Growing Deeper At Midlife: The Journey through the Unknown to Become Fully Known Starting Point: My Feet Don’t Stink!

growing deeper


I am finishing my Directive-Reading Paper for M.A. Program at Vanguard University on how the use of ceremonies and rituals utilizing Edwin Friedman’s Family Systems approach can be used by churches and denominations in equipping clergy leadership transitioning into midlife. Just ten years ago, I never thought I would be writing a blog article concerning this topic. As I was journeying through midlife I had not shed the old self from my first-half living that embraced the fantasy that I was invincible; I had come to believe the context of my life was an immutable reality and that everything would remain the same. In my first-half of life I was a successful Pastor, traveling to a variety of places to speak at conferences and working hard for Jesus. I was sincere in my desire to please God but I was addicted to performance and my identity was wrapped up in what I was doing. Like so many first-half-of life leaders, I was dealing with the dragons that are unique to first-half leadership: identity, power, security, and sexuality and at times had no safe place to talk to somebody about these issues. In the words of Richard Rohr, “They don’t just preoccupy us; they totally take over.”[1] Thus, here is the great trap: “One is doing so many great things for God including navigating all the personal crises and challenges that one cannot personally discern that he/she has become preoccupied with himself or herself that it is like a mild-dose of narcissism that constantly is attempting to restructure one’s ego by finding acceptance and affirmation from peers and leaders.

In the midst of this I prayed a dangerous prayer when I was returning from one of my missions trips in the Philippines in 2006: God make me the man you desire me to be. I was forty-four years old and I didn’t have a clue I was about to begin my journey into midlife. I think it’s important to present some biblical reflection concerning the risky nature of this prayer when facing this kind of journey. Jesus in Luke 5:39, declares, “Old wineskins cannot hold onto the new wine.” According to Jesus, if we do not get some new wineskins, the wine and the wineskin will both be lost. The truth of the matter is as one faces the journey through midlife wines skins will be stretched and tested and if we are continuing to use the wineskin from our first-half of life it is not capable of holding everything together.

stinky feetAs a teenager my little Puerto Rican grandmother would get frustrated with me and my brother when we would be watching television and our shoes would be off. She would shout out to us, “You boys put some shoes on your feet stink!” We would laugh saying in whispered tones to each other that our feet did not stink. Somehow after age twenty-five, one comes to realize that their feet do stink and your new spouse does not appreciate it. I have discovered that one’s transition through midlife brings to the surface many things that stink but one is not aware of it. It can be one’s ego that always compares oneself to other leaders, wanting its needs to be met, or to broker power that seeks to control all outcomes. There may even be the need to people-please thinking in some insane way a man or woman can make everyone happy. So one avoids conflict and makes excuses creating the fantasy that everything is going to be fine.  Whatever the source of your stink it will be going through the turbulence of the “grace-loss” cycle that occurs as one enters into midlife.

Carl Jung's Two Halfs of Life




Steps and Stages

It was Carl Jung who first popularized the phrase “the two-halves-of-life” to describe these two major movements in Stage Life Development.[2] According to Jung, the first-half-of-life, roughly ended at age forty, is spent developing one’s ego, or sense of “I.” But the second-half-of-life should be devoted to living out one’s true calling or vocation.[3] There are a plethora of social psychologists as well as theologians who embrace that growth and development have a direction and are not static. Richard Rohr states, “Unless you can chart and encourage both movement and direction, you have no way to name what is maturity and what is immaturity.” [4]

Grace/Loss Process

Man expereincing loss

Carl Jung states that the greatest risk for any person as they journey into second-half-living is one becomes immersed in the over-identification with their roles that can lead to depression when a role is lost, and this experience of loss is as traumatic as losing a child, spouse or parent to death.

The grace side of this process is one grows with a more differentiated understanding of their own personal identity. In the second-half-of-life the old compasses don’t work. In the words of Mark Gerzon, “The magnetic fields have been altered. The new compass that we need cannot be held in our hand, only in your heart. We read it not with our mind alone, but with our soul.”[5] As one presses through into the cauldron of chaos and pain the grace becomes a wisdom that shapes us to become more contemplative and reflective concerning the decisions we make. In our reflection this same wisdom allows us to look back at past situations in one’s life, both positive and negative, equipping us to have a broader perspective of those life situations freeing us to accept responsibility for our actions without a sense of hopeless shame or a victim mind-set. It is a grace that empowers us to release old offenses while at the same time not having to approve of the choices or actions that others made toward us. Furthermore, with those same storms of life one gains a discernment to understand how God uses storms to shape and transform one’s interior life so that old things can die and new things can be birthed.

