My two most recent posts set the stage for a conversation with my husband about his baby boomer angst. Read One Journey, Two People: Part 2 and Part 1 before you judge David’s navel gazing (his words, not mine).
Simply put, he described himself as content a few years back, even to a place where he could “leave this life for the next tomorrow without regret.” Although far from ready to quit and head for the golf course in his twilight years, a life suddenly interrupted would not be one of ‘I-wish-I-had’s’. He felt satisfied about his contribution and life’s purpose. He felt at peace. An even better description would be shalom; a Hebrew word normally translated as peace but meant to be more – a state where everything is where is should be; a whole and complete existence. We have all had those fleeting moments when our since of joy or contentment was so complete that we could ‘die this very moment happy.’ To my way of thinking that captures the essence of shalom.
My cancer diagnosis wasn’t the catalyst for Dave’s discontent. Although often a tremendous strain, providing physical and emotional support to someone you love provides tremendous meaning and purpose. But he has found himself often flummoxed and pained by not being able to reassure a wife whose fear and angst could be impenetrable at times. His feeling of inadequacy in being my comforter brought out some deeper stuff.
We both knew that something else was going on. I agreed to do some research on middle life angst but my findings were not very satisfying to him or me. Previous post explains.
Through this process David has done his own work. He listed the components of the problem in typical bullet point format. He felt this angst might be brought on by the following:
- Loss of influence, insider status or being needed. (This is in part due to his age. Younger people are taking the reins of responsibility and leadership as they should. Another factor is that at this point in our lives we do not stay in one geographical location long enough to built the connections that can make a difference.)
- The grand adventure might be over. (Throughout his life David has worked hard to place himself in situations where he could generate stories to tell the grandchildren. And he does have some great stories that he would love to tell you about. These opportunities are now mostly in the past.)
- But still busy. To use a David phrase, “I’m in a rat race in the wrong race.”
David realizes these feelings are not as negative as they might indicate on paper. To his mind, most of the time his world is one of satisfaction and opportunity. He is doing a reasonably good job navigating the transition from the back side of a career peak with its mantle of influence and insider status to one that involves more of a support role. But every so often, and these days more often than he wants, he feels those bullet points as forceful shots across the bow.
Of course, he sees this trap and realizes he must reintegrate himself emotionally into the grand purposes of God. I say emotionally because he has always put mind and feet to loving God and people.
At this point I have to resist the desire to write something original. Ego says, “Dazzle David and my readers with my unique insights.” Common sense says, many wise ones have tread this road before. If I really want to be helpful then capture their insight. To quote CS Lewis from Mere Christianity, “Even in literature and art no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring two pence how often it has been told before) you will nine times out of ten become original without ever having noticed it.”
So, with that caveat be prepared to hear from a few wise folks who have articulated insights with clarity and spiritual maturity that make sense to David and me.
Tim Keller from his book, “Counterfeit Gods,”
“How can we break our heart’s fixation on doing “some great thing” in order to heal ourselves of our sense of inadequacy in order to give our lives meaning? Only when we see what Jesus, our great suffering servant, has done for us will we finally understand why God’s salvation does not require us to do “some great thing.” We don’t have to do it because Jesus has. Jesus did it all for us and he loves us – that is how we know our existence is justified. When we believe in what he accomplished for us with our minds, and when we are moved by what he did for us in our hearts, it begins to kill off the addiction, the need for success at all costs.
The gospel does not work directly on the emotions or the will. The gospel asks, what is operating in the place of Jesus Christ as your real, functional salvation and Savior? What are you looking to in order to justify yourself? Whatever it is, it is a counterfeit god and to make a change in your life you must identify it and reject it as such.” Tim Keller, page 174 of counterfeit gods.”
In the book “The Sensation of Being Somebody”, the late Dr. Maurice Wagner, gives a formula for a rock solid self-concept. “God plus me equals a sense of being a somebody.” He explains that dependence on status, performance and appearance – attributes that many times come out of insecure attachments or over attachments in our childhood – are our default for feeling significant but they end up “biting us in the butt” (Dona’s words). They are fleeting and unreliable in taking us through life’s challenges and natural aging processes of loss and deficits. They are also dependent on others to justify ourselves as significant. Others, are people like ourselves-imperfect who will eventually die, disappoint or both.
Dr. Wagner gives an explanation for the Trinity that is psychologically unique. From God, the Father we get our sense of belonging as we submit to the Creator of us all; from Jesus Christ we get our sense of acceptance as we embrace the forgiveness he offers and from the Holy Spirit we receive our sense of competence as he leads, teaches, counsels and redirects. Belonging, Acceptance and Competence are the building blocks of a healthy self-concept and we get them all in relationship with the triune God who is perfect, permanent and predisposed to carry us through all of life’s stages, disappointments and losses into a forever life of ultimate significance and wonder.
So, how do we absorb the above in a tangible way that makes for the closeness with God that we are longing for? We (David and me) need help to move from intellectual assent and understanding to a heartfelt sense of what truly validates us and makes us feel known and loved by God. Tim Keller tells us what the problem is and what needs to be believed and understood. The late Dr. Wagner tells us the anatomy of true self-worth and significance as found in the trinity. But, there is another leg to this three legged stool which still needs to be addressed. Part 4 of “One Journey, Two People” is coming next as David and I need to further digest a book by Dr. Curt Thompson called, Anatomy of the Soul.