The Baby Boomer’s Inadequate Gift to Us: Guest Post by Shawn Smucker

You can read my intro/interview with Shawn from Tuesday here




The Baby Boomers’ Inadequate Gift to Us–guest post by Shawn Smucker




“We expected something,

Something better than before.

We expected something more.”


The National


* * * * *


We watched the sun set, all of us sitting there by the fire pit but it was warm so we didn’t light the fire. Deer wandered through the waist-high grass at the edge of the woods, and as darkness seeped up from the shadows and spread towards the sky, the lightning bugs began to blink.


My daughter, five years old and full of optimism, ran inside for a jar, then dashed back and forth through the night. She saw a light and ran towards it, but by the time she arrived, it was dark. Another light, another mad dash. Another light, another flurry of activity.


Darkness and empty jars.


* * * * *


“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.”


Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club


* * * * *


One can easily spend a lifetime chasing these fading dreams. I see it now all around me, as successful baby boomers stand in their quiet four-bedroom houses, their children gone, their retirements secure or completely lost, their businesses booming or folding. I see them as they look around, emptiness in their eyes and golf clubs in their hands.


They move some money around and spend some of the principal on a house where they can get away while all around them the world is crumbling. The poor are getting poorer and there are more slaves than at any point in the history of this planet. But they made a large contribution to their church’s building fund so they sit quietly in their seats on Sunday mornings and manage to bear the service by thinking of the fun they’ll have on their upcoming family vacation.


They bought into the lie that happiness awaits if you plan a responsible life, work hard, save and make your decisions based on financial data points. This formula will usher you to the grand old age of 65 where you will find happiness, wealth and the opportunity to pass this life strategy down to the next generation.


But so much of it is darkness and empty jars. Our generation has watched the generation before us arrive at retirement with good credit scores, a nice house, and a growing sense that they somehow missed out on a life worth living.


* * * * *


“… hope frees us from the need to predict the future and allows us to live in the present, with the deep trust that God will never leave us alone but will fulfill the deepest desires of our heart…”


Henri Nouwen, Here and Now


* * * * *


At the root of our culture’s chronic unhappiness is an inability, or sometimes flat-out refusal, to live in The Now.  We dull our not inconsequential pain with hours of television, prescription or recreational drugs and staying very, very busy. We use every tool at our disposal to distract us from today, to numb the pain we feel, and to take the focus off of our unhappy lives.


We work hard to avoid The Now because it is a difficult place to exist. It requires intentionality. It requires things like forgiveness – otherwise the past will not remove its claws. It requires a tenacious hope – otherwise the specter of an unknown future paralyzes us.


Enter Materialism, the great idol of our time. Materialism gives us something to look forward to: the next big acquisition, the next big purchase, the next notch in our social standing. Materialism offers the great escape from this present moment of boredom or unhappiness. And because we sacrifice our time at the foot of its golden altar, we hold tightly to the “gifts” it gives us in return.


Each present second ticks by, quickly becoming a past we’d rather forget.


* * * * *


My whole life I have been surrounded by well-meaning encouragement to go ‘higher up,’ and the most-used argument was : ‘You can do so much good there, for so many people.’ But these voices calling me to upward mobility are completely absent from the Gospel.


Henri Nouwen, Here and Now


* * * * *


To me, the essence of Downward Mobility is best characterized by living in the present moment. Living in The Now. When I live a life of Downward Mobility I become so deeply entrenched in today and in what Christ is calling me to do, now, that the future and past no longer control me.


Living in the The Now allows me to enjoy what I have without always striving for what I want to get tomorrow or next month or next year. My obsession with material things evaporates when I begin to explore how I can contribute to the Kingdom of Heaven today, with what I have now.


In a word, Downward Mobility is abiding.


* * * * *


Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.”

* * * * *


Shawn is the author of “Building a Life Out of Words,” the story of how he lost his business, his house and his community, then found happiness making a living as a writer. He lives deep in the woods of southern Lancaster County, PA, with his wife and four children. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.


For more information on the Downward Mobility series, click here. For all posts, click here

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57 thoughts on “The Baby Boomer’s Inadequate Gift to Us: Guest Post by Shawn Smucker

  1. andilit says:

    Shawn, Oh, how I see this in my father – a good, responsible man who worked and saved to spend his retirement traveling with my mom. Then, Mom died.

    A beautiful perspective on something so painful to me . . . and a great reminder, too. Thank you.

  2. I really like this piece, Shawn, I find it compelling and well written, but I hesitated to share it, because I wondered if it spoke well to more than the “choir” if you know what I mean. How would those who disagree with you hear this? I think I needed to see/hear some small window of grace for those left with their empty jars, especially, maybe for those in their later years who have less and less of the freedom and choices we still have.
    As always, it’s great to find you on-line.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kelly. You certainly have me thinking.

