Saturday, January 31, 2015

Midlife: Crisis or Opportunity?

Midlife: Crisis or Opportunity?

“There is a time for everything, and everything on earth has its special season.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1

Midlife. It’s pretty much what it’s cracked up to be. Lines and wrinkles? Ugh! Gray hair? Quick, get the Clairol! And those hips and midriff? Uh, yeah, let’s not even go there.

I would love to say I feel great about all of these bodily changes, but alas, I cannot. I am like most people, who, when their bodies are slowing down and changing (usually not for the better), their minds are screaming, “Noooooo!” Yes, it’s true. My body may be saying it’s getting older, but my mind says I should still be able to do anything I want and look just as good as I did in my 20’s. It’s too bad my mind isn’t exactly on target, but I’m not beyond doing a lot to try and prove it wrong.

Every one of us, at some point in our midlife “journey,” comes to a moment when we wake up and wonder “What happened?” Perhaps it’s the day you went into the doctor for your regular checkup, and walked out stunned that you have a life-changing, possibly deadly, illness. Or the moment you discovered your spouse’s affair or were served the divorce papers. Maybe it was when you lost your job because there were younger people - who would work for lower wages - in line for it, and now you’re unemployed for the sole reason of being “overqualified.” Or maybe, just maybe, your life isn’t that bad at all, but the thrill is gone and you’re left wondering “Is this as good as it gets?”

The question is not whether you’ll ever have that moment (you will), but rather “What comes next?” You have a choice: fight reality and view it as a “crisis,” or embrace it and see it as an opportunity.

Many of us fall into the trap of the “midlife crisis,” trying desperately to recapture our fleeting youth. It manifests itself in different ways, from flashy sports car purchases to plastic surgery, to everything in between. Some self-medicate their feelings of insecurity with extramarital affairs, while others succumb to substance abuse or other addictions. And while these measures might make us feel better in the short-term, a self-imposed fantasy world can’t go on forever, and the crash back to reality can sometimes hit harder than if we had dealt squarely with it from the very beginning.

Contrary to today’s popular culture, which has discarded the notion of “aging gracefully” and replaced it with the idea of “fighting it, kicking and screaming,” the Bible says, “Gray hair is a crown of splendor, attained in the way of righteousness.” (Proverbs 16:1). Rather than seeing our age, and accompanying physical signs of it, as a curse, God tells us that it is a reward for a well-lived life. 

So how do we deal with midlife, then? Am I suggesting we shouldn’t try and look and feel our best? Absolutely not! The Bible is clear that we are to care for our bodies, even to the point of considering them a “temple” for the Holy Spirit that lives within us. It is also clear, however, that true beauty and honor shines from the inside out. It comes from loving God and serving others, and making holy and responsible choices that would honor our Creator. Proverbs 31:30 speaks specifically about this with its admonition, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

Back in the 1960’s, The Byrds recorded a song Turn! Turn! Turn! that ended up popularizing a Bible verse from Ecclesiastes. It echoed the words of King Solomon, who wrote, “There is a time for everything, and everything on earth has its special season.” Later, in the 1970’s, Fleetwood Mac’s song Don’t Stop reminded us to focus on tomorrow, because “yesterday’s gone.” Those lyrics are exactly what we need in order to get through any turning point in our life, including this transition from young to old that we call “middle age.” Just as a mountain climber on a steep slope is advised not to look down, but rather to focus on the climb itself and the goal of the summit, so we weather life’s changes best by realizing that life is made up of different seasons. We can only find satisfaction when we stop looking “in the rearview mirror” of our past, and instead focus on where we are and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Make no mistake, letting go of the past is never easy. Sometimes I miss the wild and crazy times of my 20’s and all the traveling I did in my 30’s, but I traded it in for a different, yet equally wonderful season as a mother. I cried every day for two years after my divorce, but eventually I accepted my new life and grew strong as a single working mom. Moving past my father’s death and dealing with some difficult medical situations have also not been easy, but I have found joy in the midst of pain. With every life change, I’ve had to grieve the past and embrace the present, often having to do some careful self-reflection along the way, taking a second look at my attitudes and behaviors, my career and even my friendships. The life I lived in seasons past is not the same life I live today, and so I must choose differently now.

At middle age, I am not where I thought I would be, but I’m right where I want to be. I may grimace when I see those pesky gray hairs and fine lines in the mirror, but then I remember – I’m standing here today and that in itself is a blessing! I may cry during the storms of life in this season of many changes, but then I look up – and see a rainbow of hope. By now I know that no matter what I face, God is with me in every season of life. I can stay in the present and embrace who I am and where I’m at. As the saying goes, “Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is a wish … today (middle-aged or not) is a gift!”

If you are middle aged or older, do you view your physical signs of aging as a hardship or can you accept (and even appreciate) them as a “crown of splendor”?  Are you holding onto the past or embracing the present? What does this season of your life look like today? How can you make the most of it?

