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By Bill Farrel, Author and Speaker
My friend, Peter, came to me one day and said, "Bill, I just wrote a poem. Do you want to read it?" It would not have been an unusual thing but he was 45 years-old and had never written a poem during his adult life. Peter had been married for two decades, was actively involved in the lives of his two children, and worked in the computer field in a highly analytical career.
The poem was quite interesting. It was an anthem to the freedom of America and it had a clear punch line that made the message easy to grasp. I was impressed with his talent and courage to venture into a new area of growth, so I encouraged him to show it to his friends. Everyone I talked to who read the poem responded with words such as, "This is really good. Peter has some real talent here. We never knew he had this in him."
The most telling statement was, "We never knew he had this in him." I didn't realize it at the time, but what we were witnessing was one of the battle fronts of midlife. The contributing factor to midlife that creates the most turmoil is developmental stages that weren't completed earlier in life. They come back at midlife like time bombs and scream for our attention. They are relentless in their demands to be addressed and will lead us to sacrifice just about anything to get them fulfilled.
In its most basic form, there are five developmental stages that each of us must navigate to reach maturity; Early Childhood, Childhood, Adolescence, Early Adulthood, and Adulthood.
Early Childhood – This includes the time of our lives from birth to entering school. The primary approach to life at this stage is dependency since we cannot take care of ourselves. During this time, we learn how to emotionally bond as we determine who is safe and who we need to guard ourselves from. This is also the time of life when basic character is formed. Concepts such as telling the truth, sharing, being considerate, sacrificing, self-discipline, respect for authority, etc. are established as core values through diligence and repetition. If this stage is interrupted, a time bomb is planted within a person’s conscience; causing an individual to "wake up" at midlife and realize they don’t know how to trust people. People who are close in proximity appear to be dangerous while people who are relatively uninvolved in their real life appear to be safe and compassionate. Basic character traits, which seemed so solid 10 years prior, now prove to be only preferences that can't withstand the onslaught of emotional needs. Commitment gets squeezed out by passion. Integrity gives way to personal fulfillment.
Childhood – This includes the time in between entering school and the onset of puberty. The primary approach to life at this stage is exploration as we discover our strengths and weaknesses. It is during this period that we try out many areas of life to determine proficiency. It was during this stage I discovered I was much better at sports than singing. It was during this stage Peter discovered he liked art and writing. He spent free time drawing pictures, making up songs and inventing lands of fantasy. His mom told him one day, "There is no money in art. You need to focus on math and sciences." He was a compliant child so he shut the artistic side of his life down to pursue a technical education. Then some thirty years later – KABOOM – the “desire to express himself” time bomb exploded with a vengeance. Instead of getting to work on time, he wrote poetry. Instead of taking care of home responsibilities, he wrote poetry. Rather than stay involved in his kids' education and activities, he wrote poetry. He is talented in both analytic skills and artistic expression, but because he wasn't able to "find himself" during the exploratory phase of childhood, and had to complete that phase in midlife.
Adolescence – A time period when large doses of hormones get "dumped" in the body to cause dramatic physical changes. Usually between ages 13 and 18, social development takes center stage. Teens get emotionally charged at this stage and tend to experiment with different identities to see which ones "feel" right. They spend time with one group and take on their identity. Then they move to another group to experiment with another identity. They can do this with blinding speed so that an adolescent can be one person in the morning, another in the afternoon, and a completely different person at home with the family. Socializing is vital to teenagers as they need to try out different identities in order to conclude who they are and what they are most proficient at. When a healthy social life gets interrupted in this stage, or if heavy demands squeeze out social interaction, a time bomb is created and will sit dormant until midlife. Suddenly, the need to get out, have fun, find friends, experience life, and find "true love," takes over the life of an otherwise responsible midlife adult. Fast cars, loud music, late night activities, and exciting friends become priorities rather than amusing memories.
