I meet a lot of middle-agers who feel disoriented and disconnected with life. The pressures of getting older, coupled with fatigue and fear that “Maybe I’ve missed something,” cause some to abandon their marriage, buy a sports car and head for the beach. Many middle-agers aren’t sure what that “something” is, but they’re convinced it will be found elsewhere.
Middle age brings a lot of unfulfilled dreams. It ushers in cynicism too, because we’ve seen more calamity and had more disappointment that we expected. And then there’s the guilt. A litany of failures sometimes dots the landscape of the past--broken relationships, broken business endeavors; just broken things in general. The heightened financial pressures and the impending sense of mortality only exacerbate things. Friends and loved ones start dying. Kids leave the nest. We spend more time at Doctor’s offices. Often it seems like life’s just ebbing away.
I’m on the other side of middle age these days. Here are some things that helped me navigate the storms of the middle years.
• I had a Biblical self-esteem. I realized that I’m important because God loves me, not because of how others view me. The Bible says that I’m a child of God "...through faith in Jesus Christ.” (Gal. 3:26 NASB). Nothing can change that; not even the challenges of middle age!
• I intentionally became others-focused. It's a wonderful day when we stop asking, “How am I doing?” and intentionally determine to start asking, “How are you doing?" Some people never get there. They grow older and more introspective, simultaneously overanalyzing everything...especially themselves.
• I chose to be hopeful. Romans 15:13 (NIV) says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him.” I adopted that as my “life verse.” I decided that as long as I'm vertical and breathing, I have a future. God’s still in charge, thus I have hope.
• I prioritized--God and family first, people next, then everything else in its time. It was during the middle years of his life that Paul wrote, “This one thing I do…” (Philippians 3:13) He knew the importance of prioritizing things in his one-and only-life.
• I intentionally and regularly reaffirmed God’s power and chose to never quit. I learned that sometimes when you feel like "exiting" the race, you're actually on the final lap. Fight one more round. Run another lap. You never know how close you are to a breakthrough. Paul wrote, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Gal. 6:9 NIV). Keep a vertical perspective and press on.
• I took the "helicopter view" of life. I looked at the big picture. I learned what's "cancer" and what's "measles." I concluded that just about all of it is measles.
The successful life is more of a marathon than a sprint. It is more of a duty than a mountaintop emotional experience. It can be exhausting, but fulfilling if we keep our expectations reasonable and see the bigger picture on a daily basis.
Hugh Prather, in his essay, “Notes to Myself” wrote,
“If I'd only forgotten future greatness and looked at the green things, and reached out to those around me, and smelled the air, and ignored all the forms and self-styled obligations, and heard the rain on the roof, and put my arms around my wife. Perhaps…it’s not too late.” (1)
Here’s the bottom line: whether you're married, single or single-again, someone out there needs a hug, a listening ear, a hand on the shoulder and a smile. You can do all those things and you should. Your world will become better as you make a better world for others, especially during the middle years. Everyone has potential when you’re looking for it. Move beyond yourself. You'll find it. Have fun!
(1) Notes To Myself, Hugh Prather, Twentieth Anniversary Edition, Bantam Press, 1990. p. 1