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Falling Upward: The Second Half of Life
Falling Upward: The Second Half of Life

Honoring the First Half

Friday, November 17, 2023

Second-half-of-life people soulfully create room to honor the needs of the first. Father Richard writes:

If we are on course at all, our world grows much larger in the second half of life. But I must say that, in yet another paradox, our circle of real confidants and truly close friends will normally grow smaller, but also more intimate. We are no longer surprised or angered when most people—and even most institutions—are doing first-half-of-life tasks. In fact, that is what most groups and institutions, and young people, are programmed to do! We shouldn’t hate them for it.

Institutions must by necessity be concerned with membership requirements, policies, procedures, protocols, and precedents. If they are working organizations, they need to have very clear criteria for hiring and firing, for supervision and management, and have rules for promotion and salaries. It’s necessary that they do these things well, but they are nevertheless ego needs and not soul needs.

The bottom line of the gospel is that most of us have to hit some kind of bottom before we even start the real spiritual journey. Up to that point, it is mostly religion. At the bottom, there is little time or interest in being totally practical, efficient, or revenue generating. We just want to breathe fresh air. The true gospel is always fresh air and spacious breathing room.

The ego and most institutions demand a tit-for-tat universe, while the soul swims in a sea of abundance, grace, and freedom, which cannot always be organized. Remember the gospel: at the end of the day, the employer pays those who worked part of a day just as much as those who worked the whole day (Matthew 20:1–16). This does not compute except at the level of soul. Soulful people temper our tantrums by their calm, lessen our urgency by their peace, exhibit a world of options and alternatives when conversation turns into dualistic bickering.

Soulful people are the necessary salt, yeast, and light needed to grow groups up (see Matthew 5:13–16, 13:33). Jesus does not demand that we be the whole meal, the full loaf, or the illuminated city itself, but we are to be the quiet undertow and overglow that makes all of these happen. This is why all institutions need second-half-of-life people in their ranks; just “two or three” in each organization are enough to keep them from total self-interest.

Our question now becomes, “How can I honor the legitimate needs of the first half of life, while creating space, vision, time, and grace for the second?” The holding of this tension is the very shape of wisdom. Only hermits and some retired people can almost totally forget the first and devote themselves totally to the second, but even they must eat, drink, and find housing and clothing! The art of being human is in uniting fruitful activity with a contemplative stance—not one or the other, but always both at the same time.


Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011, 2024), 87–89. New edition forthcoming; Oneing: Falling Upward now available.

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Loïs Mailou Jones, Eglise Saint Joseph (detail), 1954, oil on canvas. Alma Thomas, Red Abstraction (detail), 1959, oil on canvas. Loïs Mailou Jones, Shapes and Colors (detail), 1958, watercolor on paper. Click here to enlarge image.

As we journey through life, we begin to apply the colors of our experience with more depth, expansiveness and skill.

Story from Our Community:  

As I read the heartfelt experiences of others, I feel more connected to the brokenness of my past and I begin to feel a joy that surpasses understanding. It reminds me of the life art “Kintsugi,” which is the practice of rebuilding a new piece of pottery from shattered fragments. As I embrace the broken pieces of my life, I find myself experiencing grace as I allow God to create something new and beautiful. This new vessel is what I use to pour forward my service to others during my second half of life. —Danielle H.

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