notice Jesus was going to use Peter after his “shifting.” Our “shifting” by God will make us better men.