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By Bill Farrel, Author and Speaker
I reached my fortieth birthday with anticipation and optimism assuming I was prepared for the midlife transition. After all, I had “THE Dr. Jim Conway” as a personal mentor. Jim and I talked extensively about the “forces” that put pressure on people to become self-absorbed and discontent during their midlife years which include career re-evaluations, physical changes, and developmental mandates. I was confident that I had a clear perspective on my next season of life and would make the most of the changes that were sure to come.
One force I was sure wouldn’t be much of a problem was the process of re-evaluating my career focus because there is a legacy in my family of doing what you love. My dad worked as an aerospace engineer and considered it a privilege. He could often be heard to say, “I can’t believe they pay me to do this.” When he hit midlife and asked himself, “Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life?” he quickly answered, “Yes!” with great enthusiasm. As a result, I had an instinct for pursuing work that was personally satisfying.
In my early twenties, I worked for an architectural drafting firm. It was fun but lacked the strong sense of satisfaction I had seen in my dad’s career. I decided to go back to school, finish my education, and start a career in ministry. In typical male fashion, I concluded, “That is taken care of. I can check it off my list until retirement.”
Life was great for the next twenty years working as a Youth Pastor, and then as Lead Pastor, which was demanding but fulfilling. Even though it required more effort and more hours, being a Pastor felt easier than being a draftsman. I was in “the groove” and thought life would be like this forever.
Then IT happened! I was forced to re-evaluate my career as I gave up my position as a pastor to become a full-time writer and conference speaker with my wife, Pam. Conference work lacked the oomph of leadership that I was accustomed to. I certainly couldn’t “boss my wife around” and my life became filled with short-term working relationships, rather than long-term interactions with employees and volunteers working toward a common goal. I tried reasoning with it in my head but these forces do not listen to logic. I had no reason to complain because I had good work to do, but it’s NOT what I originally set out to do!
Part of me saw this as an adventure because I knew I was approaching the season of life with the greatest potential for influence. Part of me, however, saw this as an unwelcomed interruption to my life as I knew it. I didn’t realize how vulnerable I was in this area. I was in my mid-forties and I was feeling more discontent than I ever had before.
I was comfortable in the role of full-time pastor and part-time speaker with Pam. I wanted both careers and I was frustrated that it couldn’t happen. Restlessness arose in my soul and it became hard to think clearly and make sound decisions. I began to experience the feelings that cause men to bail out on the life they have spent decades building. I remember thinking, My life is important and people are depending on me — but this doesn’t feel very good. Everyone just says I need to stop complaining and stay focused. I have been focused my whole life! I wonder if anyone really cares?
Fortunately, I recognized the danger of these thoughts and asked God to give me a verse that would guide me during this transition. I wanted one to jump out from the Bible as if God was handing it to me personally. In His faithfulness, Psalm 32:8-9 stood out!
Verse 8 was comforting, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” I needed to hear that God saw what I was going through and was committed to help me navigate the transition. Verse 9 was a little insulting, “Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.”
I remember my reaction vividly, “Lord, you just called me stubborn. I’m not stubborn!” The thought echoed in my mind like a voice in a canyon, “Yes you are, Bill. Nice try — but you really are stubborn.”
I needed to hear both verses because I was stubborn and selfishly demanding personal fulfillment. In other words, I wanted God to consult me before He decided His will for my life. Those two verses became my focal point throughout my career re-evaluation because I did not want to create a bunch of regrets. When I felt lost I would remember, “I will instruct you.” When I felt agitated or impatient I would replay, “Do not be like the mule.”
Midlife will always be a time of transition for people. It can be a time of great discovery and boldness or a time of discouragement and brokenness. Personally, I’m thankful that I knew to call out to God for guidance. If you’re in the midst of a life transition, call out to God today and ask Him to give you a verse that speaks directly to your heart and keeps you focused. If you already made a mess of life during your transition, call out to God today and ask Him to give you a verse that will show you how to walk the road of redemption as God faithfully works to repair the damage that was done. Maybe you can even start with posting Psalm 32:8-9 on your bathroom mirror, and allow it to lead you.
Next month: How physical changes challenge us at midlife.
Something to chat about...
Q&A's from chat sessions with Bill:
Q) from “Gabby” — Bill, how do we overcome the lack of intimacy while we are separated for years? I’m really trying to avoid affairs and temptation in the best possible way.
A) from Bill — “Gabby”, that’s a great question since this is a tough issue for anyone who has been married and now finds they’re alone or isolated from the one they love.
1st Step: Intensify your spiritual intimacy; spend time reading the Bible and in daily devotions. You’ll discover a special bond of closeness with Jesus that is possible when we experience loss and disappointment because He suffered the same things. Whenever you feel tempted to go down a wrong path, it’s important to immediately turn to Jesus, remove yourself from any circumstance leading you to temptation, and spend time with Him. A courageous friendship with Him starts to fill the gap.
