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Part 2: I Am More Than What I Do

“…the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you…”                                                                                                                                                                                                                Deut. 7:7-8 (ESV).

 

Written for Both Sides

These articles flow from the premise that the first and the second halves of our lives are different. The “far side of 50” is not simply an extension of the “near side of 50.” Of course, there is commonality and overlap in this simplistic division, but still, the halves are unique in situation, circumstance and purpose. The distinction between them is not caused simply by the addition of years. God designed us this way to deliver unique lessons in their appropriate season.

The previous article suggested that in our society, the purpose of the second half is diminished, even ignored. The near side of 50 tries to avoid what is coming. The far side of 50 longs to return to what was. Many assume that the tools and means we employed to get to 50 will be sufficient for us to navigate beyond 50. But new territory with new purpose will require new insights and discoveries. God wants to take us further, even deeper.

As one who has been on the far side of 50 for a while, I’m trying to articulate some of the significant lessons God has unfolded in my aging. I am not suggesting that I have mastered the material, but I can name what is written on the blackboard. His instruction has not been about making a will, planning for retirement, caring for my diet or getting a daily dose of 10,000 steps – each one a wise plan. Instead, the curriculum for the far side 50 is about moving:

  • from an identity of doing to an identity of being
  • from the need to know to the acceptance of mystery
  • from independence to dependence                
  • from wrestling with sins to wrestling with God

The list is, of course, partial, but vital for each of us, regardless of which side of 50 we are on. We may learn the theory of each in our earlier years, but they become our experience in the second half of life. It is the difference of reading a manual on raising children and then actually having them. You are glad for the previous instruction, but now look for guidance in carrying them out. I hope these paragraphs can shed light on what is coming and offer hope when reality arrives.

 

Who Am I?

A primary insight for our second half has to do with our identity.  “Who am I?” can become a confusing question post 50. Here’s why. In the first portion of our life, we spend a lot of time and energy establishing our identity. We are granted a name and address at birth, but then we begin to flesh those out. We hear parents tell us that we are fast runners, picky eaters or have the fingers of a future pianist. So that is what we lean into. We discover at home, in school and through employment, that the better we do, the more affirmation we receive. So, we try to excel even more. Our identity becomes rooted in our performance. Also, society whispers to us that our value is tied to what we have. More toys, a bigger house, faster cars must mean that we are successful and significant. Identity is rooted in possessions. We all want to be loved, so friendships, relationships and notoriety become foundational to our identity as well. We spend decades being shaped and identified by what we do, what we have and how we are known by others. But then the second half of life arrives.

 

An Identify Shift

As we collect more years, the markers we used to establish identity become more difficult and confusing. Performance, possessions and popularity cease to be reliable definers of who we are. The fact is, as we age, we can’t perform like we used to. Our tennis game suffers. Our memory isn’t as sharp. Our wall certificates have turned yellow with age. Retirement means there is no office to go to. It feels like there is less we can do and less expected of us. If we are not raising kids, running an office or keeping up with yard work, who are we?  The trajectory of the far side of 50 moves from larger to smaller. We move out of a house into a condo. Many of our toys have been purged by garage sales.  We may feel like we have more time, but less to fill that time with. If we are defined by our possessions, we feel less than what we were. We face relational changes as well. The number of our friends drops to a few. We may suffer the loss of our spouse. Society puts seniors on the periphery, often isolated and lonely. The far side of 50 is challenging because performance, possessions and popularity no longer serve as a foundation for our identity. That confuses and frightens many. “If we are not what we were, what are we now?”

 

Return to Our First Place

The seismic shift of the second half of living is not a change to something new. It is a return to something that was, but has been forgotten. When we first arrived in this life, we were loved simply for being. No infant is loved for their achievements. Children arrive with nothing in their hands. Without performance or possessions, yet affection is poured upon them. Who are they? They are beloved. The invitation of the far side of 50 is a return to an identity rooted in being, not doing. We are beloved by our God without consideration to our successes or failures. Our identity is hidden with Christ in God, and the mystery of that will be unveiled in glory (Col.3:4). Our identity is shaped by His grace and His name is upon us (Rev.2:17, 3:12). Who are we? We are His beloved! Nothing of physical weakness, cognitive decline, smaller living space or fewer friends can change that.

The gift of the second half is a return to the very thing we should have held onto all along. Our identity is established in God and His Son Jesus Christ. We are His in our growing and His in our maturing. We are His and that is enough for time and eternity.

 

Do What?

How can we apply this truth to our living on both sides of 50? Here are some practical helps.

  • Be aware that this challenge is coming your way. You are probably not immune to seeing yourself through the lens of performance, possessions and popularity. If you accept that identity wholesale, when your life shifts, it may throw you.
  • Begin now to disentangle your identity from external markers. Give yourself to a fulfilling life, perhaps establishing a career or building a home, but do not tie your identity to that. Remember, all of this is fleeting and for a season. As you can, take some time away from all the “doing” of your life and simply be with God. If that feels unproductive, you may need an identity shift.
  • Believe what God says. You are created in His image and are of indescribable worth to Him. His love for you is an act of grace, unmerited and disconnected to any earthly reason. You do not have to prove yourself to Him or win His love. Let Him love you as you are, and let that be enough.
  • Be more concerned about the internals of your life than the externals. We focus on the externals of doing, acquiring and appearing, simply because that is what is noticed and applauded by those around us. But God’s vision is upon our heart. Prioritize the internals of soul – affections, thoughts, motive, godliness, faith, prayer. Not only are these the qualities which please God, but they need not be diminished by time. They are carried into the second half of life and thrive. To paraphrase Paul, while the externals decay, the internals are being renewed daily (2 Cor.4:16). Or to put it lyrically in song, Bruce Cockburn sings, “Time takes its toll, but in my soul, I’m on a roll.” [1]

[1] “On A Roll” from album “O Sun O Moon” Bruce Cockburn 2023

Scott Tolhurst

Scott Tolhurst

Scott and his wife have spent almost 50 years following God together through life, marriage and ministry. They’ve hop scotched across Canada and landed at the water’s edge on Vancouver Island. They’ve harvested the riches of family (5 grandkids!) and the delights of God’s people. Life has not always been clear but the fog has been pierced with these truths. The heart matters. Kingdom work is God’s. Nothing can replace faith. It never ceases to amaze Scott that, if his life is a gift, how great the Giver must be!

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