I turn fifty next year. Fifty. Fifty. Fifty. Fifty. Say that word too many times and it loses meaning, sounding all strange and unfamiliar.
Speaking of strange and unfamiliar, some things are starting to happen.
I accidentally get the camera on my phone flipped to selfie and I’m so confused. Who’s neck is that? Wait, did I really look like that all day?
I walk into a room to do something and have to spend a full minute trying to figure out why I’m there.
The scale is inching upward even though I’m eating less and healthier than ever before.
I bend over to towel dry my hair after a shower and realize my upside down knees look completely foreign, like not even a real body part.
Knees. Knees. Knees. Fifty. Fifty. Fifty….Fifty knees!
This time of life IS SO WEIRD and I say it with confidence because of a growing list of unmentionables.
Physical facts don’t lie. The raw materials that cradle my soul slide steadily toward deterioration. It is by design and I’m not immune, regardless of how determined I was a decade ago to prevent it from happening to me.
And yet. My 49th year has hinted at some surprising and encouraging secrets on the flip side of the aging coin.
Deep beneath the unfamiliar wrinkles and sag and fluffiness, it feels like a party is just getting started. The delightful surprise of growing older? WHO I am is coming to rest in grace inside the aging WHAT.
As I wrestle with my outsides changing in ways I have no control over, my insides feel like I’m finally figuring out who I am.
A greater and greater assurance is being birthed inside an ever depleting container. At the same time sun exposure and slowing metabolism are showing effects on the outside, perseverance and sanctification and obedience are bearing fruit on the inside.
I’m studying some already in their 50s and beyond. I’m watching it happen with a few of my peers. There is a looseness of spirit and limb, an increasing comfort level with the unknown, a greater willingness to say, “I have no idea.” I see a fresh vulnerability that invites empathy and connectedness. I see a humility that’s exposed by the pruning of mistakes and disappointments. They are quicker to listen and slower to advise. Laughter and love are lacing their lives.
Learning from a life of stories and experience digs a well of wisdom that only grows deeper and sweeter as the years pile up.
I’m grasping the truth within this paradigm: there are two halves of life, each with distinct purposes. We will only discover the fullness of both if we make the conscious choice to fully embrace each half for what it offers.
“We are here to give back fully and freely what was first given to us….It is probably the most courageous and free act we will ever perform – and it takes both halves of our life to do it fully. The first half of life is discovering the script, and the second half is actually writing it and owning it.” Falling Upward; A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr
The first half of life matures and grows you on the inside. We discover the script, as Rohr describes. Much of the first half stuff hurts. You struggle inside because of all the falling down and doing it wrong and having to learn it the hard way. Take heart first halfers! There is weight and value in all you are going through. The hard places are there to teach you. Embrace them. The early decades are packed with the materials needed to build a wise foundation. Do not be anxious if it takes a long time to see the beauty.
Just as your body begins to show the wear and tear outwardly of the first half building process, your true self is invited to become the person you were made to be.
The second half is offering me an invitation to this party and I have a critical choice to make.
I can rage against the inevitable outward decline and get stuck in the first half process. Pouty, regretful, foolish.
Or I can choose to become the truest WHO God intended when He dreamed me up. To write it and own it, continuing to live and learn through the life He offers to me.
This book by Richard Rohr has been so helpful in navigating the start of this transition:
“In the second half of life, we do not have strong and final opinions about everything, every event, or most people, as much as we allow things and people to delight us, sadden us, and truly influence us…Ironically, we are more than ever before in a position to change people–but we do not need to–and that makes all the difference. We have moved from doing to being to an utterly new kind of doing that flows almost organically, quietly, and by osmosis. Our actions are less compulsive. We do what we are called to do, and then try to let go of the consequences. We usually cannot do that very well when we are young.”
My soul is getting comfortable with the foundational story inside this stretched and sagging tent I’ve been given. I’m ready to join the wild and unpredictable party that feels like it’s just getting started.