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By Bill Farrel, Author and Speaker
It was March, and Pam and I were speaking in chilly Nebraska. As we drove to the conference from our hotel, we noticed all the grass was brown; something we don't see much of in Southern California. Even stranger was the fact that it was obviously thick and healthy. Some of it had even been laid down recently as sod, but it was all brown! When we asked about the grass, we learned that it was typical for the grass to go dormant every winter. We were told it didn't need to be watered, mowed, trimmed, or fertilized – it simply needed to be left alone. It was loaded with potential for both healthy growth, and weeds that spread and destroy, but all that potential was laying dormant waiting for the right time of life, “Spring!”
People approaching midlife are like that grass – lying dormant with potential for great growth, and unfortunately, potential for causing complications to their own life, and the lives of those around them. During the dormant time there seems to be few issues, and no one would ever dream that major changes are on the horizon. Developmental problems lie inactive, needs are easily met, and relationships are relatively low maintenance. Then the right time of life comes along – midlife – which for most people is a time of adjustment in where men and women get ready for the highly influential decades of their fifties and sixties. Career adjustments are put in place, decisions are enacted to adjust to physical limitations, and unfinished developmental growth is addressed. For some, these adjustments are smooth and skillful. For others, these adjustments are traumatic, awkward, and damaging. They all, however, do come to an end.
Once these adjustments are accomplished, life is resumed with focus and determination. For most people, the issues are truly settled and can be maintained with normal effort, never to disrupt lives again. For some, however, the needs/issues simply go dormant again. No one can live in turmoil for too long, so our emotional and relational needs will go undercover to give us a break from the internal stress. It appears that recovery has been accomplished, issues have been resolved, and primary decisions have been settled. In reality, the needs/issues that disrupted life at midlife have gone inactive again, until sometime in the future when they come back to life. As you can imagine, when they resurface at the age of 60 or 70, it is very complicated. Energy levels are low, compared to previous decades, and emotional discipline is often worn down by years of responsibility and disappointments. Hope, based on long-term possibilities, starts to blur with the awareness of the brevity of life. As a result, the dormant needs/issues will resurface as depression, bitterness, anger, blaming others, or a general sense of hopelessness.
Between midlife and latelife, the two obvious questions are:
1) How can I tell if the needs/issues that surfaced during midlife have been met or have just gone dormant again?
- The primary way to tell is progress. The purpose of midlife is to prepare us for having great influence in the second half of life. During midlife, the changes we make, awkward needs we wrestle with, moments of insecurity we endure, and decisions we struggle through, are all designed to harness the potential of our influence on others we come in contact with. When people come out of midlife with a new focus on making some kind of difference in their world, they reap the benefit of an intense time of growth. When people arrive at the end of midlife at the same point they were before they began, it is likely needs/issues have simply gone dormant. Midlife is not just a nasty bump in the road that temporarily interrupts our journey in life, it has a purpose. The intended outcome of midlife is a launch into a new level of impact, with the life experience and wisdom you have accumulated during the journey.
- In the Bible, God’s Word describes this as the natural progression for human beings. The woman in Proverbs 31 anticipated this would be one of the outcomes of a life well-lived. "Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land." (v. 23) There is also a general theme throughout the Bible that one generation will pass to the next generation the skills, information, and inspiration they need to love God and fulfill their God-given dream. One example is found in Joel 1:1-2, "Hear this, you elders; listen, all who live in the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your ancestors? Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation."
- A person has grabbed hold of the impact of midlife when he realizes he is on earth to actively help the next generation (both family members and younger people in his life) live healthier, think clearer, and love stronger. When people are content to simply go back to the life they used to have, the midlife journey has not finished its course.
2) What am I supposed to do if the midlife experience makes a comeback?
When the issues of midlife have gone dormant and then come back at a later age, the process of getting through it is no different than at midlife. Although, physically, we don’t have as much energy available to face the challenge. We do, however, have more wisdom to draw on. You can overcome the comeback of midlife by staging a comeback of your own. The key activities that help move the process along are:
- Commit to a process of personal growth. Get in a small group Bible study. Attend church services regularly. Join a chat room at midlife.com. Seek out counseling. Attend conferences and read books.
