One Journey, Two People: Part 3

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 grandchrisk-takingildren.  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.

The Problem:

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.”

The Process

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.

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One Journey – Two People: Part 2

An eleven-hour car drive from Buffalo to Hampton Roads, Virginia prompted the question I had been meaning to ask my husband. (Read previous post for context.)

“Hey David, here is what I have noticed in the last several years… You were once contentwalking about your life and now, not so much … Am I off or on track and do you care to talk about it?”

“You may be right, up to a point, Dona.  I’m still mostly content and believe I have lived a ‘completed’ life and could go to the Creator without regrets.  But recently some insecurities have surfaced.  In fact, it is part of the reason I have asked you to blog about late middle age baby boomer insecurity. I was hoping that you could do a little research and then enlighten me to what may be going on.”

Therapeutic communication:

Before I did any research I wanted to hear more of what David thought might be going on. So, I continued with a communication phrase that I have instructed many couples to practice.

“Is there more about this that you can tell me about…..” (There is always more that aids in clarification).

“Is there more” and continuing to ask, “Is there more?” until you finally hear,

“No, I think I have said all that I was feeling or thinking about the matter.”

This type of persistence in dialogue is one of the kindest and most courageous self-disciplines you can practice when having meaningful communication with someone. Kindest, because there is always more that someone has to say, and you, the listener, are giving them the time, mental space, and patience  to reflect and be heard.  It aids in the speaker’s own self-clarification and provides insight as room and time is given for them to think out loud and even to rethink and revise what they originally thought in order to get closer to their core belief.

courage
COURAGE

It is also a courageous self-discipline because you are placing yourself in a position of vulnerability – hearing more than your “thin skin-ness” is typically able to handle without getting hurt and making it about you. My experience with this grownup communication tool is that if a person can trust the process without reacting to the content with the typical self-justifying filters and insecurities then something happens that leads to emotional connection and intimacy that would have typically been buried in a sea of defending, accusation and misunderstanding.

Back to David’s narrative:

“Maybe your cancer diagnosis and treatment leaves me feeling my life is not complete because I wouldn’t want to die and leave you in a lurch.  Of course I have no control of that.  That is in God’s hands.  Could be that as I get older I’m just feeling more irrelevant and further away from making things happen in a way that a younger generation can and does?  Maybe it’s more akin to the loss of an “insider status.”

(To be honest this is not exactly how David described his unease on that 11-hour car ride.  When I showed him this post he edited his quote; he rewrote the quote; he left it, came back and revised it again as he struggled to concisely define his feelings.)

More therapeutic stuff:

Putting pen to paper brings the mental clarity that so often alludes us when we just talk.

I have found in my mental health practice that this process of writing down thoughts and feelings is therapeutic. Putting pen to paper brings the mental clarity that so often alludes us when we just talk.  When we write our thoughts down we are placing boundaries built writing hardby our language’s syntax and grammar.  Writing down our thoughts forces our brain to reign in free-floating anxious thoughts. It happened that way with David; giving him more to time to get to the heart of what was bothering him and it gave me the needed content to know what to research.

By this point my digressions have likely made you forget what David wanted me to research (i.e. Baby-boomer insecurity).  As it turned out, my initial research would bring me to articles that were more about our baby boomer power than about the obvious – we are old and we are feeling it in our bones, our gut, and our culture and in our soul, and we are quite self-absorbed about it.  The articles I read leaned to reassurances.  They encouraged us to resist self-doubt and summoned statistics that made us sound pretty darn relevant as consumers, social media connectors, political and health care industry influencers. Oh hum… who cares about all that and apparently not David after further communication.  The John Mayer song, “Get Off this Train,” pointedly gets to the heart of the matter.  We are getting old and no pep talk or consumer statistics are fooling us.  So, where is my navel-gazing husband (his words) to go from here?

Sorry, dear readers, as it turns out I have more to say in this blog before I fulfill my original “One Journey-Two People” series.  My next post “One Journey – Two People: Part III” I’ll try to get to the heart of the matter that was teased out of David’s angst.