      While I hope it speaks to a broader audience, if a piece such a this does nothing more than encourage those who have chosen simplicity and living in the Here and Now, then I guess I’m mostly okay with that. But not totally.

      I have to be honest with you: I’m not sure I’ve figured out how to communicate this message to those in their later years. In our generation, I see a lot of interest in downward mobility, but I don’t see even a chink in the materialistic armor of generations who have gone before us. While our generation is at least open to engaging with people like Francis Chan or Shane Claiborne, the Boomer generation still seems predominately wrapped up with Joel Osteen-like figures. I’m not sure what to do with that.

      Coming full circle though, I hear what you are saying about grace and will definitely take that to heart as I continue to communicate on this topic. There has to be hope for all generations in any message that is Gospel-centric, and I do want to figure out how best to convey that. Plus, I’m a big fan of hope.

      All that to say, thanks for your push back. I take it to heart.

  3. dianeemiller says:

    Hi Shawn.. great piece! Well, we are boomers & older parents, too ~ somewhat because we chased the prosperity dream thing. We are now so weary of it and trying to model something different for others in our urban environs. We have lived & loved in blended culture & socio-economic community a decade plus, learning the most about our marred identity & privilege.

    Much of this for me seems about seeking God, praying a lot, meeting folks where they are at and asking lots of questions… Words are also hard in this globalized world now, as they mean different things to every person. Life in our mix has become more challenging as our daughter has reached her teen years; but, we are committed & @ peace.. well, most days – we are human! ~ Diane

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Diane, and for modeling a wonderful life for your daughter and for all of us. You’re right – seeking God is HUGE part of it. I would love to hear more about your story. Email me if you get a chance (

  4. segmation says:

    I think it is good that some of the people didn’t listen when Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” and went on their marry way, I bet in the long run they found happiness that they went the other direction!

  5. Jnana Hodson says:

    As you observe, many of us who came of age in the “boomer” surge of the late ’60s and early ’70s had a taste of great hope and opportunity that somehow largely got subverted into materialism — suggested in the suburban lifestyles you also note.
    Perhaps the transition into retirement — whether secure or highly insecure, as you also observe — will prompt a revitalized quest for that lost vision. You are certainly right to see it as an embodiment of spiritual awareness and practice. My hope is that that renewed living in the “holy now” will be accompanied by efforts to redirect the general society into a more just and peaceable reality. (We could quote chapter and verse here!)

  6. The Rider says:

    Thanks, real good things to ponder about as one of the last Boomers… and tomorrow I have to entertain those in the pews…

  7. jimdcat says:

    Wow! U wrote about my journey!!
    I feel I’m right on the edge of stepping into where U’ve been living. My wife’n I
    are 68 and my one regret is finding out “so late”.

    Please go to my blog and read “WHAT PRICE?” It’s exactly what U’re stating here.

  8. Jean says:

    I’m not totally convinced that all boomers are the same, cut from the same cloth. If a boomer was born in a poor immigrant family in North America, that does tend to be driver as they grow up how to support themselves, fulfill their dreams of some travel before they are too fragile to travel overseas.

    And it is a reality…especially if less boomers have less children or no children. They have to fend for themselves which means at least a roof over their head, some food, safety and health care.

    It is really the boomers who bike, who are advocating for cycling in some of the big cities for: communities to be designed for walkability, cycleability, etc. Because they have time, while the younger generation hack it out in their jobs, school studies, etc.

    The younger generation really is no more materialistic than the boomer generation. Just wait and see….

  9. Kate says:

    Wow, what an accurate description of our culture. I am guilty of living in every moment but the present, and it is just like you described here.

    Materialism is rampant…never satisfied. It’s sad that so many are lost in their own small story, and are not content to find their place in God’s story.

    I hope people read this and take it to hear. Thanks for being a voice!

  10. Kathleen R says:

    Henry Nouwen, one of the best at telling it how it is. But I think his book on the life if the prodigal son says it best. I think at times though, you focused too much on the darkness. It is the glimmers of light…. That keep us sain in those moments of darkness.

  11. llirium says:

    This is my father after 20 years+ of overnight overtime and existing as a sort of an absent fantasy that paid the bills: still trying to “fixer-upper” the house, went back to work after taking early retirement, had a heart attack (still alive).

  12. elisabeth says:

    This is awesome. I’m 26 and just moved to Beijing with my little family of three. Everything says “start saving for retirement now”. I want to be wise with the finances God has given. Be a good steward. Yet, I’m constantly reminded to “take no thought for tomorrow”. If we can’t “invest” this month we’ll be ok. God wants me to be content NOW. loved this post so much. Such a great reminder. Thank you.

