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Becoming Sage - Michelle Van Loon

Building Relationships / Dr. Gary Chapman
The Truth Network Radio
September 5, 2020 1:00 am

Becoming Sage - Michelle Van Loon

Building Relationships / Dr. Gary Chapman

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September 5, 2020 1:00 am

If you’re somewhere in mid-life or beyond, you won’t want to miss this edition of Building Relationships with Dr. Gary Chapman. Michelle Van Loon believes older Christians represent an untapped resource for the church. If you’re not content to simply coast spiritually, you’ll be encouraged by the conversation about “Becoming Sage.”

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Have you aged out of the church you've attended for decades. Are you struggling with midlife spiritual growth. Don't miss today's Building Relationships with Dr. Gary Chapman God is at work in the pruning process. He can bring a different kind of fruitfulness in the second half. Those were words that I was longing for somebody to be able to explain and describe to me when I was in my own early stages of what is happening in my life in relationship with God. Welcome to building relationship with Dr. Gary, and author of the New York Times bestseller the five love language today than the collective spiritual growth of those in the second half of life, author and speaker Michelle Van loon joins us to discuss becoming quite intriguing and the subtitle is cultivating meaning, purpose and spirituality. Midlife, more straightahead from Michelle and defy with some of the struggle she excelled. You'll see you're not as alone as you go to five love

Find out more about our guest future resource get its title, becoming Sage.

I like to hear you talk about the second half and how you don't have to stop growing soup because you reach a certain age.

What you think about that workers look like our culture's, pushed us to this. Do you know you work several years and then you start tapering off and then to start just doing things you enjoy doing the rest of your life. You got a self-centered lifestyle actually but those of us who know God, believe that as long as were alive.

He has purposes for us and were in the process of growing really getting better or getting worse.

You know God intends us to be getting more and more like Christ so excited about this conversation to the title of the book with the Michelle was written because I think a lot of us who are in the second half.

Some of us in the fourth quarter of the slick conference of encouragement in our discussion in this book so looking forward to our discussion speaker Michelle Van loon since coming to faith in Christ at the tail end of the Jesus movement. Michelle's Jewish heritage. Her spiritual hunger and storyteller sensibilities have shaped her faith and informed her writing several books she's a regular contributor to Christianity today's women's blog in touch magazine and she is cofounder of the website for midlife women and men. The perennial

She married Bill and is the mother of three grandmother of two.

Unless that's changed again, our featured resources.

The book becoming Sage cultivating meaning, purpose and spirituality in midlife. Find out more.

Five love Michelle, welcome back to Building Relationships good to be back with you. Thanks for having me. I'm tempted to follow up on Chris's question. There is illusion that maybe you have more than two grandchildren hi Wes, wonderful for over a decade now you been writing and speaking about spiritual formation that midlife and beyond what you feel so passionate about this topic when I was in my early 40s. Everything kind of goes along with midlife issues seems to happen to me.

At one time. I'm now 60, so this was about 20 years ago and my parents died. My kids left the nest. We relocated my husband went through a job transition. We went through a church split all of those things happened simultaneously and I was very disoriented and and sad and confused. Plus, my body was changing because I was right in the midst of perimenopause and when I went looking for resources looking for help at church looking for resources in terms of books and from the library. I found that a lot of what I knew about discipleship kind of was that it was aimed at either brand-new Christians or forming the faith of children and teens. There wasn't a whole lot out there written for an evangelical audience that had to do with what happens to us as we age. You know, so the default setting on that was just that you just kinda keep doing what you've learned for the rest of your life and hopefully you'll get better at it and you will mature and so the assumption was that maturity happened as a default and what I learned from the research and the writing in the reading that I've done over those last definitely over the last decade, but even in the years before that were that the practices may stay the same. You know, worshiping, serving, praying, confessing all of those. All of those basic spiritual practices are wonderfully foundational, but the questions and the challenges that come to us change as we get older and so we need to have different kinds of conversations with one another. You talk about spiritual formation in midlife understood my mother determined to servicers are familiar with spiritual formation. Really, it's just our path to maturity, as believers in Jesus you know that as we see in first Corinthians 13 that amazing love chapter that is quoted at so many weddings that when we were children, we talked and thought his children paraphrasing here, and as we mature what comes out of us what goes into us who we are needs to change as well that we are called to grow and so the word formation just means that we are being formed in the image of Jesus and we are maturing as he's calling us to continue to grow upward and forward, and deeper in him all of us who truly follows of Jesus want more Christlike like the term you use.

