Monday, April 27, 2020

Review: Becoming Sage

Becoming Sage: Cultivating Meaning, Purpose, and Spirituality in Midlife by Michelle Van Loon, Moody Publishers, 2020, 201 pages.

When I was a young adult, I had dreams of what life would be like after the next 30-40 years. Now that I have reached this stage, hardly any of those expectations turned out as I had hoped. I could either be thrown for a loop or see this as an opportunity to grow. And this pursuit of Christian maturity in midlife is the topic of Michelle Van Loon's new book, Becoming Sage.

She writes that we often get the wrong idea that maturity is a given once we reach a certain age. We also get the wrong idea that discipleship is only for the young. But "maturity is not a destination but an on-going process." (pg. 10) This time of life with its disappointments and unexpected turn of events is an invitation to become sage - "a way of life in which a person expresses experience, knowledge, insight, and self-mastery." (pg. 11)

In the first section of the book, Michelle addresses defining and understanding maturity. Midlife is an opportunity to assess our Christian growth and see where we may have gotten lopsided. She describes discipleship models that emphasize one aspect of ourselves over the others leaving us imbalanced. For example, discipleship that is more imitation fueled by peer pressure or an overemphasis on mental knowledge that neglects character formation. However, true wisdom should be holistic and integral to all areas of our lives -  heart, soul, mind, and strength. She then uses the life of King David as an example of stages in our faith from its beginning through the end of life. As we age, the zeal, energy, and certainty of youth begin to be tested when our growth doesn't follow a neat and tidy trajectory. We also begin to realize that the strength of a younger faith won't automatically give us success later in life. But these challenges can bring humility, greater communion with God, and the desire to pass on what we know to the next generation.

The second section of the book focuses on becoming sage in specific areas in midlife and beyond. These are:

  • the local church
  • family
  • friendship
  • our physical bodies
  • our legacy (financial and otherwise)
  • mental health
  • vocation
  • facing our mortality

Within these topics, Michelle discusses issues such as finding one's place in a youth-focused church, the loss of a spouse and other family changes, loneliness, aging bodies, and financial challenges. She also addresses the importance of emotional health for our spiritual well-being and coming to terms with our callings.

Becoming Sage is not a to-do list or how to become a mature believer in 12 steps. Neither does the author make her experience prescriptive for her readers, which I greatly appreciate. Rather Michelle brings to our attention areas that are worth examining before the Lord in the light of his Word. Some of these are often overlooked when it comes to discipleship such as the challenge of aging bodies and the struggles of mental health. I especially liked chapter 9, From Doing to Being, on vocation. I could relate to her example of looking too often in the mirror of other people's expectations to discern direction for one's life. I was also encouraged that God does not waste any of our losses and that what moves us to tears may help clarify our callings. There was a good balance of personal examples and topic content, and the chapters flowed well together. Even though one isn't supposed to judge a book by its cover, I think the cover is beautiful.

So if you want to be encouraged to press on to spiritual growth in midlife, I highly recommend Becoming Sage.

Loving God heart, soul, mind, and strength is not separated into four different-but-related silos of our lives. Each is meant to be integrated so our one-and-only life is lived in growing communion with God. Becoming sage means becoming whole. (pg. 29)

I received a copy of this book from Moody Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, April 13, 2020

Lessons from the Empty Nest

I read a book a few years ago, Unashamed by Heather Nelson, that undid me. Her chapter on parenting and shame deeply convicted me, and I went to my daughter in tears asking for her forgiveness. That undoing was the beginning of a positive change in our relationship. Better communication, better listening, and better understanding along with the help of a great Christian counselor. We're still learning and growing, but I am also aware of the times when I failed her and probably contributed to some of the issues she is presently dealing with. This knowledge is one of the reasons why I want to swoop in and make things all right thinking that perhaps I can make it up to her and undo the past.

This very issue came up in a recent conversation when I was beginning to worry about her, though I said nothing. Thankfully, my daughter could read between the pauses and picked up on my fear. She called me out to her credit. When I finally admitted that my desire to try to help her stemmed from wanting to make up for the past, she reminded me that I can't atone for myself. And she also gently reminded me that's why I need Jesus.

The gospel is the only remedy for mom guilt. I can't atone for my sins as a parent, which is why Jesus died. I could never be the perfect Christian parent, which is why Jesus lived. And his atoning work and righteousness revealed apart from the law is received by faith - in him - alone.

As hard as I tried and still try to be a good mom, God is her perfect parent, the all-wise, all-loving Father who is really responsible for all the details of her life. I will fail again, but He cannot. I will misjudge and misunderstand, but He sees and knows perfectly. My presence and influence are limited now. He never leaves nor forsakes. He restores. He renews. And the only way she could be disinherited is if her Father becomes displeased with the work of the Son.1 As a middle-aged empty-nester, I need that fatherly care just as much.

They say you never outgrow being a parent. Well, you never outgrow being a child of God.

1. If you want to be encouraged, here are some messages on the doctrine of adoption. The source of that sentence is from the first talk by my pastor. (My struggles came to light the evening after the conference when adoption was fresh in my mind. God is so kind.)

(This post was originally shared on my personal blog in September 2019)