  13. Great piece Shawn. I do however have such optimism for our generation. We will find the reality of living. The previous generation sacrificed so much so that we could, albeit this was not in any plan as such. We build on each other, like the layers in rocks, or the rings in the trunk of a tree. In the layers of rocks, you see the stresses that faced the landscape, recorded. This didn’t stop the layers. Such is life. Wonderful in all it’s imperfections…

  14. bernasvibe says:

    @“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.”

    Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club..”>>

    **Yes! Its my belief that this is indeed why God allows us to lose everything; so that WE can see the things in life that really matter..Some of us had to lose everything to SEE that God IS..And to appreciate his blessings every , single morning we wake..Daily I work more and more on living IN the moment..And whatever I do I can’t help but praise God as I’m doing it..Which is a FAR cry from how I was, or what even came to mind, before I became a full Believer..I used to be a person that didn’t understand WHY folks felt the need to testify! And now? I find my testimony flowing so freely from my lips when I speak to people..that even I’m shocked what flows out of it! The most precious things in life are NOT material..And the best gift a person has ever given to me? Prayers for me and with me and spending quality TIME..Truly enjoyed reading your post and the reflections that came with it..I thank you ..Stay UPlifted , encouraged and blessed

  15. A.K. says:

    Very interesting piece. I think a lot of people in our generations have had the same thoughts. Some call us “lazy” even though we do work hard – just because we don’t strive to own things.

    As someone who’s trying to “climb the ladder” by getting a professional degree, this is weird for me to say, but I don’t really care about the material wealth beyond a certain point. Money can only do so much to make you happy. My main goal is being in a position where I’m recognized and relied upon. Maybe it’s an ego thing, but that’s just how I feel. Am I avoiding living in “the now” also? I might be.

    Great post, thanks.

  16. Smart post. But, as a Boomer, I hear your points — but I also question your assumption that no one over 30, or 40, is questioning their life in the moment. Many Boomers — certainly anyone over 50 who lost a job in the recession — are totally screwed financially and may never even find another full-time job. So their material dreams are gone, or dying very quickly. Can they suddenly and completely alter their worldview and expectations?

    Could you?

    We Boomers also have been thrown out of work many times — I moved to the U.S. in 1989 (from Canada) and have weathered three (!) recessions since then. That has had a huge cumulative effect on my material possessions/acquisitions/focus, as it has for many in my generation. There’s no point hankering for what you will never be able to buy. This is healthy, which is why I agree with your larger point — materialism is a false god, indeed.

    But beware of painting with a too-broad brush.

    • I didn’t mean to assert that an entire generation is a certain way, although I can see why my post would lead someone to believe I feel that way. I still think it’s fair to say that the main thing the Boomer generation gave the GenXers was a “path to happiness” that revolved around materialism, but I am sorry to infer that all individual Boomers live the same kind of life. I know that’s just not true.

      As to the question, “Can they suddenly and completely alter their worldview and expections?” I think the answer is yes. My wife and I did. But not on our own – it often takes exterior influences, the very kind you say are happening to the Boomers as we speak. Which is why I think there is still a lot of hope.

      Thanks for your thoughtful response.

      • Many Americans, certainly, are now facing very different lives than they expected. This fantasy that “playing by the rules” would work out is a sad one when it bursts…The rules are not made by the people expected to follow them or who bear their consequences.

  17. Bryan says:

    good thought! thanks for sharing and giving me something to think about and process in regards to my life.

  18. Ashana M says:

    Growing up, my boomer parents taught me that a rejection of materialism makes you happy.

    It doesn’t.

    Neither does materialism. You have to have a bit more going on that a relationship to wealth.

  19. For the first time in history, abject poverty is likely to be vanquished in less than a decade.

    The percentage of people starving in the world is at the lowest point in recorded history.

    As much press as war gets, there has never been a safer time to be a human. Less crime and less war.

    Is everything great? No. Still work to do.

  20. davidatqcm says:

    enoyable thoughtful and reflective, thank you

  21. ncieslak says:

    A very beautifully written piece. I see this in my own father. He worked hard, saved responsibly, lived within his means. He owned a successful oil company in Pittsburgh, was well off for quite some time, then lost it all, couldn’t find work, had to dig into savings, went bankrupt. Lost everything.

    I see the defeat in his eyes, the helplessness of doing it all right, and having it come out all, terribly wrong.

    Now, I’m scared for my own future, not just the Boomer’s. What’s a degree when everyone has one? Nothing but a thick, heavily decorated, framed piece of paper.

    Thank you for this post.

  22. verlainie says:

    Many boomers provided for their children and are also helping their aging parents. This is living in the moment—this is their reality.Not every boomer is or was a wealthy investor…..some of us spent our days educating children, protecting poor or battered women, working in hospitals. This was our life in the “moment.”

