February 7, 2007

Getting Beyond Boomer Regret

2007 1504 page5 capll right. I’ll admit it. Though I routinely resent the easy labeling of demographers (“middle-aged,” “midsuburban,” “middle income”), I can’t avoid the “Boomer” label any longer. At midcentury, my life is best described, it seems, by a name given to a giant generation now moving like a bubble through the workforce.
Between 1946 and 1964 in the United States, some 79 million of us were born, reaching a peak in my birth year. That fact, and the stats for favorite boys’ names of 1957, account for the memory that a half dozen heads always swiveled in my classroom whenever the teacher ordered “Billy” to be quiet.
The eldest of our generation have now just blown out 60 candles; the youngest are still clinging to the memory of 40. In between are tens of millions of the rest of us, midstream in the river of life, uncertain if our 401-Ks will match the style of life to which we’ve become accustomed.
Our kids are grown, or nearly so—at least physically, usually intellectually, sometimes spiritually. We’re either looking, half-afraid, to college bills, or looking, half-afraid, back at the bite they took from savings, second mortgages, and lines of credit. We’ve reached the likely summit of careers, though a few of our peers will yet go on to serve as presidents and CEOs. We’ve settled into marriages or divorces with studied equanimity, celebrating quietly the silver anniversaries or the end of custody hearings.
2007 1504 page5We ponder articles about health and fitness, as if the reading of more good ideas might magically translate into pounds lost and fats avoided. We run on treadmills at the gym, on Firestones in minivans or large sedans, on hamster wheels (sometimes it seems) at work.
This is, some say, the age of deep regret—a time for reassessment and concern. The memories of young idealism crash against the stone-cold facts of what we have become—older, yes, and wiser. We brace ourselves against the wrinkles and the work unfinished on the near horizon. Not young or energetic enough anymore to act on all our dreams, we haven’t reached the age when some may seek us for our wisdom. The “boom” of Baby Boomer can sound too much like BBs in a boxcar.
In the words of the poet, “we are betwixt the times, and mired in the stuff.” Did someone say “regret”?
And if the story ended there, we would be, in the memorable words of the apostle Paul, “of all people most miserable.”
But Jesus died for Baby Boomers, just as He did for their children or their parents. Any moment, any age, any generation in which the gospel declaration is heard—We have been “reconciled to God through the death of his Son” (Rom. 5:10, NRSV*)—is always an age of hope, regardless of the tangled, messy situations in which we toil, awash in vain regret. “Much more surely,” Paul reminds us, “having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom. 5:10, 11, NRSV).
The sacrifice of one young life 20 centuries ago has given meaning to our middle years, for He declared that He was come that we “might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). We have been freed, not only from the specific guilt we accumulated in a lifetime of poor choices, but from the tyranny of grandiose plans and unsanctified ambitions on which we wasted too much heat and energy. What time remains for us has been redeemed: our times are now securely in His hands (Ps. 31:15). By His grace, we are learning to number our days, and so to get a heart of wisdom (Ps. 90:12).
A world of blessed assurance waits for the Baby Boomers of God’s church, once we have left off slavery to Mammon and to Cupid. A calm and steady certainty grows from our discovery that it is not our job to undo all the mistakes of our parents or straighten out all the waywardness of our children. Each age must meet its Lord: our parents’ Silent Generation is just as responsible for trusting in the gospel as ever are our kids in “X” or “Y.” Our duty as the children of the Baby Boom to both—and to each other—is summed up in the sign that hangs upon my family room wall:
“Share Faith. Offer Prayer. Gather Hope.”
Even a harried Boomer can remember that much.
*Texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
Bill Knott is the editor of Adventist Review.