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Coming Into Crisis

with Paul David Tripp | October 10, 2006

Life throws us curves. How do we make sense of them all? Today on the broadcast, Dr. Paul David Tripp, director of Changing Lives International and a counselor and faculty member at the School of Biblical Counseling, talks about the crisis we face when our lives aren't working according to our plan.

Life throws us curves. How do we make sense of them all? Today on the broadcast, Dr. Paul David Tripp, director of Changing Lives International and a counselor and faculty member at the School of Biblical Counseling, talks about the crisis we face when our lives aren't working according to our plan.

Coming Into Crisis

With Paul David Tripp
|
October 10, 2006
| Download Transcript PDF

Paul: The Bible isn't arranged in topics, so you don't go to midlife, chapter 1, verse 1 and learn about midlife.  The Bible is a story of a real God who comes to a real world to meet real people with real grace to help them get through the real things that real people face in a real world.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, October 10th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine, and with all those "reals" and all that "real" life, is there really anything in the Bible about midlife?  Stay tuned.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  You know, I had kind of a milestone earlier this year.

Dennis: You did, you sure did.  I've watched you come right up to the precipice, and you just took the leap.

Bob: Well, we all have to.  There's nothing you can do.  I mean, it was the big five-oh, and I even – I hesitate to even mention …

Dennis: You know, I have to say to you, though, you know, you were there when I turned 50.

Bob: Yeah, I was.

Dennis: They rolled me into the staff meeting in a wheelchair with black balloons, everybody was moaning and wailing …

Bob: … right …

Dennis: … it was really kind of pitiful, and yet you would not let us – you darted …

Bob: … I didn't dart …

Dennis: … you eluded …

Bob: … I went through, they brought me the bag that had the Metamucil and all that stuff in it, and I went, "Yeah, yeah, yeah."  Here's the deal.  I used to look at 50 and think, "Fifty is kind of old," you know?  Well, I'm here now.  It's young.  Fifty is very young.

Dennis: Youthful.

Bob: I'm amazed at how youthful it is, and I was thinking about just how young it really is, and then I thought, "So why is it that I'm not sure I want to tell radio listeners that I'm 50," because I'm thinking they're going to think, "I don't want to listen to that old guy anymore.  He's 50?" 

Dennis: Ancient.

Bob: "Forget that, what's he got to offer."  You know what I mean?

Dennis: I do, and we do live in a culture that is very youth-oriented and as a result we have created a category, a phase of life called midlife, and some have added an additional word to it – "crisis" – midlife crisis.

Bob: Did you have one of those when you got there – many years ago when you hit midlife?

Dennis: You know, …

Bob: Did you notice the way I did that – "many years ago when you hit midlife?" 

Dennis: To the best of my knowledge, no.

Bob: You didn't go through a "crisis?"

Dennis: I kept waiting.  Now, there have been periods of testing in my life.

Bob: Little realities …

Dennis: But I've never accompanied the word "testing" with "midlife," okay? 

Bob: Right.

Dennis: To me, testing just occurs.

Bob: All the time.

Dennis: All the time, and God's at work in our lives wanting to mold us into the people He wants us to become.  And we have a guest here on FamilyLife Today who is going to guide us in better understanding how to not get lost in the middle.  And Dr. Paul David Tripp joins us.  Paul, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.

Paul: It's great to be with you again.

Dennis: I notice the title of your book, "Lost in the Middle," you don't use the word "crisis."  Now, you're a counselor, you're an author, you're a faculty member, and you teach at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation in Philadelphia.  You must know something there as you have titled this book that you're after.

Paul: Well, I think there are things that everybody goes through in midlife, struggles that all of us hit.  They don't always rise to crisis, and that's why I didn't want to write a book just about midlife crisis but about the normal things that everyone hits as they go through this period of life and how God's grace meets us in the midst of those struggles.

Dennis: Those tests that we go through like I talked about.

Paul: That's right.

Bob: You say that there are two things that are common to every midlife experience, right?

Paul: Sure, the first thing is I realize that my life didn't work according to my plan.  Last week it didn't work according to my plan.  You know, I had this experience myself, where I got a call one afternoon from my brother, Ted.  Something had happened in our extended family that would forever change both of our lives in a moment.  That was not something that I would have chosen to go through.  It's something that, to this day, I live with the results of that phone call.  That's all of us.  We just don't write our own stories.

 A second thing is true, too, is that we're always trying to figure out our own lives – that's that rationality that we've been given as beings made in the image of God, and one way to think about that is I never respond to life based just on the facts of my experience but based on my interpretation of the facts.

 So I'm always confronted with the mystery of my own life, and I'm always trying to figure out my own mystery.