  23. Stumbled, I did, on this blog, with you as a guest, and I will be following this blog for the other adventures here. ‘Really liked your piece, Shawn. The word “inadequate” is becoming more and more important to me, as it looks like a paradox, or is it a contradiction? In your piece, part of what I consider as you write, is a temptation to believe that we what we can gravitate towards change-agents (stimulants / downers / materialism / books etc.) and to believe that they will be adequate, but they are not. Here is another piece that I am grappling with, and you might be touching on … is that we (as individuals) believe that we are inadequate / not good enough … which can lead us on to an anxiety-ridden journey, trying to resolve this. In the realm of Who God is, and what He has to offer me / us … there is a belief that He is adequate, not inadequate. Can I prove this? No. And I refuse to try to “sell” anyone on this. I’ll wrap up with your quote, which resonates with me:

    “At the root of our culture’s chronic unhappiness … inability … sometimes flat-out refusal, to live in The Now. We dull our not inconsequential pain with hours of television, prescription or recreational drugs and staying very, very busy. We use every tool at our disposal to distract us from today, to numb the pain we feel, and to take the focus off of our unhappy lives.” I don’t know what I am communicating makes sense. But your post makes sense, and that is good. Peace

  24. sha'tashari says:

    Your words are lost to his ‘Boomer. It seems that you have suggested that baby boomers who focused on the future had forgotten the present. This story sounds painted to me. What happened to the story about the ant and the grasshopper. What happens when all these folks of this mind-set reach retirement and there is nothing there for them. As a young parent, I always had one hand on the future and one on the past, if I had done otherwise, I would not be where I am this day. I am happy with what I accomplished, that everything I own is paid for, and that we have put aside enough money and resources that if something unexpected or bad comes to us, we got it covered.

  25. toni7m says:

    Jesus tells us “for what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt 16:26) As you point out “materialism” is an idol. And it’s unfortunate, that people leave out God and Christ to obtain “worldly” things….only to find at the end of their journey, it didn’t bring them the happiness and contentment they thought. And those who spend a lifetime “acquiring,” can they take ANY of it with them? And as Jesus asked the Jews and is asking today, what is all the material wealth – the houses, cars, property, businesses, jewelry, fine clothes, vacations around the world – going to do for them when they stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ… Will we be able to bargain with God with those material things? The answer is no… And as you point out, live in the now, and not worry about things in the future or the past. In fact, Jesus told His disciples “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Matt 6:34)

  26. sonjacali says:

    I especially enjoyed that the post is interspersed with quotes. And while, I think materialism is something that has gotten a bad rep, your post makes people think, which is pretty much the point. Thanks for sharing your excellent points. Beautifully written.

  27. Shirley R Graceya says:

    So very true… often we lose today in our thoughts for tomorrow…when we don’t even know the events that would take place the very next second. We definitely need to learn to lean on God and forget everything else. Enjoyed reading 🙂

  28. segmation says:

    I liked your blog until this statement, “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” Very hateful to us Jews.

  29. vonleonhardt2 says:

    @ segmation… how is that hateful? ‘Cause it has the word Jews in it? That seems to be an inclusive statement.

    @ The author, thank you for voicing what my generation seems to refuse to hear, we have to be even better men and women than our parents if we are going to get anything done!

  30. Soul Walker says:

    I have been finding out recently just how hard it is to abide in the moment… it requires more faith than I realized.

  31. Margie says:

    Maybe we weren’t typical Boomers. We worked hard, and played hard. Lived in the present, but saved for the future. Bought stuff, but only when we had the cash in hand (except for the house.) Maybe we were upwardly mobile, but not at the pace I see my children’s generation moving. I’m not buying that everything that is wrong is the fault of my generation.

    • sha'tashari says:

      @Margie–we were the same way, credit was used very seldom and we are near debt-free (one more year of house payments.) I will not accept blame for the Age of Entitlement. My children were raised to work hard for their pay, plan for the future (theirs and their children’s,) and enjoy living.

  32. Beautifully written. Makes me stop and think. Thank you for sharing.

  33. YES! YES! YES! Thank you for putting this into words so eloquently. How often I have longed to hear this from another—and put so well! Blessing in the moment–Cassandra

  34. My parents recently decided to just up and quit their jobs and move to Austria. I thought they were crazy. But I think they experienced the very epithany you describe above – they just couldn’t continue on in their empty 4-bedroom house, for another 10 years, waiting until they can retire and travel. Who wants to exist like that for a decade, and then get too old to enjoy life?? They sold the house, and I have made my peace with their move and given them my blessing to try to enjoy life as much as they can.

  35. The Baby Boomers are absurd. All one has to do is look at how they ruined education in this country–and be disgusted. Hence what I’m trying to do, which is to recover values and visions from what came before them. Critique it as one might, there is a lot to be said for it.

  36. […] The Baby Boomer’s Inadequate Gift to Us: Guest Post by Shawn Smucker. […]


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