2nd Step: Deliberately establish friendships that are open and vulnerable; it is not the same as an intimate lover but it fills in a little more of the gap. A great place to start is in a small group Bible study with members of the same sex. Another way to find like minded friends involves step three.
3rd Step: Commit to serve other people; when you see your life helpful in other’s lives, it reorients your focus from yourself — to meeting the needs of others. A great place to get started is in your church, volunteering in areas of your personal giftedness. When you volunteer — you’ll find yourself having fun and making friends as you bond together over a common task/goal.
Note: The “Chat Names” (although already anonymous) have been changed to add extra protection for our Chat Room Guests.
"My Husband's Midlife Crisis... ~ Or Mine???"
My husband and I had a pretty typical marriage. As our children were growing up, we became two ships running parallel instead of together. We were both busy doing good things so I had no idea we were heading for trouble. During my husband’s midlife crisis, he "just wanted to have fun." Unfortunately, the other woman was fun and I was not.
I was aware that my husband had "checked out" of our marriage mentally long before he physically left. One night, while asking God to "change my husband's cold heart back to his family," God got MY attention with the response, "Why should he?" It was like God held a mirror up to reflect what needed to be changed in ME! It turned out it wasn't just about my husband! Although a very painful process, I learned to rely on Jesus and not my husband for my most important needs. In spite of what well-meaning people were telling me, I listened only to God and Godly counsel. I learned about agape love first hand. I knew I had it for my husband and Jesus had it for ME! Even when my husband discussed filing for divorce, Jesus gave me the peace I needed to endure. I remember telling God, "He's all yours--I can't handle him anymore!"
Time moved on and my husband had several "false starts" home before he agreed to come home and commit to work on our marriage! Even though he was physically home, I don't think he “really” came home for about a year.
Now I treat my husband like I should have been all along — even when he doesn't deserve it! It helps me to think of my spouse as if he were Jesus — then he gets my utmost love and respect. In turn he appreciates and loves me. I can truly say that we have a "new and improved" marriage and we don't want the "broken one" back! God's timing is perfect and I can honestly say our whole family has been blessed with this "experience."
The Midlife Dimension’s Chat Room was a lifeline to me, which helped me survive day by day.
Karen recommends these resources:
- “Men in Midlife Crisis” by Jim Conway
- “Your Husband’s Midlife Crisis” by Sally and Jim Conway
- "How to Save Your Marriage Alone" by Ed Wheat
- "Love and Respect" by Emmerson Eggerich
- "Fireproof" by Eric Wilson
A note from Bill...
This is one of my favorite times of the year because people tend to focus on what is really important. We reaffirm our dependence upon a Savior as we celebrate his arrival as a baby. We reconnect with family and friends as we celebrate the connections of our lives. We reorient our thinking for a new year as we review the impact of our lives over the past few months.
I’m also aware that many of you are not looking forward to the holiday season. Midlife is a time of great change for which many people are unprepared. When the change becomes a crisis, individuals need a safe place to go anonymously and ask questions, wrestle with their decisions, grieve without fear, and find a path of restoration. People from around the world visit Midlife.com for advice through our articles and encouragement from others in our chat room — 24/7 — 365 days a year.
It is because of prayers and financial support that Midlife.com has been able to be that place for thousands of people. We appreciate all support for this ministry and want to say thank you for your contribution this month with these excellent resources.
When I traveled to Jerusalem in 2008, I was struck by the number of people who were impacted by the life of Jesus. I came home from that trip and looked at the ways Jesus influenced people while he was on Earth. This is the first message in the series, from the book of Mark, to help us raise our skill level in influencing the people we care about the most.
The 10 Best Decisions a Man Can Make:
As a young man, I had no idea how to go about making decisions and I have been on a quest to figure it out. On my journey I’ve discovered that our emotions follow our decisions. As a result, people who are skilled at decision-making generally experience less emotional turmoil and have more energy available for the pursuits of their lives. This makes a great gift for young men, newlywed husbands, dads — anyone who needs a guide to making good decisions. In fact, women who read this book have a great impact on the men in their lives!
Again, I say “thank you” to anyone who has given financially to Midlife.com so we can be there to help those in need TODAY! Please continue to minister to others with us — together we can help the next person who is struck by the forces of midlife. We also value your prayers and hope that you find the website and our monthly E-zine personally valuable.
We all experience changes in midlife, but none of us needs to go through it alone. May God refresh you with His grace and be your strength throughout the holidays.
There's no stopping them...
THE HOLIDAYS ARE COMING!!! Here's encouragement from our founder, Dr. Jim Conway, and our editor, Lisa Kahan.