Bob: Another way, maybe, to say it is life throws us curves, and we keep trying to make sense, rational sense, of everything that's going on, and curves don't make a whole lot of rational sense in the midst of things.  But what is it about midlife that brings all of that to the surface?  I mean, life was throwing me curves when I was 24 or when I was 32.  Why midlife?  Why does this, all of a sudden, hit us?

Paul: I think there's something very profound that happens in midlife, and I characterize it this way in the book – that I quit being an astronaut and become an archaeologist.  In the younger years it's all about launch, and the sky is the limit, and I look at all the things I can do, and I'm just launching out there and living like an astronaut.

 At some point in my life I begin to look back and what I actually do is I begin to dig through the mounds of my own existence looking for artifacts to make sense out of my own life, which is a different perspective because of the different place I am in life.  And that's when the mystery of my life begins to hit me, and those profound questions of "why did this happen the way it did" begin to grip me.

Dennis: It's interesting, as you move into your 40s and 50s, you've been disappointed, and you've been satisfied.  You've achieved the objective, and you've fallen short, and life is filled with goals that are met and unmet and joys of success and failures of things that didn't work out.  And, it seems to me, that the midlife that you're talking about here – lost in the middle – can occur when someone is going through life and, all of a sudden, they're surrounded by a bunch of these disappointments – these – maybe failures, unmet dreams and, all of a sudden, they realize you know what?  I'm not going to achieve what I hoped to achieve.

Paul: That's right, and what happens is that period of time is not intentional.  I don't decide one day that I'm going to begin to examine my life.  It is something in my life that creates that moment where, all of a sudden, my awareness changes.  Maybe it's a physical sickness and, all of a sudden, I feel more vulnerable than I've ever felt before, and I start thinking about life.  Maybe it's the loss of a job, maybe it's my last child leaving home, maybe it's a family moment. 

I tell in the book of a family moment.  I was sitting at Christmas, and I'm listening to the conversation across the table of two men about their careers.  I'm just sort of listening to the conversation.  I realize those two men are my sons.  And, all of a sudden, it hits me – this is where I am in life.  This is a 30-year-old man talking to his brother, who is two years younger, about their jobs.  Those are my boys.

And when I got up the next morning, I was very aware that I felt different about life.

Dennis: And, you know, if you don't have faith at that point, it really can spin you off into a crisis, and this is why we need to be drinking deeply from the Bible and living our life according to the book and having a personal faith in Jesus Christ, being expectant about how He is going to use us, because you are going to go through these seasons where you do begin to look backwards.

 I had one last night at a t-ball game.  Barbara and I went to our grandson's t-ball game, and at one point she leaned over, we're talking there leaning on the fence, and she goes, "Just the other day, that was you and me out there."  Those young men who are now the umpires, the dads were umpiring the game because it's t-ball, and she said, "That was you out there.  And that was me over here running around after the toddlers."  She said, "Can you believe it's over?"

 And at that point you're left to interpret the data through some kind of worldview.  And if you don't have a worldview that's built on the Scriptures where you know there's a God who has a plan and a purpose for everything that occurs in our lives, then how do you interpret it?  How can you look at it?  The answer is – not very well.

Bob: Yeah, you say in the book that the Bible says absolutely nothing about midlife, and the Bible says everything we need to know about midlife.  What do you mean?

Paul: Well, you know, the Bible isn't arranged in topics, so you don't go to midlife, chapter 1, verse 1 and learn about midlife.  The Bible is a story of a real God who comes to a real world to meet real people with real grace to help them get through the real things that real people face in a real world.  And because of that, literally, the things we face in life are on every page of Scripture.  Because Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Saul, David, Paul – they're real people.  And dealing with many of the things that we deal with every day – family and relationships and government and finances and hopes and dreams and all those things are in the Bible.

 The thing I like about the Bible is how shockingly honest it is about real life.  Now, I'm reading the Bible recently, I hit one of those creepy Old Testament stories, and I was thinking, "If I'd written the Bible, I probably wouldn't have put this in the Bible."  Praise God it's there, because it's a real-life book, but that honesty in the Bible doesn't compromise its hope, because the Bible is also a tremendously hopeful book.

 So you have real hope right next to real life, and in that way you learn about midlife literally in every passage of Scripture, because it depicts this real world that we all live in with this real God who meets us there.

Dennis: Paul, I want you to describe a man or a woman who is lost in the middle.  I mean, we're talking here about real life, and many of our listeners are right there right now.  Describe someone, if you would, please, and then tell us the story of how you begin the book with Bill and Tammy, because they illustrate it beautifully.

Paul: The first thing I would say about a personal life struggle, is I begin to realize I'm more dissatisfied than I typically have been.  There's just dissatisfaction.  Maybe that's low-grade irritation or whatever; it comes out in a lot of different ways.