You say that midlife polls an invitation to become Sage describe her to my mother. That's a shorthand way of saying that we are living a life that we are expressing our experience and knowledge, insight, and self-mastery in ways that keep looking more and more like Jesus and what's surprising about midlife and beyond is that this invitation to grow in wisdom and to live out of wisdom can be very well disguised in the disorienting shifts that characterize this lifestage for us.

So in Scripture we see that one thing that set young Solomon apart from most other rulers was that he ask God for wisdom as a young man.

We celebrate that that's that's a super impressive thing that he did. He he could've asked for a giant pile of Oreos for breakfast or spiffy uniforms for his army harem of wives.

He actually ended up kind of walking away from that and in some ways he grew more foolish as he aged in some of the choices he made his choices disconnected him from the giver and source of the wisdom that he relied on. But that's not how wisdom is meant to work that were supposed to be growing in wisdom as we age the second half of life.

We should be a greater resource to younger people because we would have learned more as we walked the journey, absolutely, very well said. Very well said no I'm really interested in the concept that you call the quiet Exodus think you're talking about people leaving the church in midlife talk about that.

Why is that true and if so why it's true that in some it's interesting because a lot of the writing in the research that's come out over the last 20 years has focused unchurched believers who are millennial's, those that are born between 1981 and 80's and 96 and some older members of generations, which are the ones that follow them. Those born from 90s six to about 2015 or so, but researchers like George Burtis group have found that there is a quiet Exodus from the church at nearly the same rate as our millennial children from people who are midlife and beyond boomers like myself and members of generation X, those that are a little bit younger than us big old baby boomers and there's a lot of reasons for this Exodus of older levers and it's it it is a quiet Exodus.

Some report that they have aged out of congregations that focus entirely on the faith lives of families with children under the age of 18 and if they are no longer in that active parenting role and in those years they start to feel like there's no meaningful place for them to grow, learn, or serve as they move into the tasks and challenges of the second half of their lives. Others report that it is increasingly difficult to maintain or deepen a connection with the local church in light of increased caregiving responsibilities for aging parents or young grandchildren, others in this age group are dealing with health challenges and they find that if there out of sight for too many Sunday mornings. They kind of drift out of the mind and the heart of church leaders and don't receive very much pastoral care in and a lot of people in this group are also juggling workplace responsibilities as they tend to be at the peak of their careers. During these years, and finally many who were once involved in their churches also report burnout from church dysfunction or toxic congregational politics as a reason that they step back from church involvement. The church has become. For some, a place of pain instead of the life-giving community that they know it can and should be for this group of people you're talking about those in midlife, you know, the second half.

Third, fourth-quarter. The church has become a place of pain and what I think a lot of people will say as well.

You know those old people are delusional like the music anymore or the visitor there there living in the past and they can't get over that.

