Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
I want to look at the different stages of life that we go through. And the environment, if you like, for each one of these different phases of life. I wonder how old you are; you probably fit into one of these categories, one of these environments. Let’s start with the young adults.
The Environment Of Young Adults
A young adult is not as likely to be controlled by physiological hormones as by emotional needs. Intimacy, for example, is the need to enter a circle of personal relationships where there will be the chance to give and receive love. Identity, the need to fit in as a useful person in one’s society, and functional value, the need to prove oneself in a vocation or career, become critically important.
There’s a story of a woman in her 40s who came to discuss a marriage that had exploded after 15 years, leaving two people with worlds so broken that they will probably take years to recover. She speaks of a relationship that soured almost before the end of the honeymoon; of two people who seemed adept at inflicting maximum emotional damage on each other.
”Didn’t you see this sort of thing coming before you walked down the aisle?” “Perhaps I did,” she answers. “I remember my parents expressing strong reservations about the wisdom of the relationship even up to the week of the wedding. They pressed me pretty hard, but I didn’t listen.”
When I ask why, she says,
I had a terrible fear of loneliness and couldn’t bear the thought that I might go through adult life as a single person. And even though I realised that he wasn’t the perfect man, I told myself we could solve some of these problems after we settled into the relationship. You can do that, you know. But maybe I’ve discovered that there’s a set of problems between two people that can’t be solved. I wish I’d listened to my parents.
Why the poor choice? The overwhelming emotional environment of the need for intimacy. It spoke louder than wisdom. It should have been controlled, but it wasn’t. As you ponder the loss of a marriage, the years of domestic strife, you wonder why there wasn’t a stronger opportunity for better decision-making. The fear of living an unmarried life can be the very emotional environment capable of leading a young woman to compromise her moral standards in order to attract the attentions of a man she likes.
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These are just a few reasons why young adults badly need mentors or sponsors, older couples who come alongside and offer supportive wisdom, encouragement, and models of godly behaviour.
The Environment of Adult Life
The mid-life person is in a time of life in which the feelings of gradual loss can become very real: loss of time, of opportunities, of energy, of youthfulness. And the person may be sensitive to the fact that a large part of the world gears itself to the values and tastes of a younger generation.
Relationships are changing for the mid-lifer. Their parents are ageing, their children are leaving, and their peers may seem to be passing them by in their various pursuits of success. Their marriage may have lost some of its charm if they have not been vigilant in its maintenance; their body may be letting them down because they have not taken good care of it. It’s a scary time because it suggests that more than half of life is ended and the last half is not as likely to be as kind as the first.
They may have major responsibility for parents and children. How are they going to handle their children’s college tuition, the needs of their ageing parents, and the monthly bills they have to pay?
There may be a great temptation to slow life down by trying to return to young adulthood and all of its perceived glamour. Or there may be a temptation to speed life up and grasp for things that have great promise on the surface but rarely deliver. It’s easy to reason that you’re missing out on things. And the temptation becomes rather large for some to take risks and make decisions that have great broken-world possibilities.
Middle age is a time for the building of peer relationships, friends who covenant to walk through the remainder of life together. Their relationship needs to be built on the mutual sharing and exploration of their faith in God, what it means to support one another as the challenge of change comes their way, and what it means to protect one another from foolish choices based on false premises.
Middle age is a time to dream new dreams, determine to invest oneself in the younger generation as a mentor, and press for quality of life rather than quantity of things or experiences.
The Environment of Senior Adulthood
Senior people may be tempted to think that they are losing their value as a person. Rightly or wrongly, they perceive that younger people are more than willing to take their place and often be even more capable. They struggle with self-esteem when they discover that it takes longer to do simple things, and that the mind may not always be hospitable to change although everyone seems to be calling for change. An ageing man or woman is tempted to anxiety about sicknesses and diseases, broken limbs, and systems of health care that seem very impersonal and increasingly expensive.
The possibility of bitterness also arises. One finds it very easy to get angry at a world that seems bent on shoving older people aside and not caring that they have feelings too. Sharp emotional reactions may show themselves before one is able to put a cover over them.
The ageing person is frequently reminded of death. Good friends and loved ones slip away, and funerals are frequent occurrences. Children may hardly ever be seen, and young people aren’t interested in hearing another’s memories or even in finding out what wisdom the aged might have to offer.
It’s a difficult time for many senior people. It’s easy to sink into despair, and the environment of the senior makes it too easy to choose selfishness as a way of life. Good men and women decide that they have given enough and it’s time to live only for themselves.
If babies and adolescents need parents, and young adults need mentors, and mid-lifers need friends, ageing persons need almost everyone. They do not deserve what so many ageing people get: isolation. Our elderly brothers and sisters need to be thanked, respected, and consulted.
Each environment properly understood provides rich opportunity for growth and wholeness.
By: Gordon MacDonald