Somewhere after years of dependent living, and practicing discipleship under the auspices of parental figures, the entrance into the realm of independent living occurs. While never completely free of the constraints of societal and civic duty, the independent years of Christian life nonetheless provide the most latitude among the three “acts” of discipleship. This time period, the longest for most people, has its own subplots and stages.
The “first fervor” of the young adult disciple, after settling in and on course, can be very attractive and admirable. The constraints of the past are gone, and the slate is relatively clean and ready to be drawn upon. A kind of “beginner’s luck” seems to grace most fresh ideas and optimism reigns! The ability to proceed in most any worthwhile direction, as you “walk where you would” (John 21:18) is the general modus operandi in this period. Aside from committee oversight (and the pastor’s approval) new ideas and methods are usually welcomed and encouraged.
The threefold directive of discipleship, personal conversion to Christ, and evangelization can be most fully realized and effected during the years that precede and include middle age. By that time, perhaps after changing career paths and vocational direction several times, discipleship becomes more like rebalancing a financial portfolio and less like the risky, aggressive investments of the past. Trial and error, conventional wisdom, and personal experience allow for a much more targeted approach to life in Christ.
The ability to fulfill the mandate and mission of discipleship as a mature, independent adult can be realized in three major spheres: family, church, and the marketplace. The household, or “domestic church” is the sanctuary of family life. The two great commandments of loving God and neighbor can be practiced and accomplished with the grace of the daily bread that is God’s providence.
The Sunday Gathering, the weekend celebration of Eucharist, is the ultimate realization of adult, independent discipleship. The gift of self, brought to the table of the altar, is blessed, broken and shared with God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Just as the small offering of loaves and fishes was multiplied by Jesus, our small gift of self is transformed for the Body of Christ during Mass. In the years that comprise independent adulthood, the gift of self has a precious quality not found in the early and later periods of discipleship. The “yes” of this “second act” of life bears the possibility of being the most fully informed.
Ministry in the marketplace, where “like unto like” encounters are most common, is perhaps the most fertile ground for evangelization. While sharing faith at home or in church can and should happen freely, the workplace necessitates the directive attributed to St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words.” A degree of finesse is required to stand for the Gospel while exhibiting charity to fellow workers and others sharing our concern.
During the latter years of independent discipleship, living on the cusp of retirement from the workplace, changes akin to adolescence begin to develop. “Middle Age Crazy”, a secular term, involves a kind of identity crisis in this period. As the necessary changes begin to occur, the status quo of family, church, and workplace is disrupted and rearranged. The upward trajectory of life peaks and then begins its descent. A well-timed “golden parachute” strategy can be the difference between a slow, fascinating flight and a precipitous free-fall.
Discipleship and independent living, while held in creative tension, can serve one another in a synergy that benefits both individual and communal growth. As we move toward the third and final act of discipleship, and the need for assistance in mission and ministry, let us give thanks to God for the seasons of our years, and the “acts” within the span of our lives. Stay tuned for “Acts Of The Disciples: Discipleship And Assisted Living.”