So you gotta find so you someplace where there tended to and I don't think that's what you're finding so talk about that place of pain a little bit more what you mean by that. A few years ago I had a blog I still have a blog but I was very actively blogging and I put together a survey not a scientist, I'm not even really know exactly what I was asking but the two key questions that I put out there as I was thinking through my own experience of midlife spiritual growth and some of the struggles that I was facing, I asked people who are over 40 if they were more, less or just as involved in their local churches as they been a decade earlier and then what I learned was the jackpot question I asked them to tell me why and I was hoping for 50 or 75 responses I got over 500 and even think I had 500 people reading my black. I was surprised at the number of responses and I think part of it was because I asked the right question and I was anonymous and the people were allowed to be anonymous in the amount to be about evenly divided between the people who found church was a life-giving and healthy place that allowed them to kind of grow and serve in mature and meaningful ways. The people who wrote that they had either downshifted their involvement or had drifted away. A few said that their faith had shifted and they were no longer pursuing Christ, but most of the other people had very long and sad stories. In many cases of bad church politics splits dysfunction, chaos, confusion that he'd eaten up months and years of their lives and they were discouraged local that had become invisible because of caregiving duties that they were no longer seen or honored or cared about by the people in their church because they work is able to be physically present and active in the programs that the church was doing in the building experience and I think that probably any church that has a significant number of adults who are in midlife are beyond hope person. Both of those categories same people who get more involved in our serving as mentors and teachers, and caring for others. As we seen others going to walk out the back door talk talk about the significance of the unique realities surrounding what we commonly call discipleship that is following Christ in midlife. For those of us who are aging. It's important to recognize that spiritual growth to me is going to look very different at this stage of life, as were dealing with losses.

The losses accumulate as we age and those losses are can be deeply formational.

If we understand that God is at work in those losses in our lives. God has drawn near to us in those losses in our lives, and that some of the practices that we use to build our lives.

Some of the ambitions and the drives that are very powerful and important one were in our 20s and 30s, as were were looking for relationships were looking for vocational direction were were kind of building our lives that some of the very things that we used to build our lives in the first half actually can hamper our ongoing discipleship as we get older ambition should be mellowing into a search for meaning and a desire to create legacy and part of what helps move us from building into creating meaning does come in the form sometimes of these losses and changes that come at midlife, and for a lot of people. I think just understanding that the God is at work in the pruning process and that he can bring a different kind of fruitfulness in the second half can be very comforting. Those were words that I was longing for somebody to be able to explain and describe to me when I was in my own early stages of what is happening in my world and in my life and in my relationship with God think if we if we have developed the concept that if I really walk with God everything will be smooth and good and right. Then these things can be disillusioned or destroyed. Absolutely. I think part of it is sometimes easier slogans and and the promises we love we love the promises of God, but often times when we look at those promises in context. For example, you know where God says I I know the plans I have for you. We love those words from Jeremiah and give them to young adults, but there in the context of exile in there to a people that have drifted far from God and sometimes being able to understand that those those simple promises that kind of formed our faith come in the context of the God is calling us toward him in holiness and that a lot of times it makes us into pilgrims instead of people that are building a big fabulous McMansion we can keep their perspective through whatever were walking God wants to be bring us more and more to the image of Christ. He does still have plans for us wherever we are. You not remember the gentleman who physically is simply laid in bed all day long. That's all he could do could move his arms, his legs could move his Nick back-and-forth open dial, but he took those years as a time of prayer and he could people would send in prayer request, you know, the share share with them through his wife. He had a tremendous ministry in my life and other people's lives. So even even with our limitations or struggles. If we are forced to interact with God we can we can accomplish his purposes for our lives. Let's talk a little bit. The church leaders. How can church leaders cultivate fresh growth and ongoing fruitfulness for people who are growing through the letter season of life. While I have some sad news here which is, there is no program in out there is no sermon series or program like there is for state you know how to begin your new life in Christ or some ways of how to raise a child with this.

It's more about keeping in mind that those who are pastoring or pastoring in intergenerational community of family more than an organization and so being able to be sensitive to that the needs and the concerns of older adults that are part of a congregation. This can come in the form of regular meetings to kind of find out where people are at with a focus on doing some reading besides my own book, there is there is now, thankfully, a number of other books that have come out that can be wonderful resources that can help reorient an entire church leadership team towards thinking about how to bless and encourage and celebrate older adults. Certainly mentoring and serving in those kinds of capacities is a part of it, but it is not the whole enchilada.

