The Afternoon of Life - Stuck in a Prison

Carl Jung, secular psychiatrist, whose mentor was Sigmund Freud, seems to the be the first one who coined the phrase, "afternoon of life." He said:

"Wholly unprepared, we embark upon the second half of life. Or are there perhaps colleges for forty-year-olds which prepare them for their coming life and its demands as the ordinary colleges introduce our young people to a knowledge of the world? . . . Thoroughly unprepared, we take the step into the afternoon of life. Worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and our ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life's morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening is a lie. "

Carl Jung says the afternoon of life is 56 - 83 years of age. Elyse Fitzpatrick, author of The Afternoon of Life, Finding purpose and Joy in Midlife, divides a woman's life expectancy of seventy-nine years into fifteen year segments:

  • 0 - 15: Dawn
  • 16 - 30: Morning, until noon
  • 31 - 45: Middy
  • 46 - 60: Afternoon until Twilight
  • 61 - 75: Evening
  • 76 + : Nightfall

If Carl Jung is correct, that we enter the second half of life with little or no preparation, expecting what we did in the first half of life to work in the second, the best time to prepare for growing up is before we notice the signs of aging in our bodies. We can grow up (mature) in our spirits and souls while our bodies are growing old. I first heard the challenge to "grow up, not old" from Emalyn Spencer at a Presbyterian in the Church General Assembly. Chuck and I were newbies in the PCA. Emalyn was a revered "spiritual mother" in our denomination. She spoke with authority and passion as she exhorted us to take seriously our responsibility as Christian women to exercise spiritual muscles in our daily lives, to refuse to give in to the natural desires of selfishness, lack of self-control and a childish demand for the world to revolve around us. Her biblical message bears repeating again and again.

While researching for the workshop, I paid $.01 for this little book, Don't Grow Old - Grow Up, by Dorothy Carnegie, first published in 1954. I laughed as I read the author describing the enormous pressures on women (but men, too) to fight aging and try to look like a twenty-five year old. Some things never change!

Aging - A Prison?

Paul declares, The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.  To him be glory for ever and ever.  (2 Timothy 4:18).  Paul knew he was facing beheading at the hands of Nero.  And yet, he sees even that possibility as the Lord rescuing him.  Paul's eternal perspective freed him from worrying about circumstances he could not control.  Review Paul's life and you could not conclude that he trusted God because his days were prosperous and easy.  Before Christ saved him, maybe.  But after meeting Jesus on that Damascus Road and embracing Him as Lord, Paul's life was anything but peaceful and protected.  No easy believism here. Paul's growth in grace cultivated an inner peace and surrender to God's perfect love and plans for him.   Paul declares that at my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength....2 Timothy 4:16-17.  Jesus was so real to Paul, that he felt him right next to him when no one else was there.  And he fully expected that same presence in this prison cell.

Breaking Down Prison Walls
Paul was waiting to depart, but until that day came, he had work to do.  He's mentoring Timothy, teaching him how to be a pastor, how to walk by faith.  He asks for his cloak - perhaps the cold cell was making his old bones even more achy and painful, we don't know because he doesn't complain. He also tells Timothy to bring my scrolls, especially the parchments.  Paul was old but he was still learning and eager to read and grow in the knowledge of his Lord.  He instructs Timothy to bring Mark with him because he is helpful to me in my ministry.  What ministry could Paul possibly have from a prison cell? Elderly Paul still wants to do but is not hesitant to ask for help to accomplish the tasks.  Can you imagine the mentoring that took place between Paul and Mark in those last days? And I love how Paul seems to be processing his life and sharing his conclusions with Timothy - we'll take a look at his self observations another time.

Rembrant, The Apostle Paul

Rembrant, The Apostle Paul

Prepare for Old Age While Growing Up
The best time to prepare for growing old is while we are growing up.  Carl Rogers, a secular psychologist said, "What you are to be, you are now becoming." God's Word says it better, "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Just as wise people financially prepare for retirement, wise people prepare their hearts and minds for the last seasons of life. None of us are exempt from prison cells, whose bars are bad health, broken relationships, financial woes, prodigal children, loss of a spouse. Choices made in the dailiness of life can help prepare me for those prison cells in the afternoon and evening of life. Whether we are fifteen or fifty-five or eighty-five, as long as there is breath, we have the privilege of growing in grace as a means to prepare for those prison experiences.  Again, we will all have prison experiences, whether old or young. We see Paul in this prison cell as a godly man we want to emulate.  But don't be fooled, Paul struggled with fear so much that One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision:  'Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  For I am with you.....(Acts 18:9 - 10).  He had feet of clay, he struggled in his faith walk. I take heart from Paul's journey, the sanctification process was not instant. Until the day I die, circumstances will confront me with choices to reflect Jesus and I won't always make the right decision. Paul's life plants hope in my heart when I recognize my failures. Paul is the one who declared to the Philippians,  that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion. Paul brought a lot of baggage into his Christian life - but at the end of his life, he was confident that God was keeping this promise. I think that when Paul concludes that he fought the good fight, part of the battle he is remembering was the sweetness and relief he experienced when receiving and embracing the grace of God to cover those sinful choices and moments when he didn't trust or obey.  We get to see the end of the story, the man who sees Jesus next to him, but the very human Paul learned trust in his God, the same way all of us do. Daily circumstances confronted him with a choice, minute by minute. The same choice confronts me again and again. Will I choose to believe God's promise of His presence and control or not?  Will I trust and obey?

In His grip and growing up with you,

Sharon BettersComment