The Task within the Task

Growing in Christ: Week 1

The Task within the Task
Sunday, March 17, 2019

Religion and various models of human development seem to suggest there are two major tasks for each human life. The first task is to build a strong “container” or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold. The first task we take for granted as the very purpose of life. This does not mean we do it well, but because we’re so focused on it we may not even attempt the second task.

Western society is a “first-half-of-life” culture, largely concerned about surviving successfully. Most cultures and individuals across history were likely situated in the first half of their own development until recent times; it may have been all they had time for because of shorter life expectancy. The first task life hands us has to do with establishing an identity, a home, relationships, friends, community, security, and building a proper platform for our only life.

But it takes much longer to discover “the task within the task,” as I like to call it: what we are really doing when we are doing what we are doing. Two people can have the same job description, and one is holding a subtle or not-so-subtle life energy (eros) in doing his or her job, while another is holding a subtle or not-so-subtle negative energy (thanatos) while doing the exact same job.

We respond to one another’s energy more than to people’s exact words or actions. In any situation, the taking or giving of energy is what we are actually doing. What we all desire and need from one another, of course, is that life energy called eros! It always draws, creates, and connects things.

It is when we begin to pay attention, and to seek integrity in the task within the task, that we begin to move from the first to the second half of our own lives. Integrity largely has to do with purifying our intentions and being honest about our motives. It is hard work. Most often we don’t pay attention to that inner task until we have had some kind of fall or failure in our outer tasks.

During the first half of life we invest so much of our blood and sweat, eggs and sperm, tears and years that we often cannot imagine there is a second task, or that anything more could be expected of us. “The old wineskins are good enough” (Luke 5:39), we say, even though according to Jesus they often cannot hold the new wine. If we do not get some new wineskins, “the wine and the wineskin will both be lost” (Luke 5:37). The second half of life can hold some new wine because by then there should be some tested ways of holding our lives together. But that usually means the container itself must stretch or die in its present form and be replaced with something better.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), xiii-xv, 2.

Image credit: The Artist’s Garden at Eragny (detail), by Camille Pissarro, 1898, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the second half of life, you start to understand that life is not only about doing; it’s about being. —Richard Rohr
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