One Journey, Two lives: part 1

No regrets 

“At this point in my life the thought of dying does not bother me that much.  I feel that I have lived a fairly faithful life (to Christ), a full life; accomplished a few meaningful things that have made a difference and been blessed beyond anything I deserved or earned.  I don’t want to die, but I think I would depart without regrets.”

This sentiment was not expressed by me, the recent cancer survivor, but by my husband about 4 years ago.  But recently some of his reflections seem to modify that original statement.

The lyrics of a song in one of David’s iTunes playlists by John Mayer, “Stop This Train,” has made me wonder whether he has had a change of heart.

Stop this train
I want to get off and go home again
I can’t take the speed it’s moving in
I know I can’t but honestly won’t someone stop this train

So scared of getting older
I’m only good at being young
So I play the numbers game to find a way to say that life has just begun
Had a talk with my old man
Said help me understand
He said turn 68, you’ll renegotiate
Don’t stop this train
Don’t for a minute change the place you’re in
Don’t think I couldn’t ever understand
I tried my hand
John, honestly we’ll never stop this train

Long journeys

Today, an eleven hour car drive from Buffalo to Hampton Roads, Virginia prompted the question I had been meaning to ask.

“Hey David, here is what I have noticed in the last several years… You were once content and now, not so much … Am I off or on track and do you care to talk about it?”

Long car rides or walks are the business for relationship talks and/or philosophical musings. They are better in some ways than the prescribed, “sit across the table from one walkinganother and talk.” There is something about movement of two bodies in close proximity to each other that feels safe, purposeful and engaging. Looking ahead together as opposed to looking at each other allows spoken thoughts to be free of the distraction of disconcerting facial expressions.

”Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know but your eyes did a weird thing when I said…”

Expectations are high when sitting across the table (excluding sit down meal times) to have ‘the talk.’  A contrived setting has been established for a limited time to reach a resolution, solve a problem, or discuss a serious topic.  The pressure is on and so is the stress that there could be a misstep. Long distance journeys are not limited on time and have just the right amount of boredom, leaving room for the spontaneous and reflective.

We can all probably think of some piece of literature or a movie where people on a journey together make observations of life, people, and relationships. The topics range from the sublime to the ridiculous to the evil.  A pastor once quoted someone as saying, “all good stories begin and end with a journey.”  I would add that if that journey is accompanied with other individuals the possibilities of new insights and revelations are heightened, deepened and possibly breathing lessonshealing. Many books (here are a few from my recent reading list) verify such insight:  “Peace Like a River” by Leif Enger (a family’s journey of discovery) and Pulitzer prize winning, “Breathing Lessons” by Anne Tyler (a married couple’s long car journey revealing the meaning of a long marriage with its ups and downs).  But lest I sound naïve, people on journeys together can also prompt the ridiculous, mischief and evil, i.e.…  “Dumb and Dumber”, “Thelma and Louise”, “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Natural Born Killers” to name a few.

Easter-Road-To-Emmaus1Jesus on the road to Emmaus appearing to two disciples (Luke 24:13-35) is an example of the sublime. The gospel reports that on that journey the post resurrected-Christ walked and talked incognito to the two unnamed disciples, giving time to answering questions and explaining deep scriptural truths that revealed His true nature and life’s purpose.  “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as He talked,” exclaimed the two after Christ disappeared from their midst.  That journey changed them forever.

Back to David and Dona’s 11-hour care drive journey:

“You are insightful, Dona, up to a point.  It is not about fear of dying but contentment.  I have more discontent than 4 years ago.  Not a big deal but something is going on.  In fact, it is part of the reason I have asked you to blog about late middle age baby boomer insecurity. I was hoping that you could do a little research and then enlighten me to what may be going on.”

So, I am taking his challenge and will do the research for next week’s blog.  For now, I will stop writing and make sure I am not wasting a journey’s relationship discovery possibilities.