That constantly changing river is more like life than we want to think. Philosophers tell us that the only unchanging element of life is change. Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel called You Can’t Go Home Again. The person who goes home is not “you”; you have changed since you lived there. The place where you go is not “home” either; it has also changed since you left.
We are always changing, and the world is always changing. How can we remain true to Christ as we navigate the turbulence of change? We should first understand those changes, and second, be equipped to deal with the spiritual challenges of each period of life.
Developmental psychologists today usually divide adulthood into three stages: early adulthood; middle adulthood, and late adulthood. Each stage has its own “developmental tasks” and spiritual challenges. The Bible deals with the special temptations and tasks of each stage. We touched on the Early Adulthood in the last issue, and will deal with the Middle Adulthood (30—60 yr) in this issue.
From about thirty or forty to about fifty-five or sixty-five (no consensus exists as to when mid-life begins or ends), a man experiences numerous physical changes. He can no longer run as fast or jump as high as he once could; he is likely to put on weight.
And either lose his hair or see it turn grey. He may be sick more often. While his earning power is likely to be high, he is also likely to experience stress—stress connected with getting older, as well as economic, emotional, and psychological stress.
The “developmental tasks” of middle age are these:
- Achieving adult civic and social responsibility
- Assisting teen-age children to become responsible and happy adults
- Developing adult leisure-time activities
- Relating oneself to one’s spouse as a person
- Accepting and adjusting to the physiological changes of middle-age
- Reaching and maintaining satisfactory performance in one’s career
- Adjusting to aging parents
- Acquiring a set of values and an ethical system as a guide to behaviour.
A mid-life transition typically occurs between thirty-five and forty-five, with individual variations. This is a time of crisis, leading to change which may be closely associated with occupational factors. In some cases, it leads to “serious emotional fall-out. At this time some men, seeing old age peeking around the corner, feel obliged to prove that they are still young—by changing their appearance, for instance, or by having an affair with a younger woman.
The Bible does not, in any one passage, seem to differentiate between three ages of life, unless John refers to three ages when he addresses “children,” “young men,” and “fathers” in the same passage .
12 “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.”
13 I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.
14 I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.”
(1 John 2:12-14)
The primary challenge for the mature Christian man is to provide spiritual leadership for the home and the church and the community. Some may grow up in Christ and be good, but good for what? They abstain from sin themselves, but provide no spiritual leadership to help others become pleasing to God. As the Christian man matures, he should develop the qualities which characterize elders mentioned in I Timothy 3 as well as Titus 1. Then, with those qualities, he should become a strong servant-leader in the struggle for right.
A second spiritual challenge of middle age is to keep one’s priorities in order. At this stage of life, a man can easily become addicted to ambition, becoming so set on getting ahead and making money that he neglects what is most important in life: God, the church, his family, and his friends. At this point in his life, the Christian man especially ought to remember Jesus’ words: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).