Thursday, January 25, 2024

Confessions of a 71-Year Old

When I wrote my book The Myth of Adolescence, I did quite a bit of research into what is commonly called the human life cycle. I prefer that term to "life span." The latter simply refers to the interval between birth and death. "Life cycle" implies that life is a process or journey from a starting point to an ending point. Within this life cycle are various stages or seasons, each different from those that precede and follow it. Years have seasons. Days have seasons too: dawn, day, dusk, and night. Each season of life is a fairly stable part of the total cycle, though change goes on with each, and transitions are required between them. Psychologists agree that no season of life is better or more important than any other. Each is an organic part of the whole, linking past and future.

There are other ways to discuss the human life cycle, including the occupational and the familial. In my book, the chapter on "Jesus and the Age 30 Transition" focussed on the time when Jesus closed the door on his childhood home, left the family's construction business, and pursued the Father's will for his life. Similarly, in my own life, I have experienced significant familial and occupational transitions when I:

  • left Hawaii at age 19 to attend Biola in 1971.
  • got married in 1976 at the age of 24.
  • began teaching in the same year.
  • got my doctorate in 1983.
  • had my first child in the same year. 
  • published my first book in 1984.
  • left Biola for Southeastern in 1998.
  • was appointed the Dr. M. O. Owens Chair of New Testament Studies in 2012.
  • was officially retired in 2021.

I am now in the "winter" of life, the "final quarter," the "seventh inning." One of the most difficult decisions I make on a daily basis is how to remain plugged into the various structures of life: family, friends, teaching, writing, culture, social matrix, etc. There is no accepted criterion for identifying a man my age as a "success." Significant work is involved in forming and maintaining relationships. Undertaking and managing this process is a crucial part of aging.

As I see it, the human developmental cycle has a sequence to it. The sequences are as follows:

1. Childhood (age 0-11).

2. Young/novice adulthood (age 12-29)

3. Mature/senior adulthood (age 30-?)

The apostle John hints of these three stages when he writes to the "little children," the "young men," and the "fathers" in his churches (1 John 2:12-14). Of course, adulthood is much broader than it might appear at first. There is both "middle adulthood" and "late adulthood" to reckon with. The transition to late adulthood occurs between 60 and 65. By the time you are 66 or older, late adulthood is a fait accompli.

At mid-life I began to transition into a more mentoring phase of my teaching ministry. A new change in generational status also began in my late 30s. Statistically, declining health begins at about 30, but no one grows "old" suddenly. Even if you are in fairly good health and physically active, you have many reminders of your decreasing rigor and capacity (like aches and pains). At this stage, you begin to see yourself as "elderly." You are now the grandparent generation in your family. Furthermore, you no longer occupy the center stage of your world. Hence the older generation can often suffer from powerlessness and conformism. On the other hand, retirement from formal employment often means that one can now engage in valued activities that stem more from one's creative energies than from external pressure. The older man can devote himself in a serious-playful way to the interests that flow directly from his innermost being. If a man can successfully negotiate the transition between middle adulthood and late adulthood, the latter can indeed be a season as full and rich as the others.

In short, late adulthood is an era not only of decline but of opportunities for development. At least that is what I've been discovering to be true. Although an older man's contribution to society is largely completed, he can still find meaning and value in life.

On this blog I often share with you my aspirations as I age. I cannot live up to them fully. In the end, I suppose that aging is simply a process of reconciling the flaws in our lives by making peace with ourselves. It's quite an interesting process, I must say.