WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
When we are young, we think like an astronaut; we are always looking up and out. With the majority of life before us, we act like the sky is the limit. Even if we haven't fulfilled all of our dreams, we believe we still have plenty of time.
But in midlife we stop living like astronauts and start acting like archaeologists. We spend time digging through the mound of our existence, looking for the pottery shards of past situations and relationships that would make sense of our lives. This is painful because you can't do that archaeological work without facing three things.
The first issue is physical aging. In the past you were younger and, in some ways, more vibrant. You had more energy and required less sleep. You didn't worry about what you were eating or how you felt. But now your body is talking back to you and forcing you to be concerned about your health. You might even be struggling with a chronic illness or injury. You can no longer ignore your own mortality or pretend you will live forever.
Your midlife archaeological work also forces you to face the death of your dreams. You realize that some of what you hoped to do is just not going to happen. You carried your dreams like personal luggage for years, and now you must face putting them down. It's hard to let go—they were a part of what kept you going.
Finally, you probably struggle with regret. None of us can look back and say, "I was exactly the kind of person I wanted to be." We have failed to do what God asked of us, and we have even failed to live up to our own standards. So we look back and regret decisions we made, words we spoke, and actions we took. We are entering the autumn of our lives; the leaves are off the trees, and we cannot put them back again.
Don't be alarmed—God is at work
If you are experiencing these things don't be alarmed—everyone faces these issues at some point in their lives. It is painful to honestly assess your life, and it is tempting to think you can turn off the pain by changing your life. Some people quit their jobs, leave their spouse, or spend too much money. But changing your circumstances won't help you deal with the issues you are facing—you will only be distracted for a short time. Instead, ask yourself, "What is God doing in my life?"
God is doing what He always does—using difficult circumstances to uncover what is really in your heart. He wants you to go through the pain of honest self-examination so you can reach new heights in your relationship with Him and in your usefulness in His kingdom. As you honestly examine your heart, God will show you the enormous opportunities you have in midlife for growth and change.
Struggles with physical aging, with the death of our dreams, and with regret reveal that we have trusted more in what God gave us than in Him. The apostle Paul says when we do this we have "exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!" (Romans 1:25, ESV) We relied on our physical vitality and our abilities; we found security in our decisions; we trusted in our righteousness.
God is using the challenges of midlife to bring you to the end of yourself so you can repent of your self-reliance. Then He wants you to find your identity, meaning, security, and purpose in Him. God wants you to see that without Him you are desperate, and then pray for help like David who said, "Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy" (Psalm 86:1, ESV).
God will answer your prayers and help you. The struggles of midlife are not meant to punish you, instead they are the arms of God reaching out and drawing you to Himself.
WHAT YOU NEED TO DO
Recognize the spiritually unhealthy ways in which you are dealing with the challenges of midlife. There are a number of temptations that you might experience:
- Denying or trying to hide your age
- Spending extravagantly
- Having an extramarital affair
- Doing something new to numb the pain of midlife
- Spending your time thinking about the past (either longingly or with regret).
You can probably add to this list. Your desire to do these things reveals a heart that is not trusting God and is looking for eternal life in temporary things. Ask God to teach you to trust him for all you need.
Don't be paralyzed by regret. Confess your failures to the Lord, and believe in the forgiveness He freely gives (1 John 1:9). Remember that it is Jesus' death on the cross and His resurrection that guarantee your acceptance and forgiveness. No matter what you have done, God's forgiveness is available to you. And God is in the business of redeeming your sins—nothing you have done or have not done can stop God's kingdom from moving forward.
Ask others for forgiveness. It can be enormously helpful to go to an adult child and say, "When I look back, I realize that much of my parenting was done in anger. Would you please forgive me?" or "I was way too busy when you were growing up, and I'm sorry—I lost precious time with you."
If needed, take positive steps to reconcile relationships. Ask God if there is something you need to give back to someone, or something you did that you need to undo to restore the relationship.
Let honest confession and positive actions be followed by new commitments. Ask yourself what new opportunities to serve God and love others are in your life right now.
God's grace means you do not have to view the challenges of midlife as a prison sentence, but as an opportunity. Determine to make the most of the opportunity!
My spouse is going through a midlife crisis. How can I help?
Here are three ways you can help:
First, determine to be patient. It is hard to live with someone who has lost her way. Schedules, conversations, and decisions become more difficult. So it is easy to communicate irritation and impatience to your spouse. When this happens, your spouse has to deal not only with the struggles in her heart, but also with struggles in her marriage. This only leads to further discouragement. Isn't it interesting that patience is on all of the Bible's lists of the qualities we need in our relationships (1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Galatians 5:22; Colossians 3:12)?
Second, determine to understand. Don't act like you know what your spouse is going through—you don't. Each person's midlife struggle is unique. Be willing to ask good questions. Be determined to listen well. Take note of the themes and patterns of your spouse's struggles. Then let him know you are working to understand what he is going through.
Third, determine to give grace. In midlife people often take stock of their potential. Your struggling spouse is measuring her potential by her track record, by how she feels physically, or by how successful she has been at realizing her dreams.
For a Christian these are all faulty measures. Because Christ lives inside of us (Galatians 2:20), we can't measure our potential accurately without including Him. Give your spouse grace by pointing her to Christ's presence, power, and provision in her life. These things are clouded by the struggles of midlife. When your spouse sees Christ and understands that her potential is Christ's potential, then she will be able to face life with courage and hope.
Does God really use my mistakes for good?
One of the sweetest, most comforting stories in the Bible is of Peter's denial of Jesus and the forgiveness that followed (John 18:15-18, 25-27; 21:15-19). Peter had done the unthinkable: at the very moment of Christ's capture he denied any connection to Him. You read the story and think, "Well, it's over for Peter! There's no way that Jesus will ever let him be a disciple again!"
But the story takes a very different turn. Jesus seeks Peter out—He specifically forgives Peter, and then he personally commissions Peter for ministry. Jesus wasn't willing for Peter's story to end in denial. He had planned for Peter to have a big part in building His church. So, at the edge of the Sea of Galilee, he redeemed Peter's failure. Arrogant Peter, who had been so sure of himself, was humbled by his failure and by Jesus' love for him. Now he was ready to serve.
The Lord has a plan for you also. He made you His child because He wants you to be part of His wonderful plan for redeeming the world. Those plans are not spoiled by your sins. Jesus uses everything for our good (Romans 8:28). God wants to use your failures to teach you to stop trusting yourself and to start trusting Jesus.
So ask for forgiveness, and then go forward in humble reliance on Jesus. As you do this you will grow in new ways and become an instrument of growth in others. Remember: Don't let your failures tempt you to run from Jesus. Run straight to Him—you will find Him waiting with mercy and grace, just as He waited for Peter on the shore of the sea.
Find more mental and emotional articles
© Copyright 2010 by the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
More information about the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, visit ccef.org.
Paul David Tripp, M.Div., D.Min., is the President of Paul Tripp Ministries, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to connect the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life. This mission leads Paul to weekly speaking engagements around the world. In addition, Paul is on the pastoral staff at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia; the Professor of Pastoral Life and Care at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Texas; and the Executive Director of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care in Fort Worth, Texas. Paul is a best-selling author who has written eleven books on Christian living. He has been married for many years to Luella and they have four grown children.