- Start helping others. It is very easy to get self-absorbed (whether you are the one going through the turmoil, or married to someone going through it) when you are in relational or emotional trauma. Often, helping others is the catalyst that causes a breakthrough.
- Do what you know you love, even if it doesn't feel like you love it.
- Move slowly with decisions, yet quickly to keep commitments.
- Forgive liberally.
- Exercise regularly and eat healthy.
- When you feel like reacting, ask yourself, "What type of person do I want to be? And what would I tell my best friend to do in this situation?"
- Seek a strong mentor to advise you, encourage you, and hold you accountable.
Throughout your life, remind yourself often that YOU matter. People, especially your children, are watching you and want to learn from your experience and example. You are the only person in history that has the unique collection of traits and talents that you have. You have a unique influence in the world that will help others develop better lives simply because they know you. Let's all make sure our comebacks are they best they can be, for the people we care about, and the people that God has watching our lives, as living examples of His Son.
Bill – GreenGrass, you can't control what he is saying or how others will interpret what he is saying. You can control your own integrity and your reactions to what you are hearing. Seek Jesus more intensely when you feel the pain and ask Him for renewed strength. Decide ahead of time that you will not react to the statements you hear that are not true. Find a place to serve others so you get a break from your own pain and establish your integrity by helping others. God will then take care of your reputation.
It is often said that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Well, we were recently in North Carolina when tornado warnings took over the news. The sky was cloudy, the wind blew, and rain drenched everything in sight. People came to our seminars with laptops and iPads tuned to the weather channel so they could watch the progress of the storm. For a few hours, everyone split their focus between the message Pam and I were delivering and the weather reports. The people who were most intent on the weather reports were those who had family members in the path of the twister warnings. They were emailing regularly to get updates on their relatives and calling home during all breaks. It was a profound reminder of the importance of family in our lives.
Midlife is so often a time when people seem to forget how vital family relationships are. People in crisis will often take out their personal stress on the people they love. In turn, their spouses get angry and critical of them as they are going through turmoil. Children of a marriage going through a midlife crisis will grow disillusioned. Parents of the couple in crisis scramble to get their adult children back on track, and sometimes step in to fill-in for the missing parent. Without great maturity and endurance, family relationships are damaged despite our emotional attachment to one another.
At Midlife.com, we are committed to reminding people about the importance of family relationships in the midst of tough transitions. Even when it is strained, kids need both of their parents involved in their lives. Spouses are wise to hold out for a breakthrough that will restore what was once a loving and supportive relationship. We know it can be difficult, and that many days/weeks/months during midlife are confusing and unnerving, which is why we are online every week with chat rooms to help our visitors keep their focus, offer words of encouragement, and pray for one another.
It is no secret that our web presence is supported by generous contributions from people who believe that consistent support is vital to help people navigate this unexpected time of change. Thank you in advance for any amount you are able to contribute.
This is the fourth of 12 messages delivered at Cannon Beach Conference Center in Oregon. The series presents the way in which Jesus influenced the people he came in contact with so that we can apply these same principles in our lives. This message looks at Jesus' commitment to live by His principles on a consistent basis. He demonstrates for us the personal power that is developed when we cultivate inner character, pursue our purpose, and exercise compassion. The principles were all lived out in the midst of inconvenient and frustrating circumstances, so they serve as a great example for any of us who are looking to stay strong during the ups and downs of life.
The 10 Best Decisions A Graduate Can Make
Pam and I, along with our adult children, help high school and college graduates discover their God-given dreams. With humor, practical tips, and inspiring stories, they challenge young adults to lean into their potential and make decisions that are proven to help them be confident and successful. We know that most of you in midlife have children who are preparing for adulthood and often get frustrated with the changes they see in their parents. This book will help the young adult you love shift focus to the vital decisions that will secure a healthy and productive future.
We can't do what we do without you. Be assured that every prayer, every dollar, and every minute you spend helping this ministry is holding families and personal lives together. Those who are helped may never be able to thank you personally but believe me, they are eternally grateful!
Everyone will go through changes at midlife, no one should go through it alone, and no one has to with Midlife.com available to help.
