From time to time we uncover a new paradigm that leads us to a whole new way of thinking: maybe it’s technological like a smart phone. Sometimes it’s vocational like an experience that shows you what you were always meant to do with your life. Maybe it’s relational like discovering the Enneagram. And then sometimes it’s spiritual like your first real encounter with God…or with a thriving church family…or a breakthrough from generational dysfunctions. Whatever it is, it’s a game-changer.
Hopefully we get to tap into this transformative leap multiple times in our lives, but when it happens, it changes the way you see and experience that part of your life forever. There is no going back. Perhaps you can think of one or two in your history already. Well, the idea of there being two “halves” of life—two major chunks of living on planet earth—that operate on fundamentally different rules, values, and priorities…that was a new paradigm for me. I hope it just might be one for you too.
Just for fun, here’s the brainstorming chart I used to try to map the paradigm before I ran out of space!
Before I try to explain the paradigm, let me offer another fundamental paradigm shift that we all understand at some level: the Old Testament and the New Testament. Both of these stories (and the covenants or systems that undergird them) are part of our rich heritage. God fully occupied both, yet Jesus brought a necessary revelation and transition that anchors us firmly in the “rules, values, and priorities” of the new covenant. To be exposed to the wonder and beauty of the new way—and then choose to stick with the old way—would be in a very real sense tragic.
I apologize from the start that this will be a longer post—and I will only scratch the surface of these profound ideas, but I hope it plants a seed that continues to grow and bear good fruit in your journey.
The First Half of Life is about developing a strong sense of self, and we typically do that—just as we do physically with children—by setting strong emotional boundaries. I belong to this family, not that family…to this religion, not that one…to this nation, not all the other nations…to this socioeconomic group, not that one. As you can see, it is very dualistic and focuses upon our differences. The results, however, are initially healthy and produce strong loyalty to the tribe, certainty of belief, and a certain level of exclusion or rejection of those outside the tribe.
Let’s dig a little deeper. This burgeoning sense of self—the ego, if you will—is vested in being on the inside, on the right side. It finds security in a carefully defined and protected set of behaviors, values, and beliefs (even if the beliefs are not religious). Nationalism and fundamentalism are ways of expressing the priority attached to the lines of demarcation, lines that will be protected at all cost, even violently. It is a closed system that reinforces its established answers and penalizes those who question the status quo.
So while my description probably feels somewhat negative, it is a necessary stage of development…as attested by children who grow up without behavioral boundaries. To experience the healthy freedom of adults, we must pass through the constraints of childhood.
So what’s on the other side of the First Half of Life? The Second Half winds up being the mirrored opposite to the first: instead of tribalism and nationalism arises a sense of connection across all stripes of the human family. As we begin to recognize that we surely don’t have all the answers to the big questions of life, we become more comfortable with exploration and not knowing. Instead of judgment and exclusion, we move more instinctively toward compassion and inclusion. Restoration more than retribution.
Does it sound like the Second Half is a reckless abandonment of all our convictions and communal tethers? It’s really not. As you’ve probably heard me say before, every human carries three fundamental needs—for approval, security, and power—and we carry these needs corporately as well as individually. What changes in the Second Half is not the diminishment of these needs but the source from which we draw them. In the First Half, we find approval from the tribe, security from our belief systems, and power from the ability to judge and exclude. In the Second Half, we find approval from the Creator, security in divine relationship, and power in love. For real. This is not a small shift; it is seismic. It changes everything.
The Second Half brings a rootedness that needs no protection because its roots are in God’s own self rather than the ego. There is no ambition, comparison, or competition in the Second Half because everything the soul longs for is already lavishly provided. Fear subsides and shame evaporates as we land in the safe arms of Mystery. This is the domain of the restored prodigal son, whose great fall gave him access to the Father’s heart that his older brother eschewed from his First Half rule-tending. Does that speak to something deep in you?
Remember, paradigms are not right or wrong—they are merely helpful or unhelpful. If you find the Second Half of Life paradigm inspiring and appealing, then go for it. If not, no worries.
So let’s assume for a minute that you resonate with the need to grow into a new way of being in the world. That perhaps you even hear echoes of this transformation in Jesus’ critique and fulfillment of the Old Testament system. How does it happen? How does one make the jump?
In a word, death.
Whoa. That doesn’t sound very appealing! But Jesus once again shows us the way; the new order required his death and so it requires ours. His life, death, and resurrection is the archetype for all transformation: order is followed by disorder which then paves the way for reorder. The First Half is a season of profound order; everything belongs in its place. The Second Half also has its order, albeit a complete reshuffling of the deck! But between the two is a necessary suffering, the trauma of disorder.
Practically speaking, most of us are not ready to consider, or even interested in, the Second Half of Life until we have experienced a massive upheaval in our lives…and God is faithful to allow such traumatic events into our lives for just such a purpose. It comes in many different hues, but it is always humiliating, disorienting, and painful. Common disordering events include a devastating blow to career or finances, a life-threatening disease or death, marital separation or divorce, the betrayal of a trusted friend or mentor, or some circumstance that exposes your darkness on the public stage. There are many more, and each one feels like a profound death…perhaps even to the questioning of whether there is life on the other side.
Fortunately, there is! And finally we are ready to receive it.
This transition is not generally immediate; more often it involves a gradual yet determined journey over some years. And in addition to this paradigm’s macro operation (as a singular transition in life), it also plays out in innumerable micro versions on the daily path of soul-making. I’m just learning; want to join me?
If you get a big “wow” from this idea and want to explore it further, let me offer you two avenues: first, buy Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward, which unpacks this vision far more eloquently than I can. Second, consider attending my January retreat in Valle Crucis, where we will explore this vision ourselves at a deeper level within the intimacy of a small group.
Where are you on the order – disorder – reorder progression?