For the first twenty, thirty years of adulthood, life’s potential fans out to a limitless horizon. Your body still does what you tell it to do, and life’s vagaries haven’t rung your doorbell yet. The list of what you can accomplish is long, and the years ahead appear endless. Then comes middle age.
Whether you peg the start of the middle years at 40 or 50, the Over the Hill birthday party is a milestone. About 10% of the population has a genuine crisis at this point while most spend time reflecting on where they are at in life. Has life turned out how they thought it would? (About 0% reply yes.) What else might they want to do in the remaining years?
In common vernacular, a catalog of possibilities is known as a “bucket list”. According to Merriam Webster, the phrase was coined first in 2006 and comes from the idiomatic expression for dying–to kick the bucket. Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman starred in the 2007 film, “The Bucket List”, which featured two terminally ill men who go on a trip to accomplish everything on their wish list.
With the internet, you can track your list online and see what others have placed in their buckets. List items cover the gamut: humorous – cover someone’s car in post-in notes; serious – get a graduate degree; fun – dye your hair purple; adventuresome – climb the Matterhorn; healthy – train for a triathlon; helpful – volunteer at the children’s hospital; ambitious – write a book; dangerous – skydive; artsy – take a pottery class; educational – visit the capitols in all 50 states.
Many have found the process of thinking about the future and outlining goals invigorating. They remember things they wanted to do when younger, and crazy ideas they toyed around with but never got to. Instead of seeing middle age as a marker for life being half over, they now see it as a doorway to an exciting second half of life.
If a bucket list for life is helpful and fun, why not a spiritual bucket list? The spiritual journey to maturity, the Christian process of sanctification, often has a similar halfway point. Richard Rohr in Falling Upward, and authors Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich in The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith examine the components for spiritual growth and the under-discussed spiritual challenges that come in the second half of life.
Rather than a birthday, both books point out that it’s often a period of suffering or hardship that marks the spiritual second half. After some soul searching reflection, maybe you realize God isn’t who you thought he was; the guaranteed formulas for parenting or marriage didn’t work; the programs that enriched before now seem dry and banal; and you’re on a spiritual plateau. Maybe the plateau would be comfy long-term, but thirty or forty years at this level could be boring.
What can you do to move further down the road to becoming more and more like Christ?
- Travel –Take a spiritual pilgrimage vacation to the Holy Land, follow Paul’s missionary journey path, or visit the sites of the seven churches of Revelation in Turkey.
- Adventure – join a short-term mission team to a majority world country, spend a week at a monastery.
- Educational – enroll in classes at a local seminary or bible college, read academic Christian authors, listen to preachers you disagree with, study a theological tenet like baptism, map your spiritual journey.
- Volunteer – lead worship at a nearby assisted living center, start a healing prayer ministry.
- Serious – worship in a church with a different style, begin a new spiritual discipline, mentor someone, memorize a book of the Bible, participate in a silent retreat, delve into spiritual formation, discover your true self, work with a spiritual director.
The second half of life awaits, be intentional. What’s on your spiritual bucket list?
- Author/blogger, Michelle Van Loon, conducted an informal survey—40+ and the Church—and summarized the results on her blog.
- Footstep Ministries leads tours to locations where the Bible was written.
- Bellarmine Retreat Center in Barrington, IL
- Ministries of Pastoral Care
Other resources? Add them in comments.