 Along with that, is what I would call "disorientation."  The old identities don't work anymore.  I'm not a young man.  I don't have a lot of children, I'm not doing my job, I couldn't consider myself athletic anymore.  I'm disoriented.  There's ways I thought about myself that just don't fit anymore.  I'm discouraged.  I look around, and I don't feel like I'm a vital part of the world that I once was.  That's coupled often with dread.  My body is talking back to me.  I'm feeling my knees.  I play basketball with somebody, and I feel really bad the next day, or I do gardening – I think, "How could gardening exhaust me so?"  And you begin to think of aging.

 Disappointment – I look back, and I think, man, I was not the person I wanted to be or I didn't accomplish the things that I wanted to accomplish.  Disinterest – I find myself not as interested in things that once interested me.  I don't – I'm not as interested in my job or maybe even my marriage or my church.  Distance – in that lostness, I begin to pull away because I'm having trouble finding meaning in what I'm doing, because I don't feel vibrant like I once felt, and then probably the scariest aspect of this is what we often talk about crisis, is distraction.  I'm very tempted to do something to turn off the pain, whether that's sexual temptation or to buy the Porsche or up and quit a job that I shouldn't be quitting or leave my church – just something to numb what I'm feeling.

Dennis: And so a guy buys the Porsche, it's usually red, it's a convertible, or maybe it's a '65 Chevy that he's fixing up – excuse me, '66 – Keith Lynch, our …

Bob: Are you accusing him?

Dennis: No, not at all.  I'm just envious of his '66 Chevy.  They buy a gold chain, they get tanned, start dressing hip – all those exterior …

Paul: You have a scary accuracy in your understanding of this period of time.

Dennis: Well, but, but …

Bob: You see it all around you, though, don't you?

Dennis: You really do, but all those exterior things, Paul, that I'm talking about here are really manifestations of the inner qualities you just described.  That's what I want our audience to not miss, because I think sometimes we ascribe it to some of these trappings out there, but they're not the real issue.

Paul: No, it's a heart struggle, and you don't fix spiritual issues with physical things.  That never works, and there's the huge temptation of midlife – that I want some physical creation kind of solution to something that really is an issue inside my heart.

Bob: The Porsche will work for a couple of weeks, and then it just fades, right?

Paul: But it only works because it's a distraction, it's not a solution, and the minute that becomes a normal part of my life, it doesn't provide distraction anymore.  The Porsche gets old.

Dennis: That's right, but a '66 Chevy lasts for three or four weeks.

Paul: Yeah, a little bit longer than a Porsche.

Dennis: Share with our listeners the story of Bill and Tammy.

Paul: Well, Bill and Tammy could be John and Susie or, you know, 100 couples where – I mean, it just all looks like it's going right.  You've got a mom who is very, very invested in her family; probably getting more of her identity out of her family than she ever thought she was getting.

 Her last child leaves, and this lady has no reason to get up in the morning.  Her husband is thinking, "Hey, you know, we're getting to the point in our life where we're going to have fun," and he's got a wife who doesn't want to face life; who is spending whole days in bed.  He starts getting angry because she's in the way of his dream, and there you have it – the quintessential midlife stuff that goes on all over the place.  How many thousands of moms end up in that place?  How many thousands of husbands end up in that place and maybe not reach huge crisis but clearly lost in the middle of their own lives.

Dennis: We did a little word search from e-mails we receive here at FamilyLife Today, and, Bob, I don't know if you've seen these or not, but the number of e-mails that came back of people facing the stuff of this "lost in the middle" feeling that you're talking about – here is one from a wife who writes about her husband who is into bodybuilding, and ever since he's turned 40, he's turned his focus into shaping and sculpting the body and trying to hang onto what is slowly going to go away, and he's evidently taking some testosterone shots or patches on his body to increase his levels of testosterone, and here is a woman who was very satisfied with her husband as he was growing into midlife, and now he's hitting the panic button.

Paul: Yes, and that's not about weightlifting.  That's about something going on in the heart of that man that he's trying to solve by building muscles.  It will never work.

Dennis: And so what would you say to that wife – and maybe it's not weightlifting, maybe it's accelerating the career path, material accumulation, whatever he pours his life into – what would you say to that spouse who is watching the one they love the most go through this?

Paul: I would say move toward your husband with understanding and grace knowing that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is there to address exactly what that man is going through.  It's a regular struggle of life in a fallen world.  This is a broken place.  Things don't work the way we wanted them to work.  We do get old.  We do face regret because none of us are perfect people.  Those are typical struggles of a fallen world, and Jesus Christ gives us everything we need for a God-honoring life between the time we come to Christ and the time we go home to be with Him.  If she is going to help him, she has to believe in that Gospel.

Dennis: And not give up on that plumb line.

Paul: That's right.

