From Your Peak Life Now: How to Face Career Decline with Grace and Faith, by Michele Van Loon, posted July 24, 2019, at: http://www.christianitytoday.com . Van Loon is an author and speaker. Her book Becoming Sage: Cultivating Meaning, Purpose, and Spirituality at Midlife releases next spring from Moody Publishers.
(…continued) While Qohelet urges his hearers to savor the sweet parts of their lives (Ecclesiastes 5:18–20), he also suggests that we can only fully appreciate that sweetness by taking a counter-intuitive approach: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting,” he writes, “for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2).
For those of us nearing or inhabiting our so-called “retirement years,” this lesson is everywhere—in the death of loved ones, lost jobs, cancer diagnoses, and other life-altering illnesses. I’ve seen it myself. In the wake of being diagnosed recently with a rare immune system disorder, my earlier ambitions and accomplishments seem, well, mostly meaningless. And yet I feel less afraid and more free.
Brooks affirms this truth. “Embracing death reminds us that everything is temporary, and can make each day of life more meaningful,” he writes. “‘Death destroys a man,’ E. M. Forster wrote, but ‘the idea of Death saves him.’” He goes on to cite several “death-to-self” practices, including choosing an exit plan from your career while at your pinnacle (rather than trying to hold on to that peak), seeking to serve others by passing on knowledge and wisdom, and prioritizing relationships.
The other death-confronting practice familiar to Christians—one that Brooks touches on ever too briefly—is worship. While we often narrowly think of it in the context of corporate singing, Scripture gives us a much more expansive understanding of worship. The forebear of Qohelet, King David, is one example. In response to God’s command to build an altar on the threshing floor owned by Araunah the Jebusite, David asks to purchase the property. Araunah offers to give it to the king, but David is adamant: “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24).
When we offer to God something that costs us—even our cherished “peak selves”—we are experiencing a measure of death. Jesus forged discipleship and death into a single, life-surrendering action when he said to his followers, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
For those of us in the second half of life grappling with career decline, the process of relinquishment involves facing our mortality, embracing a self-denying posture, and worshiping the King. We see this in the story of Job. In the wake of losing his family, business, health, and reputation, Job doesn’t flinch from the temporal nature of life or the searing reality of death. Instead, he worships God. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart,” he says. “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).
We need models like this from Scripture. We also need them from the church today. Although we are all resurrection people, nonetheless, I’ve found that mature believers who are walking through (instead of fleeing from) the Valley of the Shadow can best translate the hope of resurrection for the rest of us. They have long been rehearsing the daily surrender to God that leads to generative, abundant life beyond the pinnacle of career success. At first sniff, their lives may smell like death, but on closer inspection, they’re saturated with the fragrance of worship.
My grandmother was half right. We don’t want to peak too early, but nor do we want to enshrine a peak that was never meant to be a destination. Those high points are but mile markers on the way to our true home.
Job 1:21 — (Job said), “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I depart. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Luke 9:23 — (Jesus said) to them all, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Acts 20:22-24 — (Paul said), “Now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
I Timothy 4:6b-8 — The time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
O Lord, let me not live to be useless. Amen. –John Wesley
Lord, give me life until my work is done; and give me work until my life is done. Amen.