September 2006 - Volume 11, Issue 2
Our Journey Through Life
One of the in words in the field of clinical psychology is the word journey. When you read all the clinical manuals they all talk about the journey each one of us has while we are on this earth. If you do a little further study, you will find in the Old Testament the story of the jews looking for the promised land for over 40 years was described as their journey for life. If you look at the New Testament, the four gospel writers are always making reference to the fact that Christ, who spent just over 30 years, on this earth was on a journey back to His father in heaven and that one of His missions while on this journey was to prepare the 12 apostles to go to the ends of the world reminding the followers of Christ that they, too, were on a journey and that journey would lead them into the promised land of the kingdom of God that we call Heaven.
When you analyze what is happening the field of clinical psychology today, it is merely restating in different words what the Old Testament writers and scripture scholars knew many centuries ago about the individual journey of life that all of us are on.
Barbara Walters in one of her interviews with the former president Jimmy Carter talked about this theme. She said, "Mr. President, you have been on an usual journey in your life, you own a peanut farm in Georgia, you became a governor, you then became a President. You had training with the US Navy submarine corp you have won the Nobel prize, when you analyze the journey of life that you have been on, what period would you consider the most important?" And the president said without blinking an eye, "the period of life that I am now living in is the most important part of my life".
When you analyze this word journey from the standpoint of a theologian and a psychologist, the word journey is divided into three sections. The first period takes place up to 30 years of age and that for the most part finds all of us preoccupied with growing up, adolescents, teenage life, preparing for school and college and then eventually going into some sort of career. The second stage in mankind's journey is that which takes place from 30 to approximately 60. Marriages take place, change of jobs, change of locality, certain illnesses start to creep into our family, the families go different ways, the empty nest syndrome is experienced and then we soon enter into the third phase. The third phase is that of the baby boomers of today from 60 years onward. Since most of them were born in 1946, now starting their 60th year, most of their families have gone in different directions, oftentimes it is just the mother and father alone, social security becomes the common topic of conversation, will our pension plan survive and keep us comfortable? These are the themes that for the most part preoccupy those who are in that third category as some of them plan different lifestyle changes, going back to school (25% of the students today at the University of Chicago are retirees). These changes in different types of elder hostel trips, are totally different from what our mothers and fathers knew about when they were 60 years of age.
One of the ironic features of those who are 60 and older is that many of these people are not only taking care of their own children, a lot of them are still taking care of their own parents.
For those in this third phase of their journey, there are certain themes that we should have learned from the first two. The third phase of this journey that we are on is an opportunity to accept new challenges, experiment with new adventures, and live a fulfilling and challenging life, but oftentimes it means one thing, you have to be willing to change. If this third period of our life is to be that fulfilling and that challenging, there are certain norms we have to implement in our daily living.
First of all, we have to get a greater sense of appreciation for the quality of time that God might allot us on this earth. I go to nursing home after nursing home and I see people whose minds are clear, but who do not have that active interest in starting new challenges or new approaches to life. Many of them even though they are properly taken care of are just vegetating. It is not that they have a stroke or some disabling illness, it is just that they never want to effect a minor change in their life from the journeys that they have gone through. If you analyze the first two journeys, there have always been changes from the time of adolescence to adulthood. From the single life to the married life, to full time work and full time retirement. Yet when you meet so many people 60 years of age or older, change is almost an impossibility to for them to reconcile for the rest of their lives.
Each one of us when we are 60 years of age and over are given 24 hours a day. If you are going to waste your conversations on the high cost of living and the factors that so many marriages are breaking down and things are not what they were 40 years ago, you are wasting this quality of time that is very precious concerning your life on earth.
Just think of this, you are in the third part of the journey of life. In 1900 the average life span of the American man was 47 years of age. Now it is between 77 and 78. You have an extraordinary amount of time given to you compared to many of your ancestors of the past.
Concerning the financial worries that so many elderly people have, all of us can cut down our lifestyle. All of us can live a fruitful financial life with a certain degree of economy. Think of this, those people over 60 years of age in our country own 40% of all mutual funds, 30% of those over 60 control 70% of the wealth and account for over 50% of all consumer spending. This third journey has to be a time of reflection, a time of deep thinking as to how we are going to use the allotted time God has given us. You plan one day at a time. Some one once said, if you want to hear God laugh, tell him what your plans are. And the explanation behind that statement is that none of us know what is around the corner of our lives.
Concerning the time that is allotted to each one of us, we might never win the Nobel Prize, we might never find a cure for cancer, but we have a lot to learn from a statement by Winston Churchill. He said, "when I was young I was very liberal, when I became older, I became very conservative, when I became very old I became very spiritual". As important as your relationship is with your family and your friends, in the final phase of your journey, there is nothing more important than your relationship with God. If that relationship is solid because of your life of dedication to Christ and God, if that relationship is solid in the language of the poet, one day you will be led out beyond the earth and the stars, out beyond the planet mars and into the arms of God.
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