Now that I have reached a certain age, it is fascinating to see how others of a similar age live their lives. It is as though we journey on two different planets.

All of us start life in the all-encompassing grasp of parents who we believe have the magical power to meet our every need. They choreograph the dance of childhood and most of the moves of adolescence. Eventually, however, we make the awful discovery that their choreography is all wrong for our lives. That is when we figuratively and literally leave home and enter the first adulthood.

The first adulthood is defined by the big three – jobs, marriage, and the cultural expectations of our age. Equally powerful are the unrealized dreams of our parents. Somewhere in childhood we came to believe it is our responsibility to fulfill their unfulfilled dreams, and it becomes a subconscious focus of our first adulthood. That is why one of the most important gifts a parent can give their child is to live as fully as possible, so the child does not feel the need to complete their unfinished business.

Eventually most of us reach the stage in which the first adulthood is providing diminishing returns. We are tired of living our parents dreams and answering the demands of our culture, and we move to our second adulthood, in which we are less concerned about resume virtues and more focused on eulogy virtues. We have fewer friends, but deeper friendships. We no longer look outside ourselves for our sense of identity but look inside our own souls, never an easy task because it involves moving beyond our objecting egos. Our ego is concerned about keeping up appearances. Our soul is interested in the ride. Our soul understands what it means to live wholeheartedly.

Some people enter their second adulthood in their forties. Most begin in their fifties or sixties. Interestingly, the most productive decade for most Americans is their sixties; the second most productive is their seventies. (In case you are wondering, the third is the fifties.) All three come during our second adulthood, when we finally give ourselves permission to live wholeheartedly, seeking to satisfy the needs of our own souls.

Which brings me back to people who are my age. Many are bitter, grumpy, and perpetually annoyed. Life has not lived up to their expectations and they want the world to know it. I remember an elderly man on Long Island who painted on his truck door, “The Golden Years Stink.”  A lot of folks share his sentiment, if not his hubris.

In my experience, many of these bitter senior citizens became trapped in their first adulthood, fulfilling the dreams of their parents, their culture, and the other external forces that demanded fealty. They became so fixated on safety and security that life passed them by. And now it is finally dawning on them that the most secure place on earth is a cemetery. In the interest of safety, they have lived a life that was never truly their own.

If they are religious types, they are often trapped in Fowler’s Stage Three of faith development, following the rules and regulations demanded by an angry God, never moving on to the necessary work of spiritual disenchantment. Unfortunately, if you refuse to do the hard work of disenchantment, you will also miss the joy of faith’s re-enchantment, as you embrace an understanding of the holy and sacred that is far wider and deeper than anything you imagined. A re-enchanted faith is what Mary Oliver expressed in her poem, The Summer Day. Its final line is a testament to living wholeheartedly: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

My life is not easy. I know, yours isn’t either. Life is difficult for all of us, whether you embrace the second adulthood or not. As I have acknowledged before, I am currently going through a rough patch. It is the third time that has happened since my transition. This period of difficulty is a reminder that taking the road less traveled by will always include stretches of road filled with fallen branches and stones.

But if you live wholeheartedly and dare to believe that the call toward authenticity is sacred, and holy, and for the greater good, you know that despite your suffering, you have no choice but to move forward, one step at a time, though the desert. It is the only path to wisdom.

I am glad I live a life that has more in common with my friends in their 40s and 50s than with Baby Boomers. The last decade was by far the most productive of my life, and I fully expect the coming decade to be just as productive.

Life is difficult. But if you live wholeheartedly, life is also full of joy. To be sure, we have to travel through the road of trials to get there, but if we have eyes to see, joy is always waiting, just around the bend.

11 thoughts on “Wholeheartedly

  1. Paula, that’s an interesting take on the path of people through their life spans. As transman who just came out at age 71, I see myself in it, especially raised in the conservative tradition of a pastor’s family. I’m fortunate to know some people my age who love what they are doing, and now I do too, only as a result of coming out. Thanks for your book and your blog.


  2. Thank you, Paula. I love that you can write such hope from the middle of a rough patch. Let’s do this. Authentically. Whole-heartedly. Crying out. Pushing back on compromise. Finding surprises in the tensions. Finding that joy we knew was there, but just couldn’t see it for a bit.

    Peace of Christ in this new year, Kimberly



  3. Hey Paula…I’ve fallen behind on your writings. I’ve been so busy caring for my elderly father and just with life happening in general that I haven’t been able to read your words of wisdom. Something came to me as I was reading this piece and it’s the poem by Robert Frost titled “The Road Not Taken”. Hope you’re doing well♥


  4. Greetings, Paula!

    I’m grateful for all you share, especially considering in so many ways except the most wonderful we are unalike.

    I am straight and lean a bit more to the right — a bit, I say, because I truly can see the benefits and well-meaning from both sides of the political aisle, am basically late-1800s old-fashioned — yet personally know no one who has transitioned. That said, we are both lovers of and believers in the Lord and trust He knows all who are His and loves each of them where they are. I have thought of responding often since I first saw your blogs a number of years ago and though I have not, I have prayed for you as well as others who are trapped in bodies that are not what their hearts and souls tell them they are.

    So this is a “Thank you” for putting up with those of us who are clueless yet mean well. Thank you for being patient with us as we do our best to understand. And thank you for not pigeon-holing us with those who do not care or, much worse, denigrate and malign. The more time that passes (I’ll be 66 this Summer) the more I realize no one really knows what anyone else is going through and even if we long to/try to explain it doesn’t work. So, we love; and we care; and we forgive; and we pray…thanking our wonderful God for leading all His children to the eventual realization He loves so many more than we can possibly understand — and if He loves them? They’re amazingly beautiful in their own right!

    All of Heaven’s best to you and all whom you hold dear.


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