I think a lot of older adults also need food teaching programming that is targeted at where they are in.

In terms of grief or end-of-life decisions or you know the ongoing challenges I keep coming back to caregiving, but that's because it ends up becoming becoming a very big thing. Being able to bless and honor that ministry as a part in an outworking of the church is very powerful shift that can incorporate people that may not be as physically present but want to be connected to the church, I hear you saying among other things, that one of the first To try to notify what the needs are.

These folks are going through their lives and where the hell filled moods and then we try to address those issues right absolutely and that is going to be different for different church communities.

There may be some churches that they may have good social programs for their older adults you know going to do recreational activities or you know those kinds of things, cultivating the kind of growth and the kind of prayer and conversation that's needed around things like loss and change some of the physical challenges the come to older adults as well as navigating changes in family from emptying nests to expanding families to some marriages that don't make it and how to support those people. People that become widows because it is tends to be more women than the men that end up single at this stage of life and there are a number that are aging away from their family in need the support of their church community to hear the response of folks in the second half of life. When the church does seek out to reach and minister to their felt needs there so responsive you know they're there.

So grateful that the church is offering whatever whatever it is that touches them where they are. So I think they should motivate church leaders to discover those needs and to seek to reach out. What about this idea. Also, what about working to help younger adults, millennial's and others to get a vision for reaching out to encouraging those who are in the second half goes both ways. Though the younger adult can learn from the older go with the younger looking also encourage the older adult absolutely and if the church has the vision of being in intergenerational family. Some of that happens organically, but it is a culture shift for a lot of churches that are used to programming you know to to try to grow the church through attracting young families through doing ministry that is very age segregated and there's places I mean I'm talking about a particular kind of age segregation in one way, but actually the. The solution to that is to make sure that those those boundaries are not so hard and fast that they become insurmountable divisions. You know like you to keep us apart from each other. Motion were talking about really spiritual growth in the second half of life. Do you have biblical characters that you can point to that might help us with this whole this whole area of spiritual growth. I used the life of David in a chapter to kind of talk through what she looked like every kind of maturity stage of his life. Young David was a very different character, then the man who we see at the end of his life, and we actually do see him hitting hitting the wall and kind of coming apart at the pool of his life. You know, shortly after he became king and we see in that that all of those wonderful expressions of youthful trust and creativity and ambition and cleverness, all the ways that he used to kind of preserve his life and grow and become ready to be king that some of those things actually got in his way when he did become king. But we see there in in some of those losses that the things that used to work for him sometimes had to be kind of pruned and dismantled and repentance had to come as well but all of that then led to a leader who was humble and could continue in his mission and his ministry through this, the latter part of his life in a very meaningful way. So I'm definitely summarizing for sure, but I used him as an example.

Jesus tells us that the things that we think were building our lives with that are strong and sturdy may not. You know when when he says in Matthew seven everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on a rock. The rain fell, and the floods came the winds blew beat on the house but the house did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock and everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand in the rain fell, the floods came the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell in great was the fall of it in that we don't know until the storms come exactly how how strong our foundation is and there are parts of what we've used to build our life in the first half that may look good but the process of of midlife.

All of the changes and crises that can come during those years can be very clarifying as to what will last. We may think that we've got a beautiful home built. But what we have are the ingredients for a sturdy much smaller home and that kind of is a parallel metaphor for sure for the second half of life for the positive things of the life of David Gorsuch to God forgives after failures continues to use us if were willing to reprint the should be encouraging to those in the second half of life, who maybe have failed God sometimes rather publicly, God still has plans for us if we repent and turn back to him. Let me talk a little bit that with you about this whole thing of mentorship know the Scriptures we see there in the New Testament. Paul, Timothy, Timothy, was go to his son in the faith. What can mentorship how can that enrich Christians in the midlife leaders will one of those ways that we can make those intergenerational links is through mentoring relationships that are experienced. Even our failures, even if we think that we've got a long, long list of don't do this, do something else.

