Becoming Sage: Cultivating Meaning, Purpose, and Spirituality in Midlife
Michelle Van Loon
Reviewed by Alicia Brummeler
As a woman who will turn fifty in November, I was eager to read Michelle Van Loon’s latest book Becoming Sage: Cultivating Meaning, Purpose, and Spirituality in Midlife. After all, it isn’t everyday that you read a book specifically targeted to this demographic.
I imagine that most female readers are already aware of the many physical, mental, social, and vocational changes that occur during midlife. What we want is a resource that affirms we are not alone in what we are experiencing, and one that offers guidance for moving forward. Becoming Sage does this and more. Van Loon also takes a look at spiritual growth in midlife, sharing personal reflections and offering encouragement to the reader.
I like how Van Loon views midlife. Instead of describing this season in discouraging terms, she refers to midlife as an invitation. Here’s our chance to pursue wisdom in ways that may not have been possible before. It is a time where we can draw upon our past experiences and use that knowledge to grow closer to God and to grow in wisdom.
Becoming Sage is divided into two sections. The first one explains what becoming sage looks like. What does it mean to be mature, particularly in regards to one’s faith journey? Van Loon recaps the six stages of faith as identified by James Fowler, Janet Hagberg, and Robert Guelich to give the reader a helpful reference point. The second section takes a holistic look at what spiritual growth looks like in the context of everyday life. This part of the book delves into the nitty gritty, ranging in topics from fiances to menopause. Readers will also benefit from the individual reflection questions provided at the end of each chapter along with questions for group discussion should they wish to read the book with others.
One of the benefits of addressing a variety of topics is that readers can return to this book again and again. Some chapters will be more relevant than others depending on one’s circumstances.
Take for example the chapter on family—a timely topic in light of COVID-19 and the fact that many of us have spent the past several months either living with our immediate family members, or if we don’t, we’re at least wondering about the health and safety of our loved ones. What does becoming sage look like in this context? Van Loon acknowledges that midlife is a time of transition. Our job as parents changes as children grow. We may become grandparents during this season or we may face the loss of a parent. Our marriages may not feel as vibrant as they once did. If we are single, we may worry about who will care for us when our own health fails.
Becoming sage in the context of family involves a shift in mindset. Van Loon offers two suggestions. First, we are to become apprentices—learners rather than teachers. What does God want to teach us during this second act of life as it relates to our families? And second, we can practice gratitude. When we count our blessings, big and small, our focus shifts off ourselves and moves us towards others and God. We realize that we have been blessed by a generous Father who loves us and cares for all our needs. In turn, we are able to freely share love and care with those in our nuclear family as well as those in our broader community.
Another chapter that will resonate with readers is the one on friendship. All of us have experienced times of loneliness and perhaps even isolation. Midlife is not excluded from these feelings. The friendships we enjoyed in our twenties and thirties and thought would last for the rest of our lives have changed for a variety of reasons. Establishing new and meaningful friendships can be intimidating and nerve-wracking, even in a church community. Part of becoming sage is recognizing that we have life experience and wisdom to offer to those who are younger. Van Loon suggests that one unexpected source of friendship could be the mentor-mentee relationship.
It wasn’t until Van Loon referenced the children’s classic The Velveteen Rabbit in her conclusion that I realized the shared connection between that story and midlife. If you haven’t read it, you should. In the story, the stuffed rabbit despairs that he will ever become real. Without giving away all the specifics, eventually he does. But, it takes time. As I enter this “second half of adulthood,” I know I show signs of wear and tear like the Velveteen Rabbit. The same is true for any who find themselves in midlife. Yet, we do not lose heart. For the believer, this journey isn’t a solo one. Christ continues with us each step of the way until the very end, where one day we will see him “face to face.”