Midlife: Crisis or Opportunity? originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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Intentionally Pursuing Intentional Tuesday

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Confessions of a Recovering Know-it-All

“When you do things, do not let selfishness or pride be your guide. Instead, be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves.” – Philippians 2:3

It’s a well-known fact that writers tend to suffer a little bit (well, ok, a lot) from an inflated ego. After all, why else would they choose a profession in which few make a comfortable living, and most have to hold down at least one other job just to make ends meet? Yes, creativity in its own right can be a lot of fun, and writers have an innate curiosity that drive them to learn as much as possible about their subject of interest and an equally compelling need to share what they find. But behind every writer’s pen (or keystroke, as it may be) is a dirty little, oft hidden, character trait: pride. Not just the kind of pride in which we pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. No, this is the kind of pride that wants ALL. EYES. ON. ME. Ask any newspaper reporter or published magazine writer. It’s all about the by-line. And who would ever dream of spending hundreds of hours writing the Great American Novel if it weren't for the possibility of having “best-selling” next to the title of “author”?

I will never forget my 8th grade class peer awards. As I anxiously awaited the results, my little 13-year-old mind was spinning with questions like “Will I be voted most liked? Most fun? Most likely to succeed?” I was new at the school that year and hoped I would be given some type of award that would boost my fragile little teenage ego. Instead, I got a “best” award of the worst type, one that completely horrified me. I got the “best braggart” award. WHAT??!! How did this happen, I asked my friends? I knew what was in my heart and I thought I knew what was coming out of my mouth, although in that moment it became crystal clear that what I meant to say and what people heard were two very different things. Apparently, all of the wonderful things I had shared with my classmates about Singapore and Australia, where I had lived prior to that year, were construed as “bragging.” I was more than just mortified. I was ashamed.

Fast forward to 2014, when I began writing this blog. With more than 20 years under my belt as a writer, I didn’t need my name in lights. I was writing to help others, and I knew there was a need because I had been seeking a blog just like this (to help me when I was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis) and couldn’t find one. I thought perhaps “this was my purpose.” I felt good knowing that God could use the combination of my experience in overcoming various life struggles and my writing skills to minister to people who were struggling too. But then something happened. I wrote…and I watched. Being the trained marketer I am, I began watching the numbers. How many people were reading? Was it growing? Declining? Why? Yep, you got it. It became all about me.

Now, before you start saying “I’m not a writer…I’m a reader. How does this relate to me?” just give me a minute. Are you on social media? If you’re reading this, I bet you are! You know what a headline in the January 2015 issue of Health magazine is? It is Could Facebook Make You Crazy? Yes, I kid you not. The article cites research studies that show how our time on Facebook can make us frustrated, upset, lonely and envious. Why? It is the same thing that has subtly (or not so subtly) plagued me all of my life: pride. We all want to be liked, noticed, admired. So we post things we want to be liked, noticed and admired for. In fact, the article in Health defines Facebooking (verb) as “posting only what’s perfect about your life” and discusses “the insecurity that creeps in when only a few people “like” your photo and the jealousy you feel when a friend’s photo gets a flurry of thumbs up.” Ah, the comparison trap. AKA pride.

Ironically, pride isn’t just reflected in what we say that’s good about ourselves. Sometimes it’s about what’s bad. I have seen some online discussions in which people are literally one-upping about how bad off they are. You know the ones, especially those related to medical subjects. One person asks about a particular symptom they’ve had, and it evolves into a firestorm of responses describing just how bad it got for everyone in the community. For some, it’s a way of saying “I am a survivor!” and for others, it’s an invitation to join their pity party. Some have a genuine heart of helpfulness towards the original poster, while others just want someone else to hear what they have endured. In most all of this, it becomes for everyone “all about me” and the original poster, often looking for support, gets lost.

The Bible is clear: the outcome of pride is never positive. It comes before a fall. What is the antidote? A refocusing of our attention onto others. Today’s verse says “be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves,” which perhaps means – for those of us, who by profession or in our personal lives, seek the spotlight – to just stop talking about ourselves. Yes, we have exciting things to share or tragic things we have endured. But I saw a very powerful piece of advice on someone else’s Facebook page today and I can’t help but take it to heart. “When someone is going through a storm, your silent presence is more powerful than a million empty words.” Some of the greatest conversationalists are the most quiet. They know that to be "someone easy to talk to” is to be a good listener. There’s a lesson here.

With every new year comes the opportunity not only to evaluate our actions but also our attitudes. As such, I must confess that I am a recovering know-it-all. I have a long history of having opinions and sharing them, solicited or not, and I sometimes can’t contain my excitement long enough to ask about your news first. But I’m working on it, trying to rid myself of the “P” word by talking less, and listening more … one day at a time. But enough about me. How are YOU?

Confessions of a Recovering Know-it-All originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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