Becoming Sage: Cultivating Meaning, Purpose, and Spirituality in Midlife – Michelle Van Loon

Becoming Sage Michelle Van Loon (1)
Becoming Sage: Cultivating Meaning, Purpose, and Spirituality in Midlife by Michelle Van Loon
Published by Moody Publishers on April 7, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life
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four-stars

Why Do We Act Like There Is An Age Restriction on Spiritual Growth?
For the last several decades, Western churches have focused the bulk of their resources on the early stages of discipleship—children’s Sunday school, youth group, college ministry. While these are all important, we have neglected the spiritual growth of those in the second half of life. In fact, an outside observer might think that after the growth of the college years, the goal is simply to coast through the rest of your Christian life.
Michelle Van Loon has a different idea. In Becoming Sage, she challenges those in midlife and beyond to continue pursuing radical spiritual growth, and she’ll help you get started. She explores what the unique challenges of midlife can teach us about Jesus and how to think about everything from church, friends, and family, to money, bodies, and meaning. Don’t settle for a life of coasting. Revitalize your spiritual growth today.

In this book, Michelle Van Loon shares personal and crowd-sourced insights into how Christians can gain wisdom and live well through their midlife transitions. Years ago, she cofounded a website about midlife, and because of that experience, she has thought deeply about this topic and learned from other people’s stories. Many of the stories shared here are from women, but Van Loon also includes examples and testimonials related to men, and this is not exclusively a women’s book.

Van Loon emphasizes that no particular age or life stage guarantees maturity, but that midlife includes opportunities for people continue to grow instead of stagnating. Van Loon also addresses the ways that church culture tends to emphasize youthfulness and focus on programming for children and young couples, to the marginalization and exclusion of middle-aged members. She encourages churches to keep midlife members in mind, ministering to them as well.

Content and Audience

Becoming Sage: Cultivating Meaning, Purpose, and Spirituality in Midlife focuses on transitions. She writes about the “shifting relationship” that often happens with one’s local church, showing how some people spiritually mature beyond a church that focuses on new converts, or come to realize as their children leave home that their church was near-exclusively focused on children’s ministry and parenting. She also writes about family changes and caregiving, friendship transitions, bodily changes, financial discipleship, emotional health, career changes and vocation, and how to love God and others in midlife. Each chapter is practical and wise, including the author’s personal insights, Scripture, quotes and ideas from other writers’ works, and stories from people she knows or has connected with on her website. This includes some details related to long-term singleness, and she doesn’t assume that all of her readers are parents.

I found this book practical, eye-opening, and encouraging. Many of my friends have started talking about how strange and alarming it is to anticipate their thirties, and many of our parents are going through midlife-related changes, so it is helpful to read a book like this to get deeper insight into life transitions that many secular and Christian circles rarely address. I appreciate this book’s realistic understanding of aging, and its encouragements about finding abundant life in older life stages, instead of clinging to youth. This is also a great conversation-starter for friends and church groups. Each chapter concludes with personal reflection prompts, helping people connect the material to their lives even if they didn’t relate to the shared examples, and there are also questions for group conversation. The questions are open-ended and insightful, and can be a wonderful gateway into deeper conversations in community.

A Few Concerns

My main critique is the way that Van Loon outlines the journey to maturity through someone else’s “six stages of faith” system. She writes with the assumption that people will follow these stages in a mostly linear way, and will hit “the dark night of the soul” in midlife. This is true for many people, but some of us don’t have that luxury and hit a wall much earlier. This stage’s description matches my experience at age thirteen, in the midst of mysterious chronic illness and excruciating psychological suffering from OCD, but I would never claim that I made it to stage four of a lifelong faith journey before I could even drive. I wish that Van Loon had provided more nuance to this simplistic system, acknowledging the horrifying things that young people go through instead of assuming that tragedy mostly hits in midlife.

I found this part of the book discouraging, and people who have faced worse struggles and losses in their youth may feel even more isolated by it. Also, this book mostly assumes that the reader is from a comfortable, middle-class background. Van Loon writes in the money-related chapter about her and her husband’s scary financial losses during the Recession, but the book as a whole does not acknowledge the anxieties or experiences of people who are facing dire financial struggles or working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Van Loon has good messages about non-material legacies in her chapter about finances, and she acknowledges the role of money worries and financial losses in people’s lives, but this book would be helpful for more readers if she had included examples or insight related to people seeking spiritual growth in the midst of working hard just to survive.

Conclusion

Even though I have a few critiques, this book is excellent overall. The author acknowledges lots of different midlife experiences, including caregiving, losing a spouse, long-term singleness, and divorce. This book thoughtfully addresses the complexity of midlife, the transitions that it entails, and the ongoing process of discipleship for a group that the American church typically neglects in their discipleship emphases and programs. This is a great book for Christians who want to pursue growth in midlife, need a mentoring voice, or want to better understand an older loved one’s transitions and challenges. I would also recommend this to pastors and other church leaders, so that they can become more sensitive to the life stages and needs of middle-aged people in their congregations.

four-stars