As leaders our ego is not crushed but reshaped and as we journey through midlife a new vision begins to become clearer as one becomes more focused on the success of others rather than the all-consuming ambition of first-half living of one’s own success. One no longer is stuck at a stage of power in which one pretends to do the dance of being a part of a team because people are a means to an end. Rather, he/she now fully embraces the significance of the power brokered in community and they move from leading a group to leading a team. The greatest place of one’s strength is not in their own skill alone but instead it is found in the vulnerability to work alongside of people who know the real you.

Everyone’s Feet Stink – So Get New Shoes

There is pain in going through midlife. The pain is one of God birthing new things in us as old things are dying. The shoes you had on the first-half of life will not carry you into your second-half. It is easy to relapse and in doing so resist the wall that we must go through. You have to have new shoes our journey through midlife! This allows us to be open to all the things God desires us to embrace. For me, there were four things that God birthed in my soul:

  • I discovered peace with who I am as God’s masterpiece. I have always been a nerd and intellectual pursuits feed my soul. In my first-half of life I had relationships that would label my intellect as being anti-spiritual. Because of my need for acceptance I constantly was trying to dumb myself down. I have fully embraced a wholeness that understands that God uses our head, heart, and hands.
  • I chose the path of being retooled. At fifty years of age I entered into a Master’s Program at Vanguard University, in Costa Mesa. This was not only a cognitive adventure but also a deeply emotional and spiritually transforming experience. This part of the journey equipped me with a new language as well as disciplines to navigate the currents of midlife transition.
  • I choose to broker power through the filter of “Honor.” In a future blog article I will break this down further but simply put: “In my first-half-of-life I had a need to be right. I have now accepted that there are a variety of leadership styles and God has not called me to play pin the tail on their dysfunction. I can serve any role cheerfully not having to be in control.
  • My obedience to Christ is more immediate. I don’t ask the questions of survival such as “Will this decision make me happy?” My first question is, “What is the Will of Lord?” Much of this is as a preacher I am really convinced that God is for me. That sounds strange does it not for a preacher to make this claim? Here is the truth: In the first-half of life there are many things that pastors preach that they are not fully convinced of for themselves. Its objective truth and you preach it because it is truth. There is nothing diabolical or evil but at some point the truth that one preaches will become real to you. For me it has translated to obeying Christ in each assignment and calling he places in front of me.

Guess what? I really do know now when my feet stink. It is my conviction that if we as the Church really want to see the wisdom of our older pastors become really maximized for the cause of the kingdom, we need to introduce some processes to better equip and enable our leaders who are preparing to transition through the pain of midlife. Growing deeper means there will be loss and there will be gain as one becomes transformed for their second-half of life.

[1] (Rohr 2011) p 4.

[2] (Kelcourse 2004) p 31.

[3] Ibid, p 31.

[4] (Rohr 2011) p 9.

[5] (Gerzon 1992) p 5.


Kelcourse, Felicity, B. Human Development and Faith: Life-Cycle Stages of Body, Mind, and Soul. St. Louis, Missouri: Chalice Press.

Gerzon, Mark. 1992. Listening to Midlife:Turning Your Crisis into a Quest. Boston, Massachusets: Shambala Publications, Inc.

Rohr, Richard. 2011. Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.

About PastorAl

Al Soto has been married to his incredible wife Valerie for 30 years and they have five sons and one grandson. Al has been in Local Church Ministry for 35 years as both as a Lead Pastor, Associate Pastor, and for five years as a Regional Overseer for his denomination. He has a BA degree from LIFE Pacific College and is currently completing an MA in Leadership & Spiritual Formation from Vanguard University. He currently resides in Lincoln, CA where he is the new Lead Pastor for one of the Campus locations for Bayside Church. He continues to coach High School Football for the Lincoln Fighting Zebras for the Junior Varsity Program and is facilitating Leadership training and coaching as well as facilitating Spiritual Retreats. His hobbies include Golfing and Scuba Diving as well as he is a veracious reader. His Life Statement is “Real Success is Helping others to Succeed!”
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