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Bill & Pam Farrel
Marriage IS hard work...
Here's encouragement from our founder, Dr. Jim Conway, and our editor, Lisa Kahan.
An exciting time is here! You and your mate have decided to try again to make your marriage work. You no doubt have some questions and maybe some misgivings. You wonder if you’ll be successful this time.
We hope you’re not thinking, "Now that my mate has given up the third person, we can get on with life and be happy again." Or, "Once we are under the same roof again, everything will be great! Just like the old days."
Perhaps your mate doesn’t want the "old days." Something in the old marriage caused your mate to want to leave, so you need to build a new marriage. You’ll be the same two people, but both will have to change so you don’t fall back into the same old habits that got you into trouble.
Carefully consider the many issues in your decision to get back together. If you reunite without confronting the problems that caused the collapse of your marriage in the first place, your relationship may fall apart again, making it less likely to ever be truly restored.
From Lisa: "Why should I have to change?" ~ is a question that many people, who have been abandoned by their spouse, ask when they visit our Chat Rooms.
This is really hard for people to understand, but when they get it, and make an active effort to change, they will be successful in the long run, whether their mate returns to the marriage or not. Our Chat Room Facilitators are fine examples of the left behind spouses who chose to make changes in themselves, and live their lives forward. Some of our Facilitators have restored marriages, and some don't, but regardless they all "get it"!!! They understood what they needed to do and they did it. Some things that I'm talking about would be; they worked on physical appearance, they went back to school, they made a career change, they developed new skills, started new hobbies, got involved with their churches and attended small group Bible studies. Changes like these can be made anytime - but it's also key to keep up the hardwork and commitment whether your mate returns or not. You'll like yourself and find that you're confident and comfortable with who you are.
I grew up in a home where many decisions were made out of fear. We limited our contact with others because we were afraid of people. We spent many weekends in the mountains because we were afraid of what might happen in the neighborhood. We avoided opportunities because of the responsibility that went along with leadership. As a result, I struggled with confidence during my adolescent years. I had an internal desire to be a competitive athlete and a successful student. I was afraid, however, of failing and had a strange sense that I didn’t deserve to accomplish what was in my heart.
I determined that my adult life would be different, so I set out to discover what could help me be strong in the face of fear. In this context, Haggai 2 sheds some interesting light on what it takes to be confident when faced with significant challenges. The challenge before them was the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?” (v. 3) Enemies of Israel had torn down the centerpiece of Israel’s history and the task of rebuilding would be resisted by intimidating neighbors. When faced with a daunting challenge, where do you find the confidence to move forward? In Haggai 2, we see the following ingredients:
- Remind yourself you are doing the right thing. Rebuilding the place where God met His people was a critical element in the life of Israel. God’s presence was always the secret of their success and honoring God with a house that was better than any other citizen was vital to their attitude. The people knew without a doubt that this was the right thing to do.
- Remind yourself that God is with you. “. . . I am with you . . . my Spirit remains among you . . . I will fill the house with glory . . .” (v. 4-7) The greatest source of humble confidence is the presence of God Himself. The New Testament echoes this principle over and over as evidenced in Hebrews 13:5, “. . Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
- Stay busy with the work. Thinking too much about obstacles is the fastest way to paralysis. Life is big and many tasks appear to be impossible. When you get busy doing what you know is right even when you can’t see how it will all work out, things begin to change. Progress raises your confidence and reorients your perspective. Every step forward encourages another step forward. As a result, part of God’s encouragement is “Be strong, all you people of the land,” declares the LORD, “and work.” (v. 4)
- Remind yourself of the promises of God. God is an active partner in life. He consistently adds His strength and influence to the circumstances of our lives. Every challenge we face is easy for Him because all His attributes are limitless. He, therefore, utilizes the conditions of our lives to increase our character and influence. At the right time, He then intervenes so that circumstances do not crush us. “But now be strong . . . all you people of the land, declares the LORD, “. . . For I am with you . . . In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations . . . The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house . . . And in this place I will grant peace.” (v. 4-9)
Jesus, thank you for sharing your confidence with us!
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