This just in from the Pew Research Center – Generation X is America’s neglected middle child: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/06/05/generation-x-americas-neglected-middle-child/. The commentary accompanying the research is very interesting, especially to me, a card-carrying member of the generation of people born between 1967 and 1984. We are the slackers. Our generation underachieves and does not care. There are less of us. The article even points out that our generation is based on a smaller time frame (16 years) than the Boomers before us and Millennials after us (20 years each).
My response? I don’t care. I don’t care if I am part of a peer group that collectively is not the shining star of history. That does not dictate my own levels of success or failure in life. I do. What I become is up to me.
Of course along the way, I have a lot of significant help. I was raised by parents who love each other and their kids. My mom had high expectations for me. She would not accept slacking and she taught me to aim high. My dad is a tough guy (army airborne, Vietnam vet, infantry and armor divisions). Their parenting and role modeling created an image for me to live up to.
In my work (pastoral ministry), I have been blessed to lead churches filled with loving people who forgave my mistakes and encouraged my growth as a disciple and church leader.
I married a woman who loves me in all my ugliness and who is strong in areas where I am weak.
In all these ways, I have had significant advantages and I don’t want to undersell that. When I say what I become in life is really up to me, I am not neglecting the help I’ve received. I simply mean that America is a competitive environment and in a competitive environment others are trying to grab what I am trying to grab. Any disadvantage I might have will be used by my competitors to defeat me. I can’t complain that this problem or that disadvantage has set me back. I cannot. It doesn’t help.
One sentence in the analysis of the Pew Research data on Gen X fits me perfectly. It says Gen Xers (in other words ME) are “smack in the middle innings of life, which tend to be short on drama and scant of theme.” I read that and cringed a little because lately, I have been beset by an unsettling ennui. I feel like my life is short on drama and scant of theme. I am bored and the boredom is boarding on malaise.
However, what is to be done about it?
I have shared my discontent with a few people (and now with my blog, I share it with the world). When I talk about it I always quickly add that I love my wife, my kids, and my job. I have no interest in red sports cars. Really, since most of the teams I despise wear red, I don’t like that color very much, but I digress. I was struck by the comment about “middle innings of life” because I have been feeling it so profoundly lately. It is like, what is the most inglorious position in baseball? To be a middle reliever.
In an ideal game, middle relievers are not used. The team’s starting pitcher goes 7 strong innings giving up two runs or less. Then the set-up man gets the team through the 8th and the closer finishes up the 9th. The only time a middle reliever comes in is if the game has gone horribly wrong with the starter getting shelled for a bunch of runs early. Middle relievers are paid the least because the really good pitchers want to be starters or closers.
So, the Pew Research Center says the older half of my generation, those aged 30-47, is in the middle innings of life. Boring. Drama-free. We realize our grandest ambitions have come up short. Our wildest dreams won’t come true. Maybe tamer dreams will, but that is all we have left: tame dreams. We’ve stopped setting our sites on Everest; we happy to climb hills. Leave the mountains for the 20-year-olds. Even our representative in the political sphere to ascend to the greatest height (V.P. nominee Paul Ryan) ended up losing. We are second place, never the champs. What does it mean?
Not a thing! (Typical Gen X answer.)
If I want to crawl out of my yawning midlife stupor, I need to do so myself, and I need to do so in a meaningful way. That means no ridiculous purchases, no life-killing affairs, and no, no, no whining about it. I must prayerfully, diligently re-connect to what makes life so awesome.
For me, the bottom line is not Gen X anyway. Yeah, right now, I am a 44-year-old with pretty bad knees. But bad knees, a receding hairline, and (the appearance of) reaching a plateau will not define me. Neither will the generation defined by my birthday. You see, I have a new name. I don’t even know what it is (see Rev. 2:17). But I know the one who gives it. I know Jesus; not as well as I someday will, but I know Him. That makes all the difference.
My perspective is not one of a person who will die in the next 40 or so years. This heart may stop beating and this body may go to the ground or to the cremation furnace or to the medical school teaching lab; but, eventually, this body, like that Jesus’, will rise. Resurrection is my future and life is my eternity; life in this body, albeit this body transformed.
After the resurrection, I’ll be incorruptible. My body and my spirit will be complete and eternal. I will have fellowship with God and with all who are in Christ. So sure, I may be in a patch of sleepiness. Some call it a midlife crisis. Pew Research Center says it is a typical malaise for Gen Xers like me. But this is temporary. The Spirit of the living God inhabiting my heart and guiding my steps is real, is present, and is eternal. I have purpose and I have power. Maybe the death of some of my dreams needed to happen. Maybe the death of those dreams (pastoring a Megachurch, playing wide receiver for the Detroit Lions), is the birth of me discovering Jesus’ dreams for me in this life. Take a deep a breath! That is real and is something to live for.