I recently published a post entitled “REFLECTIONS FROM MY MIDLIFE CRISIS”. Within that post I shared insights that I learned from reading “When the Heart Waits” by Sue Monk Kidd. Her profound reflections helped me understand the significance of cocooning, waiting, and emerging within the challenges of midlife. You can read my full post HERE.
But there are other insights and resources helping me to navigate the desert of my midlife crisis that I’d love to share as well for anyone who’s up for a longer read. (I think this might be helpful for the quarter-life crisis too):
SCRIPTURE – The Book of Ecclesiastes is pretty good read for anyone in a midlife crisis. Apparently King Solomon had one too. He acquired everything – both material possessions and the prestige of men – and then wrote a whole book questioning the point and meaning of any of it. He concludes with, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” In other words, life is hard. And at times will feel unsatisfying and pointless – love God and your neighbor anyways.
But the midlife lament of Ecclesiastes doesn’t just say quit your belly-achin’. He offers encouragement as well throughout his lament, like “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A chord of three strands in not quickly broken.” 4:12.
We really do need each other.
PRAYER – Seasons of desperation have taught me the power of claiming the truth I believe from the scriptures, rather than merely pleading for God to help me. I have spent much time in prayer in recent months claiming what I believe to be true, even when I can’t feel it.
One of my most effective prayers during this season has been proclaiming that the active movement of the Holy Spirit that was true for Ezekiel in a desolate season is also true for me. I made parts of Ezekiel 36 & 37 my daily prayer. Claiming out loud – “The Lord WILL remove this heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh, because God has put his Spirit in me. The Sovereign Lord says to my dry bones, “I will make breath enter you and and you WILL come to life!”. I prayed this daily for weeks, until I felt in my soul and the soul of my family.
SERMONS – “It’s Halftime!” – my take away from the Mother’s Day sermon at my church by my dear friend and pastor, Melissa Tucker. She preached on a passage in 1 Peter and made the analogy of Peter’s letter being like a halftime speech. Imagine Peter as a coach, standing in a smelly, messy locker room, delivering a passionate speech to his team at halftime. Peter is reminding the recipients of his letter who they are, what they’ve overcome, and casting a vision for the second half because he can see victory.
Raising a family is hard – as is raising a career or developing a ministry – and there are significant blows and disappointments along the way. In regards to my family, I feel like the first quarter was great, but the second quarter was really rough, and at midlife I’m feeling pretty discouraged as a parent. But it’s still only halftime. My job as the matriarch is to remind my family of who we are (God’s beloved), and cast a vision for the future that points us all towards victory…which doesn’t necessarily mean winning. For us it means surviving raising three boys through the teen years with our relationships still in tact. (You can listen to a podcast of this sermon on 5/14/17 entitled “Living Sanctuaries” by clicking HERE.)
THERAPY – I don’t feel like I’m someone who struggles with control. And yet the challenges and disappointments of midlife have forced me into an awareness of my inner wiring that is more than a little uncomfortable to explore. I’m thankful for qualified therapists who can serve as a guide through this part of the journey. For example, my kind counselor has gently encouraged me to accept that intentionally living a good life does not mean that I’m entitled to all of my expected outcomes in return for my lifework. Well, I guess that’s a good enough reason to be less angry.
READING – A dear friend recommended the book “40/40 Vision: Clarifying Your Vision in Midlife” by Peter Greer and Greg Lafferty. It is one of the lifelines keeping my head above the waterline of this storm. So many profound insights in this book, such as “Midlife is hard because 40 is the old age of youth, but 50 is the youth of old age.” So there is hope and there is camaraderie. This season of evaluation and disappointment will end. And many good things are still ahead.
I’ve also been reading blogs like Beth Moore’s letter “To Servants of Jesus in your 30’s and 40’s”. This poignant letter is a summary of what older women in the church need to say to the middle-aged women: that the middle stage is hard, but to keep pressing forward because it gets easier and the coming joy is worth staying in the fight.
COMMUNITY – Even though some days, and even some weeks, have felt long and hard and discouraging, I have not stopped meeting with my community. My commitment to them is not based on how I feel. It’s rooted in what I believe to be true. We are created to need each other, and I will miss out on the fullness of what God has to say to me if I’m not listening for his voice in the words and presence of My People, as part of my intimate conversations with him.
For example, we concluded our spring bible study season with a scripture study of Acts. We didn’t read any commentaries, watch video lectures, or fill in a workbook. We simply read several chapters each week, and gathered together to share what we learned, what we felt challenged by, what inspired us, and what we question. We didn’t come together to give each other answers. We gathered to listen and to care and to encourage. And this session will always be counted among my most favorite in life of Monday Night Bible Study.
