By Ingrid Lochamire
Not long after our youngest son left home for his freshman year of college, I began thinking about how I would fill my days. I had homeschooled our four boys for 20 years. Before that, I’d been a journalist, also for nearly 20 years.
Writing for a daily newspaper and teaching my kids at home had been my identity for all of my adult life. Those two careers were more than “work” that filled my days. They gave me relevance. When those roles ended, I felt as if I had “retired” twice.
The year our nest emptied, I turned 60 and was recovering from breast cancer. All those mile markers collided in the question “What now?”
I did not need to work outside the home so I poured my energies into my church, my community and writing. I started a blog, freelanced for our local newspaper, worked part-time for a non-profit and a coffee shop, began leading Bible studies. My boys were doing well. Life was full. With all the optimism and enthusiasm of a kid with a college diploma, I was ready for the next chapter. The year I turned 60 I tacked up my Fourth Quarter Manifesto — six pledges for how I intended to live out the remaining 20+ years of my life. In short, they included:
- To live intentionally.
- To practice joy and gratitude.
- To cultivate an atmosphere of expectation and hope.
- To be fruitful.
- To be a lifelong learner.
- To love with abandon.
Reading them now, I realize my Manifesto defined how I hoped to remain relevant in a world that expected me to settle into retirement. I felt well-prepared and was off and running into the fourth quarter of life. Retirement? Pshaw!
Half a decade into my fourth quarter, I hit a wall. And, I stayed there for the better part of a year. I didn’t know at the time that I was entering what Michelle Van Loon, in her book Becoming Sage, calls Stage 4 in the journey to maturity — a season in which we ask “God, where are you? I’m alone in the dark.”
Becoming Sage: Cultivating Meaning, Purpose and Spirituality in Midlife came at precisely the right time to help me make sense of where I now find myself eight years after penning my hopeful Manifesto. Because I began my family a decade later than many in my generation, I came to this stage a bit later than some of my peers. Experiencing what St. John of the Cross described as the “dark night of the soul” rocked my world and threatened any notion I had of gracefully navigating this fourth quarter. From Becoming Sage:
“This dark night is an existential sense of loss or disorientation. It may accompany a loss or transition, such as the death of a family member or close friend, children leaving home, or a workplace layoff, but it is not always connected to an inciting incident. It can also grow from the question, “Is this all there is?”
In the past five years I’ve lost both of my parents. My husband and I walked with one son thru the end of his marriage and alongside another during a health crisis.. At the same time, in my quest to remain a lifelong learner, my world view has changed politically, spiritually and socially. As I gained a fuller grasp of issues and expectations facing women today, any shred of “relevance” I hoped to maintain or cultivate seemed out of reach.
And yet, these words give me hope. “If we navigate Stage 4 well, we’ll discover we’re growing from certainty toward humility as we learn to walk with God through our darkness,” says Van Loon. “Our darkness is not dark to Him.”
As she describes her own mid-life transitions, Van Loon offers the idea that in this season we may actually find ourselves embarking on a spiritual “apprenticeship journey.”
“Learning to discern the purposes and work of the Holy Spirit as we navigate these shifts and challenges will change the way in which both individuals and church communities approach the apprenticeship journey for and with those in the second half of our lives.”
Becoming Sage dives into the apprenticeship journey, nudging us toward spiritual maturity with chapters on church membership and attendance, family, friendships, our aging bodies, finances, emotional health, vocation and loving God and his world. Van Loon doesn’t just tell us what she thinks. She tells us what she knows, drawing from what she has experienced in her own life and with comments from other wise sages. VanLoon’s treatment of all the topics is backed up with research and timely quotes from such well-known teachers as Tim Keller, C.S. Lewis, Kathleen Norris and, of course, the Apostle Paul and Jesus.
Reading Becoming Sage, I no longer felt alone.
Van Loon ends each chapter of her book with questions for individual reflection and group conversation. She also offers a helpful list of books for further reading. A small group of friends joined me during the pandemic shutdown for a Zoom discussion on Becoming Sage. We found it to be so impactful that we’re inviting women in our church to read and discuss the book in person in the near post-Covid future.
Becoming Sage is a book I’ll refer to often as I walk through Stages 5 and 6 of my spiritual apprenticeship. I can’t say that I’ve entirely recovered from my “dark night” but I do know that this season has challenged me to explore the depths of my faith and to examine my life. That self-awareness expands the possibility that I can live this fourth quarter with a “sageness” that keeps me relevant to those walking alongside me. I’m excited, not intimidated, by what lie ahead — a season when I will begin passing along what God has given me as I prepare to join Him in eternity.
PerGen contributor Ingrid Lochamire is a former news reporter and award-winning feature writer for a regional news outlet. She “retired” from journalism to homeschool her four sons, now all graduated. Ingrid and her husband live in a 140-year-old farm house in northeast Indiana, where she shares her own “slice of life” experiences and reflections on her blog and elsewhere. Ingrid’s work has appeared on various websites and in the literary journal Topology. She is a member of Redbud Writers Guild, and her essays have been featured in The Redbud Post. Her self-published book One Man’s Work is a collection of stories from her father’s life.
Note from Michelle: Thank you, Ingrid, for this unsolicited and gracious engagement with my book. 🙂