Dennis: Because if she caves in as well and starts chasing a gold chain, so to speak, and goes after plastic surgery and getting engaged and involved in the culture and finding her own identity and something, then she's not going to be of much encouragement to her spouse.  And so – I forget the exact verse in Ecclesiastes, but I call it the "suspender" principle.  And it's that if one lets go, there's another hanging on.  And I don't know the exact verse, it seems like it's over in …

Bob: Ecclesiastes 4, I think, 9, 10, that area, where it says, "two fall in the ditch, you need another one to pull them out." 

Dennis: Yeah, it's a – you know, we don't have suspenders anymore in this culture, that's an old illustration, but the picture of two people going through life together – life will throw you a few tests.  There will be some losses – physical losses, losses accompanied with aging, losses of dreams, failures to achieve expectations, and as a result you better have a faith.  If there is ever a time you need to go to the bank on your faith, it ought to be during this period of time right here.

Paul: That's exactly right.  My perspective on this period of time is it's a time where I can experience a deeper, fuller relationship with Christ than I ever have before, because I'm required to let go of sort of identity markers that have been in the way of that.  I've held onto my physical ability; I've held onto my successes; I've held onto my dreams, and those have been my crutches, and as they get removed, I find myself relying more on Christ than I ever have before.

Dennis: You know, there's one other aspect of this I want to add to what we're talking about, and that's community.  As I have grown older, it has seemed to me that the friends that I rub shoulders with; that I bear my soul with; that I make a part of my life; and that I interact around the truth of what God's Word says become very, very important as why church is so important, it's why a spouse is so important, and it's why couples need to be relating to other couples.

 And, personally, one of the resources we have here at FamilyLife that I think is one of the most under-utilized resources that we have, even though close to 2 million people have accessed it is Homebuilders.  It's a small group Bible study where couples can get together with other couples around the truth of God's Word, which anchors you in the midst of the storms, but it gives you the chance to have community in the midst of these crises, tests, and so you don't get lost in the middle.

Paul: And I'm saying to people all the time – you've got to remember that your walk with God is a community project; life is a community project.  We were created for community, and it is true that one of the reasons this develops the way it develops the midlife struggle and gets so strong in my life is because I've lived in isolation for other people who could have intruded into my life and said, "You know, you're losing your way here."  Because I live in isolation, I haven't had that, and so it develops.

Dennis: Yes, you have no one who is a mirror in your life.

Bob: Mm-hm.  You know, we've talked about couples who are involved in these Homebuilders groups and how they can serve that function as together you go through what the Scriptures have to say on subjects related to marriage, and if folks are interested in finding out more about Homebuilders, there is information on our website at FamilyLife.com.  These are easy groups to start, and they really do make a profound difference in how you go through life together.  And I'll tell you what, if folks really want some help navigating these middle years, it might be good to get a small group of other couples and go through Paul David Tripp's book, "Lost in the Middle," together and talk about the issues that get raised in that book.

 We have that in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  You can go to our website at FamilyLife.com, and if you click the "Go" button in the middle of the screen, that will take you to a page where there is more information about this book, about the Homebuilders studies, other resources that we have available on this subject, but, Paul, I think your book really sets up the issues that couples experience in the middle years.

Paul: That's right.

Bob: I know when Mary Ann read through it, she said, "This is helpful.  It's just helpful for me to hear somebody talking about these particular issues."  Again, go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click the red "Go" button in the middle of the screen, and that will take you to the page where you'll get more information about the book, "Lost in the Middle," and other resources that are available from us here at FamilyLife Today.

 You can also get in touch with us by phone at 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-358-6329.  Give us a call, and we can make arrangements to have any of the resources we've talked about today sent out to you.

 Keep in mind when you get in touch with us – FamilyLife Today is listener-supported, and when you contact us to request resources, we will probably ask you if you'd like to add an additional donation to your order.  The reason for that is because those donations are what help keep this program on the air in this city and in cities all across the country.  This month, if you are able to help us with a donation of any amount, we'd like to send you a CD of a message that your wife Barbara gave not long ago, Dennis, to a group of women on the subject of what a wife can do to help her husband be the man that God wants him to be – how she can be an encouragement and an influence in his life without becoming overbearing or controlling or nagging.

 This CD is our gift to you if you can help us with a donation this month of any amount.  As you fill out the donation form on our website, when you come to the keycode box, just type in the word "CD," or call 1-800-FLTODAY to make your donation over the phone, and when you do, mention that you'd like the CD from Barbara Rainey, and we'd be happy to send it out to you.  We appreciate your financial support of this ministry, and we hope to hear from you.

 Tomorrow, Paul David Tripp is going to be back with us.  We're going to continue to examine the middle years of life and some of the challenges that can come during that time period.  I hope you can be with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. 

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