From Jim: Holidays are tough for people in unhappy marriages when everyone else seems so happy. Depression is higher during the holidays than any other time of year. It's important to make plans and be proactive. Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed, lonely, and depressed. Doing these types of activities helps change your brain chemistry, which enables you to cope with life better.
- Spend time with encouraging friends.
- Plan a special event/activity that will nourish you.
- Ask for extra prayer from your support group.
- Spend extra time with God, in His Word, listening to praise music.
- Make time to exercise, go walking with close friends, or better yet -- just you and God.
- Volunteer in your community, or church, to take meals to people in need, serve meals at a shelter, etc.
- Deliberately get outside your needs to see other's needs and how you can help them.
From Lisa: Even when times are filled with more "downs" than "ups" - it's important for you, and your children, to keep family traditions alive, especially during holiday seasons and special days like Valentine's or 4th of July. Whether it's driving down the street of a decorated neighborhood at Christmas, or going to the big egg-hunt in your community on Easter, make the time to get out there and do it. It shows your children that family and traditions are special and will continue no matter what is going on in your lives. It gives them a sense of stability at that time, and they'll appreciate your effort for the continuity in the years to come.
Tired of Santa getting all the credit for Christmas? Here's a fun way to teach your children about the meaning of Christmas - it's a tradition passed down from the Conway family to ours, and we cherish the memories we've made over the years.
When you get out the Christmas Nativity set, just put out the "stable" in your special place, hide the baby Jesus until Christmas morning, and keep the other pieces in a box nearby. Each day you'll hide a character (1 for each kid to find) to place in the stable. Each evening, read the Nativity story and then have the kids find the hidden characters. Mary and Joseph would always be saved for Christmas Eve. And here's the best part - when the children go to bed on Christmas Eve, that's when you'll place the baby Jesus in the manger. On Christmas morning - our children would race down the stairs to see if baby Jesus arrived. It was a delight for everyone!
A couple more special ideas:
On Christmas Eve, we'd decorate a birthday cake for Jesus, and place a candle on it for each of us, and a white candle for Jesus. We'd also make a home-made birthday card for Jesus (with our family photo on the front) and everyone would sign it. We'd put the cake and card out Christmas Eve next to the Nativity set. When the kids raced to see the baby Jesus, they'd find a piece of His birthday cake missing and His birthday card is gone. Right then and there - we'd light the candles, sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus, blow out the candles, and enjoy cake for breakfast!!
Now, our kids are in high school and know we're the ones making it all happen. Even though - they still enjoy decorating the birthday cake on Christmas Eve, reading the Nativity from their Bibles, and looking at the Birthday cards in our special album.
I get in a lot of conversations with people who are dealing with chaos. I believe I get in these discussions because it so common that it affects all of our lives. The chaotic behavior comes in two forms. The first is from the initiator. If you know your Bible at all, you know that people are not right. Our natures are corrupt and we tend toward self-centered and self-destructive choices. The easiest trait to develop in someone is selfishness. As a result, people regularly do things that just don’t make sense. Consider just a few examples of the kinds of things people passionately do that defy logic:
- We get intensely mad at the people we love the most.
- We yell at our kids not to yell at us.
- We spend money we don’t have.
- We use alcohol and drugs to either lower stress or hide from the real world.
- We get defensive when the people who care about us the most try to help us get better.
- We try to control the behavior and decisions of others.
Some of these things are bad but some are well-intentioned and noble. The problem is that none of them matches the way God created life.
The second kind of chaos comes from the responders. It is undeniable that people do hurtful, unhealthy and unproductive things. Unfortunately, it is common for those affected by the unhealthy decisions to respond just as chaotically. Consider just a few of the responses that likewise don’t make sense intellectually:
- We present rational arguments for why people should not act irrationally.
- We negotiate with people who are not thinking clearly.
- We ask, “What can I do to change this person’s behavior.”
- We spend lots of time pointing out how wrong the other person’s choices are.
- We dwell on the type of lifestyle the other person ought to be following.
As a result, we become just as chaotic in our thinking, emotional reactions, lack of personal growth and expended energy as the person we are upset with.
If we are to be victorious, we must move from chaotic to constructive (C2C). The key question for us becomes, “Regardless of circumstances and the choices of others, what type of person do I want to be?” Paul emphasized this approach to life in Ephesians 4:1, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” We have received a life of peace, patience, gentleness, humility, unity, power, faith, intimacy with God, willing sacrifice, reliance on truth and inexhaustible love. The eternal, infinite God deposited His life in us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. We literally have the opportunity to live a life beyond our own needs or abilities. The wisdom we need to make constructive choices, the strength we need to give constructive responses, and the hope we need to build a constructive future already reside within us. We just need to trust in it and choose to walk worthy rather than fall into the chaos around us. It is a tough thing to do but so is walking in chaos!
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