An insight from this Acts reading that is particularly encouraging to me is from Chapter 12, Peter’s miraculous escape from prison. I’ve interacted with this story countless times: through my own reading and sermon illustrations, rejoicing over the angel’s rescue and laughing at the shock of the believer’s who are praying for Peter when he actually shows up at their front door. What I never noticed in this chapter – until I was reading it with my community, in the midst of my own personal life crisis – is that this great miracle is book ended by tragedy and injustice. The chapter opens with a reference that James has been martyred (he did not receive a miraculous rescue) and closes with a note that the jailer was executed because the Roman government assumed Peter escaped, and that was the consequence of the day for failing at prison work. Total injustice! And yet there is a miracle to be celebrated in between. Remarkable.
The fullness of this story teaches me to willingly accept all of my life. The parts that are great and the parts that are hard, the parts that are miraculous and the parts that feel totally unfair. These things have always been, and always will be a part of everyone’s story. And even though life feels hard and discouraging, I can’t stop living until I’m pleased with every storyline because that is never going to happen. But the gift of faith is that I can know joy anyways, and that I am invited to take part in God’s work of bringing freedom and justice in this world.
THEMES – Every time I stay committed to prayer and seeking the presence of God in the midst of tribulation, reoccurring themes surface in what I’m reading and in my conversations, and in sermons and my thoughts. I claim these themes as God’s response to my prayers, questions, and laments.
The reoccurring theme of my midlife crisis is “be okay with ordinary”. But that doesn’t mean I can be lazy and self-deprecating, or that I shouldn’t dream and work towards goals, or continually evolve into better versions of myself. Let me explain.
We live in a culture that puts so much pressure on everyone to be amazing, to do something BIG, and to be noticeable and unique. But most of us will live ordinary lives. Lives that may not be described as extraordinary by societies definition, or look extraordinary on social media.
But all of us can live a life that is characterized by doing small things with great love (That’s wisdom from Mother Theresa). Loving people well in our families, around our tables, and in our communities. Living lives that are characterized by investing whole-heartedly in the piece of holy work that God has assigned us, and spending less time coveting a different piece.
Living in a way that is beautiful, meaningful, AND ordinary requires us to be radically reliant on faith – not the praise or recognition of men. It also makes the space for us to experience God’s mighty and ferocious love because of who we are (his created and his beloved) not because of what we do (accomplish or achieve).
There is so much joy to be lived in that space if give up needing to make ourselves great and instead surrender to being ordinary people who God can do wonderful things in and through.
You can read a more about this concept in “Searching For Sunday” by Rachel Held Evans, “The Little Way of Saint Therese of Lisieux” by John Nelson, “The Liturgy of the Ordinary” by Tish Harrison Warren, and “God Hides in Plain Sight” by Dean Nelson.
GRATITUDE – In the little gem of a book, “A Theology of the Ordinary”, Julie Canlis presents a great case that the fall of man and the brokenness of this world occurred because Adam & Eve stopped being grateful. They lived in paradise but at some point it just didn’t feel like enough and they felt entitled to more. Ingratitude is at the root of their sin that lead to their banishment from the garden. Living the abundant life Jesus promised does require us to be intentionally aware of all that is good and beautiful, in seasons of plenty and times of want. Midlife is a great time to start following Shauna Neiquist’s advice, and write down three things I’m grateful for every day, regardless of whether it’s been crappy or fantastic.
FUN – I am no longer waiting until I feel better to spend time with people who make me belly laugh. Likewise, I’m intentionally engaging in shared experiences that make my soul sing, and giving myself permission to choose moments of joy, in the midst of a season of frustration – not after it or in spite of it. God is actively at work enlarging my soul to hold all of it. I partner with him in this work every time I let the hormones that feed discouragement take a break, while the endorphins that reinforce happiness wash over my cerebrum.
DOING – I have put in enough time thinking. Thinking alone isn’t going to get me to feeling consistent joy. Doing is the next step. Doing what is healthy and right, even if the corresponding feelings of satisfaction aren’t quite there yet. My season of pondering and evaluating will never end if it remains an intellectual, existential pursuit. The end will be reached by doing. Being the wife, mom, friend, mentor, leader, writer, professional, etc that I want to be before I have the feelings of being effective or accomplished or satisfied with those things.
That’s it. That’s my list so far of what is helping me navigate a tough season rather than being consumed by it. If you have any thing you can teach us about healthy ways you have learned to managed your midlife or quarterlife crisis, please share with us in the comments section.
I truly wish you all the best from your travels.