Beyond the Formulas, Part 1

When I was in high school one of my worst subjects was math. So it makes complete sense that when I went to college I decided to major in engineering…with a minor in mathematics. Actually, looking back it makes no sense. But that’s what I did, and those five years (it takes longer to finish when you have to take some classes more than once) were very formative for me (brutally difficult, but formative). Although I use almost none of that engineering and mathematics education on a day-to-day basis, I find find that in a lot of ways that educational experience shapes the way I think. Studying engineering taught me to think. It taught me how to break down and solve problems using a logical, rational approach.

Earlier this year I started meeting with a counselor/spiritual director named Denise. My time with her has been life-giving in a variety of ways. She has the uncanny ability to integrate the best of psychology with sound theology to bring insight to the mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of life. She has helped me process and understand parts of my life journey and their impact on who I am, and she has opened up new insights on the journey that still lies ahead. In one of my first meetings with Denise she made the comment that she thought I might be entering “the second half of life.” Having just turned 40, I didn’t like the sound of this.

Denise went on to explain that life is divided into two halves. The first half of life is about figuring out essential questions of life:

  • What am I to do?
  • Who will go with me in life?
  • What gives my life significance?

From the perspective of Christian faith, the first half of life is about developing a sense of who we are in relationship with God. Rules, precepts, and principles are important in the first half of life. We learn and discover the formulas that serve us in solving the problems we face in life. The first half of life is significant. It is essential. It is formative. But apparently, it is an incomplete view of life.

“Wholly unprepared, we embark upon the second half of life… we take the step into the afternoon of life; worse still we take this step with the false assumption that our truths and ideals will serve as before. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning – for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.” Carl Jung

At some point the formulas break down. What worked to help you make sense of life in the first half is incomplete. What Denise observed in me was the tension of seeing my formulas break down. Does this mean that what I learned in the first half is wrong? Does that make the rules wrong? Does that make God’s rules and laws wrong? Not wrong but incomplete.

In my next post I’ll share how first-half thinking began failing me and some of the faltering steps I’m taking into the second half.

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