It was Mark Twain that humorously noted that it would be better if humans were born at the age of 80 and worked backwards. This backwards growth would afford us all the wisdom we would need to navigate the challenges of life. This idea was picked up by the great American author Scott F. Fitzgerald in a short story called The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, recently popularized by the Pitt and Blanchett film by the same name.
It is an interesting thought and curious story. It seems all of us are short on wisdom, but as the Curious Case proves even being born 80 doesn’t solve all our problems. However, what if we began to think like an 80 year old? What if we began to approach work, family, leisure with the sagacity of our elders?
Life Maturing Wisdom
In his book The Making of a Leader, Robert Clinton identifies six stages of a leader. These stages can be adapted for stages of life by simply replacing “ministry” with your vocation. The stages include: Sovereign Foundations, Inner life Growth, Ministry Maturing, Life Maturing, Convergence, Afterglow. Clinton’s comments regarding our “Life Maturing” stage got me thinking about growing backwards.
He notes that this phase of life, typically occurring in our 40s, begins with intentional and extended reflection on life. This period of reflection is often forced onto us by life circumstances, a major conflict, growing children, or life crisis. What would happen if we began to cultivate these patterns of reflection now? What kind of person, families, communities would emerge if we became more concerned with learning about how God wants to shape us through conflict and life and less concerned about merely navigating our conflicts and challenges? Clinton writes:
During Ministry Maturing we attempt to constructively navigate conflict; during Life Maturing, we instead tend to focus on what our conflicts say about us. Overall, relationship with God starts to become far more important to us than ministry success. Ironically, as we begin to care less about the results of our ministry, our effectiveness, satisfaction, and attractiveness as ministers suddenly begins to grow. Our lives become an object of imitation. We are not merely appreciated for our work; we are admired as people.
Reflecting not Just Navigating Through Conflict
Are you driven by work, family, success? Are you more concerned with managing conflict than being sanctified by conflict? How can you begin to care less about results of vocation and more about discipleship through vocation? If we want to be people whom others aim to imitate, as we imitate Christ, periods of reflection and prayer will be important. Wouldn’t it be wonderful it we became so obsessed with God’s agenda in our conflicts, challenges, and vocations that we became appreciated more for our Christlikeness than for our “work”?
Reflecting through conflict instead of merely navigating it is not a popular process. In general, our culture values success, results, and output over sanctification, maturity, and reflection. Our very busy lives run against the grain of such extended times of reflection. Turning around is hard. However, the result of becoming more process oriented, more reflective will lead us into more fruitful living, parenting, and community. Perhaps you should start by taking a weekly walk in the woods, alone. Going to a coffee shop without a laptop or PDA. Refusing to answer emails for a day and journal instead. Have extended discussions with your friends and spouses about what God wants to teach you through the challenges and conflicts of your life.
This time of reflection has inspired me to grow backwards. To begin cultivating more times of reflection and prayer that draw me deeper into communion with God, meditation on life, and into obtaining the wisdom of an 80 50 year old. I hope it does the same for you.