Linda W. Perkins

Midlife: Crisis or Opportunity? | January 15th, 2015 | Midlife: Crisis or Opportunity?

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 rear-view 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?