My mother was 30 years and five days old when I was born. So four years ago, as Mom began planning her 90th birthday celebration, I was contemplating turning 60. I wasn’t particularly freaked out about getting “older,” but something important was certainly rumbling around in the depths of my soul. Something new or different was being created inside of me. I knew I was in the midst of yet one more life transition.
I like to understand things, so this was a time filled with great curiosity and wonder. I kept asking myself, “What is bubbling up inside of me?” “What will the rest of my life look like?” “What are the lessons God would have me learn now?” “What are we called to co-create?”
Over the last four years, I have begun to get some answers to those questions. I have read what others have to say about this time of life, and I have listened to the stories my clients are telling me about their experiences. This semester I decided to take some time to slow down and listen to my own story, to reflect on what I thought I was learning. I have chosen not to do much teaching or consulting – to just see clients in my private practice – and to do some writing.
I think of this time as a rest stop, a breather alongside the road I am traveling. You know – when you stop to stretch your legs and go to the bathroom on a road trip. Or when you are on vacation and you take a day in the midst of the sight-seeing to do your laundry, bring your travel journal up to date, and catch up on your post card writing.
In the next few days, I would like to bring you four brief postcards written during this “rest stop.” First, however, a word about “the third third.” We actually see and hear about the third third every day as the 78 million baby boomers in this country are featured in the news. Assuring financial security, accessing appropriate health care, creating families of choice, changing careers at mid-life, deciding where and how we are going to live, imagining new models for “retirement” – these are just a few of the issues with which we are dealing. And they are all important considerations.
But what I don’t see addressed much in the popular press are these questions: What does it mean for the spiritual journey that we are living longer lives? How do I find my meaning or purpose in this new phase of life? What am I going to leave behind as my personal legacy? How can I serve the world and savor life as I move through this third third?
Again: *What does it mean for the spiritual journey that we are living longer lives? How do I find my meaning or purpose in this new phase of life? What am I going to leave behind as my personal legacy? How can I serve the world and savor life as I move through this third third?*
Friedrich L. Schweitzer, in “The Postmodern Life Cycle: Challenges for Church and Theology” says that “. . . what used to be the straightforward sequence of adulthood and old age has changed to such a degree that it may make sense to speak of a new phase or additional stage in the life cycle.” He identifies several important changes that are occurring during this new stage in the life cycle: Those of us in the third third are maintaining a very high level of activity. We are developing new ideas and starting new projects. And we are looking for the opportunity to do something meaningful with the new freedom we may have achieved when work or family obligations have decreased or ended.
The third third is a new leg on the tour of life, a new phase of the spiritual journey.
And here is my first postcard from this journey in the third third. It says, “I HAD FORGOTTEN HOW GREAT THIS PLACE IS. AND THE FOOD IS WONDERFUL!”
Out of the incredible abundance that is creation, we each come into life with the potential to do many things. Our DNA, family expectations, cultural and historical trends, seemingly chance events lead us to follow one path, not take another, to develop one set of gifts and talents and put others down to lie fallow. So we all end up in the third third with what my favorite Jungian author Robert A. Johnson calls “The Unlived Life.” And if we will explore this unlived life in the third third, we will find new energy, more juicy-ness for life, either by developing parts of ourselves we haven’t explored or by finding anew old passions we chose to leave in the past.
For me, one of those paths to the unlived life started with a picture of a kitchen on the internet. My partner and I were looking for a house to buy, and as we do these days, I began our search online. I happened upon pictures of a house built in the 1950s, in the right neighborhood, within our size requirements and price range, and beautifully renovated. The best part was the kitchen – lots of cabinets, a big island work space, and a delightful black and white tile floor. It was love at first sight, and second sight. We moved in a month later.
That move and that kitchen jump-started a return to a part of myself I thought I had lost. Within six weeks, we began to entertain friends and family in our home. I found myself quitting work an hour early to hurry home to try out a new recipe. I allowed myself to purchase some new tools for my new foodie fun and soon my family was gifting me with cook books.
I learned to cook when I was very young. I discovered my gift for hospitality while married to an Episcopal clergyman. But pursuits of the mind, of my profession, my need to focus on work, to make a living, had taken me down another path. What a pleasure to rediscover the joy, the sensual delights, the satisfying creativity in the simple nurturing acts of planning, preparing, and sharing healthy, delicious meals.
Of equal importance was a bit of self-discovery I’m not very proud of. I found that I held “being a housewife” and all the skills I had been taught to prepare me for that role with some judgment. And if I held that part of myself with judgment, how did that influence my relationship with others?
So this first brief postcard carries this message for the spiritual journey: *Hold the unlived parts of your life gently. You, and all your fellow travelers, have made the best choices you knew how to make as you grew to this point in your life. And when it’s time, let the call of the unlived life tug on you.*
Next: The second postcard.
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