I have messed up so many ways. That is actually the most valuable gift that you can give to a younger person is there trying to figure out what their own life is like we see in Paul's instruction to Titus about how older women are supposed to mentor younger women, which we look at Titus two, which is of a beloved passage that we older women are supposed to urge our our younger sisters to love their husbands and children and be self-controlled and pure.

Be busy productive at home and kind and and in good relationship with their husbands. All of those things are very powerful, but the one thing that I like to emphasize when I talk about mentorship is that this relationship was never meant to be a one-way street. Older women were expected to be students as well.

As they learn to sound doctrine. They were able to work out its implications and applications in the living lab of their daily lives as they interact with those who they're discipling.

When rigidly prescribed roles, forms and curriculum are laid on top of what is meant to be a relationship like a lot of churches will create mentoring programs.

Some of them work.

Some of them feel sometimes a little artificial and part of it is because a relationship is the way that faith is designed by God to be transmitted from one generation to the next.

As we share his life together. We don't want to turn people into projects we don't want to create products. We need to spiritual friendships that are a 2 Way St. The good news is that younger women I have found are are looking for relationships like this.

And they're not looking for superstar people that have it all figured out there looking for people that are willing just to be honest and to be humble and to be learning together usually good truly authentic relationships of those in the second half of life with those that are younger to a street that were open and honest with each other, absolutely.

I've had a couple of very meaningful ongoing mentoring relationships with the younger women and I have learned from them to ask different questions of my faith than I might have if I was left on my own. I have learned from them. Spontaneity and slaying fun as well has, to remember well to remember faithfully the work of God in my life and to be able to point say he can be trusted, and he forgives the two messages have been very powerful in those relationships that I've had could mentoring, brief look good was a great friendship. I believe so.

It's a special kind of friendship and there is an intention that goes along with a good mentoring relationship. I I like to tell the story I was working at a university shelving books and just working in a bookstore and I had one of the college students come to me and say would you mentor me. We hung out together, we worked together we laugh together, but she was looking for something that was a little more pointed. She was giving me permission to ask her some hard questions about the choices she was making and to hold her accountable and the first thing I could think of to say I was so surprised by her requested that I gave her a list of all the things that would disqualify me from that role hears all the ways that I've messed up and she said, but I really know those things about you because you've shared those stories, it's because you've been honest with me that I know that we can journey together.

This way she she might've set up more like a 20-year-old, but that that is what she was saying was that she wanted to hear my stories and part of it was because she knew I wanted to hear hers as well walk us through the stages of the shifting that occurs during the transitions of midlife. I owe much of my thinking to a couple of books that I ended up finding when I was searching for some answers about what was happening to me at midlife. One is an academic book by a man named Fowler and then more popular book written by Hedberg and Gulick called the critical journey and those those books both helped me kind of see that just as we grow from infancy to toddlerhood to childhood to adolescence to young adulthood. We go through physical changes and emotional changes. We also go through spiritual growth and change that can look different. Now the challenge with this is that we don't necessarily grow spiritually, automatically, in the same way that our bodies grow and change physically. For example, so there has to be a little bit of challenge and and work and I've known older people that have a very early stage kind of approach to faith and their kind planted there but if were growing if were continuing to grow were going to to begin with a simple God. I believe in you kind of acknowledgment.

This may come whether we've grown up in a Christian home or whether we've had a a coming to faith moment at camp or some other place in our lives but we start out with.

I believe in you and then if were continuing to grow, we will look around and find ourselves in a community will be looking for community a family that will show us what it means to believe because we belong, we belong to God in and we discover the wonderful parts in a church in a Bible study of being a part of a community with other believers. If we are growing at some point we will find that we've got gifts to offer the guidance given us these gifts and in our experience, and we maim move then into a place where were working for God were leading vacation Bible school.

