Second Half of Life Organizations

by Amy Young on July 20, 2018

Friends, this post comes to you as not a fully formed thought; instead, it is more along the lines of “this is what I’ve been thinking about the past few weeks. Let’s talk.”

I”m reading Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr for the second time. I first read it after I had turned 40 and was living in Beijing. My mom heard about it and ordered me a copy and sent it as either a Christmas or birthday present. I had not heard of Rohr prior to opening my present and the idea that I might be entering a continued journey of falling should have been a hint about what might be coming in my life.

In essence, Rohr shares that there are two halves to life. “The first task is to build a strong ‘container’ or identity, the second half is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold. First-half tasks involve establishing an identity, a home, relationships, friendships, community, security, and building a proper platform for our life.” Sounds good.

The second-tasks take longer to discover, they are the “task within the task.” And look at “what we are really doing when we are doing something.”

He does acknowledge that much of the world is focused on the first half because of the need for basic survival. The second half of life tasks are a luxury that many are not afforded. He also stresses that first and second are not necessarily chronological. You can have older people who still do not have well-formed identities and younger people who, often through suffering, are involved in second-half tasks.

Okay, I get that if we were meeting for coffee and I was rambling on like this, you might reach for your phone and pretend to read an urgent text, planning your exit. Please stick with me a few more minutes.

When I read the book the first time, I was thinking about myself. But this time, almost from the get-go I can’t shake the feeling that too many mission agencies and organizations are stuck in the first half, building a “strong container” without really moving into filling the container.

If you checked their website, you would see a healthy container complete with a mission statement or a tagline and pictures of the work they do. And because it is for Jesus, it sounds good. It sounds important. It sounds spiritual. Can we be honest? Living by faith, in conjunction with supporters funding our livelihood is a front row seat to seeing God at work in the world AND a graduate symposium in building a good looking container. While some supporters may financially support a weak container, most want to see proof that their support is going towards what you say you are doing.

These built-in checks and balances are good. But they are also flawed.

I’ve been wondering, do organizations experience the two halves/tasks also? Was this part of my tension on the field with my organization? Were we in different life tasks? When I think of some of the well-known, long-standing organizations, how do they keep building their identities with new people who join them, while also navigating the more nuanced questions of “what is in our container?”

The organization I spent most of my adulthood with (and therefore formed me and my thinking the most) was wonderful at bringing new people to the field. Our sweet spot seemed to be people committing for 3-4 years. Of course, we had some who stayed longer, and some who left after one or two years. The inflow of so many new to the field every year meant that we needed to focus on our container. We needed to orient them to who we were, the culture they would live in, and the work they would do.

Corporately we (and I) became very good at building the container. I am proud of the work I was a part of for many years. But then I began to have a rub internally. Six or seven years out, I can see that the only way I would have left was if there was a rub. I did not want to leave. I loved the work, the culture, and my community. But then there came a point the chaffing was too great and I could not stay.

In the process of leaving, I helped birth Velvet Ashes. (I’m assuming you’ve heard of Velvet Ashes, if not, it is worth a look.) As one who helps lead Velvet Ashes, an organization who is young and has much to learn, what does it look like to focus on our identity, place in the world, and call from God, with an eye to “the task within the task?”

I”m not sure. but this is what I’ve been thinking of these days.

Have you noticed these two tasks within organizations you have been a part of? How many organizations do you think are “stuck” in the first-half?

 

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

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About Amy Young

When Amy Young first moved to China she knew three Chinese words: hello, thank you and watermelon. She blogs regularly at The Messy Middle, helped found Velvet Ashes, and writes books for you. Amy is the author of Love, Amy: An Accidental Memoir Told in Newsletters from China and Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service. Looming Transitions also has two companion resources: 22 Activities for Families in Transitions and Looming Transitions Workbook. You can listen to it too. Her latest book helps you with your newsletters (and makes you laugh).

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