In my mid 40s I began meeting men who were churning with angst. Many were Christians but all were restless for more. It was time for them to climb to a higher meadow. Today, after countless conversations, I have come to see five meadows.
C. S. Lewis depicted the journey of faith as an ascent through meadows. We go further into the Kingdom by finding a pathway further up. I began reading Lewis as a new believer. His metaphor was likely buried in my mind when I started using it in my mid 40s. That’s when men, full of angst, sought my advice. They were between the ages of 28 and 32. They had a decision to make. Climb to the next meadow or stay put.
Then men between the ages of 38 and 42 came to me for counsel. Different issues but the same choice—climb to the next meadow or stay put. Then it was men and women between the ages of 48 and 52… then 58 and 62. A pattern was unfolding.
I’m 61. I’ve come to see five meadows. The first meadow, your 20s, is a candle burning at both ends. It’s a decade for exploration and experimentation. In the Mishnah, it is not until the age of thirty that men are ready “for entering into one’s full vigor.” In your 20s, burn the candle at both ends. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Do however be serious about changing the world. If you are, and you’re in your 20s, you’ll begin to churn between the ages of 28 and 32. You’re being called to the next meadow. It’s ten feet up. You can’t see it. You have to climb a path. You only have a few years to decide to take the trek. In my experience, many choose to stay put.
It’s because the meadow of your 30s is about finding the one thing. As Henry Kissinger notes, you narrow your life experiences to gain focused expertise. By age 30 I knew I think in pictures. I reframe problems. I began honing this into a skill in my 30s.
I’ve found that 30-40 percent of twenty-somethings don’t climb to the 30s meadow. They tend to be the talented ones. Or they’ve enjoyed financial success. They’re having fun. Finding one thing feels cramped. It is. It’s being deliberate. Read that word again. Slowly. De-liberate. You limit your liberty. You hone more, roam less.
I know men and women who have spent their entire life in the 20s meadow. It’s familiar. Feels safe. They’ve grown old but not up. If they’re Christians, they continue reciting lines learned in youth and college ministries. The ideas are sound but simplistic. These believers have not learned the tensions and complexities inherent in the faith.
If you walk the 30s meadow, you’ll get restless between the ages of 38 and 42. Time to climb to the next meadow. Your 40s are about legacy. This often involves loss. I know businessmen who got serious about their legacy in their 40s. It transcends success and money. They lost business partners. That’s why many don’t make this climb.
In the Clapham Sect, banker Henry Thornton gave away as much as six-sevenths of his income till he married, and after that at least a third of it. He left a legacy. I stepped down from a successful pastorate at age 41. I felt called to pursue something different. That cost my family in terms of financial security. I’m not that courageous. The move scared the you-know-what out of me. But God provided.
If you journey across the meadow of your 40s, you’ll arrive at a path. It ascends to the meadow of your 50s, where we learn limits. Around the age of 50 we first hear the rushing rapids of death. It’s not morbid. Rather, we begin to see we probably don’t have enough remaining time and energy to achieve all that we hoped to in this life.
Again, a percentage of folks don’t climb to this meadow. They don’t like limits. The 50s are when married men are likely to cheat on their spouse according to Kelly Campbell, a professor at California State University, San Bernardino. She studies infidelity. Couples between the age of 35 and 50 are busy with careers and child-rearing. After 50, the kids pretty much go on their own—and so do many spouses who feel confined.
If you journey through this meadow, somewhere between the age of 58 and 62 you’ll come upon a path. I was 59 when it happened. I felt the Lord calling my wife Kathy and I to push all the chips to the middle of the table. Cash in our assets—leverage them for (hopefully) the greater good. As we have climbed this path, we’re learning that the meadow of your 60s is about leverage. It’s leveraging assets—lessons learned and resources earned in the meadows below—for the well-being of others.
The 60s are for strategic allocation of resources. This is to help promote affluence—God’s preferred condition for all. Money is one of many resources to help do this. Those who fail to ascend to the 60s meadow tend to equate affluence with money. They can overlap, but affluence is about more than money. It’s friendships and making the world a better place.
Aside from the Lord, my wife Kathy is the chief reason I—we—have journeyed through these ascending meadows. We know many couples who haven’t. One spouse wants to journey but the other doesn’t. I’m fortunate. I over-married.
In The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis writes how the ghostly tourists opt for the bus headed for hell. They don’t like to travel, ascending meadows. Travel is from the English travail, meaning a journey fraught with danger. When the time comes to travel further up, you won’t initially see what’s in the meadow. You only see a path. It’s a faith journey. Kathy and I don’t know what the 70s hold, but we plan to ascend for the rest of our lives.
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