We are serving as an usher were working in a food ministry that is an outreach of our church were doing something in all of this doing can feel very productive and very exciting. But at some point we may find that we've hit the wall that we've hit.

We walked into some darkness and we begin to ask God where are you, and that can come often coincides with midlife, but not always, but where we find were in the dark we've lost things like the list that I gave at the top of the show relocated losing friends because of a church split, losing a job, kids leaving the nest. Even the happy editions of grandchildren can can be a stressor as well on a family just because the family is changing shape, but that sense of some of the things that used to work for me maybe aren't working quite so well in God where are you, a lot of people hit the eject button on their faith when they find themselves in the dark and part of my desire in writing is to help people know you're not alone. God is there. He is walking with you through what feels like the valley of the shadow of death, and on the other side is a mature chase and faith that is prepared to create legacy and and pass on what you've learned the most beautiful kinds of examples of faith the people that I learned from our people that have wrestled and have found themselves in a place of deeper trust and maybe they're not building the great big organization, but they are like the man that you referenced earlier. Praying and faithful and speaking into the lives of others in a very powerful and eternal way. And yes, we pass on what God has given us. It prepares us to be able to come home to God and to be able to hit that last quarter of our lives with hopefulness and not total despair in my observation is the usually letter part of life who have the concept of leaving a legacy for those who follow very fun the whole journey to be meaningful in their lender intimacy with God continues to be a super super important part of their of their life. But let me ask your personal question Michelle here you are, you mentioned earlier six years old and could only watch what telehealth you have at this juncture, but where were you find your sense of meaning and how do you see yourself going forward. This what what's on your heart.

What's on your mind that that is a gracious question. I actually have a very serious health diagnosis. It's not fatal, but it leaves me very medically fragile and so I've had to come to terms with what it is that I'm going to be leaving behind as I go this. The diagnosis was given to me about four years ago so I've been navigating life in very different ways.

I want to be able to just be a person of Jesus, hope and love.

It sounds so simplistic and it really does sound like something that you put out a mug or plaque, but I'm seeing it from a very deep place that if I am living out those virtues of faith, hope and love. I will be able to live in the tension of being in this world and also longing to be with Jesus for eternity and my hope in God, right sizes in the best possible ways.

My sense of how important I am. My desire to perform for the approval of others and just to be able to be appropriately honest about my journey with him has been I've been walking with Jesus.

Since I was a teenager and I feel in some ways like I've just begun and that is not being childish. It's hopefully growing in childlike faith which actually looks a lot like maturity you think it's true. As we get older. If we are working closely with God and spending time with him using the gifts which we mentioned earlier that God is given us that there is a growing sense of satisfaction with life in anticipation of what is to come after the II agree. I totally agree with that as we move towards growing Sage. We should become increasingly generous. Even if we have less resource at at our hands which which may be the case but it reflects the way that were loved by Jesus. He lay down his life for us.

We lay our lives down for our brothers and sisters in that love might look like cleaning up after a parent with dementia whose had a toileting accident or holding out her arms to welcome home the prodigal's child or forgiving someone who's wronged us passing on what we possess, and what we've learned to the next generation and the one beyond that. That's the kind of person that I hope I grow up to be like a lot of desires will show this is been a great conversation but I want to thank you for using your gifts your abilities to write this book because I believe it's going to be a challenge that will help to many who are in the second half of life. So let God keep his eye upon you, and by God God.

Those who are listing to this program to the brother younger brother their own to keep their eyes on Christ walking with brother: it's been my honor. Thanks for the conversation they had a challenging one to find out more about Michelle than featured resource the website. Five love title is becoming Sage cultivating meaning, purpose and spirituality in midlife. Five love like just next week Bob will be will encourage us to love what you mean that in one week right here big thank you to our team with Janice Todd building relationship. Radio ministry, Bible and thanks for listening

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