Working and Growing Backwards

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Mark Twain humorously noted that it would be better if humans were born at the age of 80 and worked backwards. This backwards growth would afford us all the wisdom we would need to navigate the challenges of life. Another great American author F. Scott Fitzgerald picked up this idea in a short story called The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, recently popularized by the film starring Brad Pitt and Kate Blanchett.

It is an interesting idea and curious story. It seems all of us are short on wisdom, but as the Curious Case proves, even being born 80 doesn't solve all our problems. Still, what if we approached work, family, and leisure with the wisdom of our elders?

Life-Maturing Wisdom

In his book The Making of a Leader, Robert Clinton identifies six stages of a leader. The stages include: Sovereign Foundations, Inner Life Growth, Ministry (or Vocational) Maturing, Life Maturing, Convergence, Afterglow. Clinton's comments regarding our "Life Maturing" stage got me thinking about growing backwards.

He notes that this phase of life, typically occurring in our 40s, begins with intentional and extended reflection on life. This period of reflection is often forced onto us by life circumstances, a major conflict, growing children, or life crisis. What would happen if we began to cultivate these patterns of reflection at an earlier age? What kind of people, families, or communities would emerge? We might become more concerned about how God can shape us through conflict and life—and less concerned about merely navigating our conflicts and challenges. Clinton writes:

During Ministry [or Vocational] Maturing, we attempt to constructively navigate conflict; during Life Maturing, we instead tend to focus on what our conflicts say about us. Overall, relationship with God starts to become far more important to us than ministry success [or workplace success]. Ironically, as we begin to care less about the results of our ministry [or work], our effectiveness, satisfaction, and attractiveness as ministers [or employees] suddenly begins to grow. Our lives become an object of imitation. We are not merely appreciated for our work, we are admired as people.

Reflecting, Not Just Navigating, Through Conflict

Are you driven by work, family, success? Are you more concerned with managing conflict than being sanctified by conflict? How can you begin to care less about results of vocation and more about discipleship through vocation? If we want to imitate Christ, periods of reflection and prayer will be important. Imagine if we became so obsessed with God's agenda in our conflicts, challenges, and vocations that others appreciate our Christlikeness more than our "work."

Reflecting through conflict instead of merely navigating it is not a popular process. In general, our culture values success, results, and output over sanctification, maturity, and reflection. Our busy lives run against the grain of such extended times of reflection. Turning around is hard. However, the result of becoming more process-oriented and more reflective will lead us into more fruitful living, parenting, and community building.

You could start by taking a weekly walk in the woods, alone. Go to a coffee shop without a laptop or PDA. Refuse to answer emails for a day—and journal instead. Have extended discussions with your friends and spouses about what God wants to teach each of you through the challenges and conflicts of your lives.

Reflection is inspiring. Cultivate time for it. Prayer can draw us deeper into communion with God who wants to fill us with wisdom.

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