A Fish out of Water - Going back to school in Midlife

by Barbara Hein

There was a quiet buzz of soft voices as young, eager students filed into the small, desk-lined room. The professor struck up a conversation with these young adults who enjoyed a laugh or two as he enthusiastically regaled them with tales of his summer adventures. And so it began, my first night class in well over 25 years. By way of introduction, each of us was asked to share why we decided to take this particular course, The Philosophy of Religion.

Most of the 15 students said they had grown up in the church, but had unanswered questions which had led some of them to leave the church upon entering adolescence. They expressed a wide range of denominational experiences from Catholic to Evangelical Charismatic. But one thing these young people all seemed to share was a curiosity and earnest desire to know if faith in an infinite being is vital to our existence as human beings in the 21st century. Or can we exist as our own gods creating our own moral code and identity, as popularized by new age movements which have become the dominant voice in our cultural dialogue.

“Rather than giving them a faith that is objective, historical, living and true; had we given them an internal, subjective, self-centred faith that couldn’t stand the test of time and life’s hardships?”

As for me, I had wrestled with these existential questions when I was in university and have revisited them from time to time. Over the years, however, I have gained a depth of assurance and peace regarding my relationship with the Eternal God. As I have endeavoured to follow the Lord Jesus in good times and in bad, His faithfulness, love, and mercy towards me have laid these questions to rest.

Consequently, my reason for auditing this course came from a slightly different vantage point. Having been out of school for 25 years, I wanted to challenge myself to think on a deeper level in an area of interest I had had for many years but never had the time to pursue.

It soon became apparent that my brain had been on vacation for the last 25 years as I struggled to understand the text that we had been given. The students, on the other hand, embarked on a study of the text with skilled analysis and critique, weighing each thought like a seasoned jeweler uncovering a rare gem. All the while, I found myself scribbling question marks in the margins of more paragraphs in the text than I care to admit. I definitely felt my age among these young, bright, and engaging students. Each class became a meeting place of ideas, as the insightful professor skillfully created an environment that allowed for many questions and lively discussion. Some students, however, were still left searching for answers to their deepest questions.

This is when I began to wonder if my generation had failed these young people. Rather than giving them a faith that is objective, historical, living and true; had we given them an internal, subjective, self-centred faith that couldn’t stand the test of time and life’s hardships? In the name of relevance, had we unwittingly taught them that church is simply a place to learn to achieve a better and more successful life instead of a holy life lived before a Holy God? How would this kind of teaching acknowledge any need for the redemption offered by a crucified Christ?

It’s no wonder these young people were struggling to figure out what faith in God really means. I am sorrowful over what I perceive to be a failure on the part of my generation to be intentional about passing on a living Faith that is true, transformational and rooted in Jesus Christ. A Faith that at its core provides such grace and mercy that it sets the soul free from all forms of condemnation and brings meaning to life. I realized that, in order to end the confusion and disillusionment so apparent in this generation, we must ask ourselves have we been faithful to follow God’s call to be spiritual mentors to the next generation.

“…in order to end the confusion and disillusionment so apparent in this generation, we must ask ourselves have we been faithful to follow God’s call to be spiritual mentors to the next generation.”

Several times throughout the course I was given the opportunity to share different aspects of my own faith journey. My hope and prayer is that my story would help answer some of the questions these students held deep in their hearts. Thankfully, this has led to several meaningful one-on-one conversations with students outside of class.

Even so, maintaining a vibrant faith over the last four decades has been no easy task for me. My faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord, and Life has been challenged and even threatened at times by various temptations vying for my heart and distracting my attention. Admittedly, the years can take their toll on our faith. Resentments, losses, grief, distractions, and sin can all accumulate to turn a once fervent faith into a wistful yearning for something deeper, as we struggle to hang on to what we once believed. As I entered midlife I became increasingly aware of the importance of this stage of life as a time of recalibration and spiritual renewal. It became clear to me that now was the time to pursue a life of deeper meaning and purpose that would turn the second half of life into one of eternal value grounded in Kingdom pursuits. It is my prayer that as I seek to recalibrate a deeper communion with my Lord, and receive His merciful forgiveness of the past, that my heart will continue to be renewed. I want to be able to show the next generation that living a life of faith and surrender to Jesus Christ is the only way to truly live. I want to echo the words of the Apostle Paul who wrote to the young Timothy in 1Tim. 1:16,17 “But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen”

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