Early Adulthood – During the adolescent and young adult phase, people come to a conclusion about what kind of person they are and apply that decision to a career, relational life (married or single), family responsibilities, and community involvement. This stage of development is usually successful because life’s responsibilities forces people into making decisions. The one time bomb from this stage is when an individual commits to an unfulfilling career. In midlife it will feel as though the job demands the majority of his or her time, boredom will set in causing a dramatic reevaluation during midlife. These are the people who want to quit their jobs to start a business, or get rid of their businesses to work for someone else, or go back to college to start a whole new career path. These are not bad goals in themselves but they can throw the family system into turmoil.
Adulthood – The goal of all these stages of growth is to arrive at adulthood with the skills and maturity needed to enjoy our best years. Adults know how to be interdependent and respect the contributions of others. Adults know how to outlast obstacles and pursue strategic opportunities. Adults maximize their strengths and plan around their weaknesses so they can focus on the pursuits that will have the biggest impact. If the previous stages of development have been effectively "finished," an individual will arrive at adulthood ready for his greatest years of influence. If any of the stages have not been completed, the maturity and influence of adulthood is sacrificed by the time bomb of trying to "feel" younger.
Well, Peter had shut down his development during the childhood phase. His artistic side was dormant until midlife when the time bomb woke up the sleeping giant. His family had a hard time encouraging his new found love of art so he began looking elsewhere. In a frenzy he left his wife for a woman who seemed to be more encouraging and fascinated with him. He eventually came back to talk to me to say, "It seemed so right at the time but now things aren’t any different, except my life is more complicated. My 'new' family wants just as much from me as my 'old' family did and there doesn't seem to be much time for the art that I love. Looking back, I wish I had stayed and figured it out."
The lesson for all of us is that personal growth is key. If you are committed to growing at every stage of your life, you tend to avoid the trauma that comes from doing things out of order. Even if one stage got "messed up" because of circumstances beyond your control, your commitment to personal growth will address those needs along the way rather than creating a crisis in midlife. Read a book and apply what you learn. Join a small group that is focused on personal growth. Stay involved with a chat room that is helping you move forward in life.
"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3:18)
Bill – CocoaBean, you mentioned that people in a midlife crisis usually run from God, but that is not always the case. Generally, it’s more about discovering who you are when you didn't figure it out earlier in life. This is why midlife often looks like the teen years. Teens experiment with a lot of different identities to see which one they feel most comfortable with. People in midlife often do the same. The fact that your wife is looking to God to find herself is a really good sign. Keep praying for her heart to draw close to Him.
"My Personal Y2K Crisis"
It was the year 2000 and the whole world was talking about the new millennium. Little did I know that the "Y2K crisis" would be in my own family?
My husband started dealing with depression, back pain, inability to sleep, and dissatisfaction with his job. This developed into an overall disinterest and unhappiness in life. He started flying lessons to have a fun midlife hobby but it didn’t fulfill what he seemed to be looking for. He stopped going to church and became miserable to live with. My loving husband and father or our children was replaced by a "stranger" who was consistently mean to me and our two teenage daughters.
I was devastated by the news that he had been seeing someone else for over a year. I modeled my life after the Proverbs 31 woman so I felt betrayed by both my husband and by God. In the Midlife Chat Room I read about the affairs that many wives found their husbands having and thinking, "those poor women", and then I realized I was one of them!
In coming to terms with my responsibility in what had happened, I learned more important life lessons than I can list here!
- I let MY ministry overshadow OUR life. We enjoyed a committed, high energy, involved life – particularly in our church. We enjoyed being a part of "God's work" but I let it get out of balance. I failed to notice the shift while it became MY ministry, and not my husband's. For my marriage, at this point in time, it was not good to be so heavily involved in so many things. Our relationship needed time but I was too busy giving my time to others.
- I stopped REALLY listening. My husband would say, "Skip choir practice so we can go to the lake.” I’d reply, "Oh no, I can't do that.” When he did not respond - it didn't mean that he was agreeing with what I said, he was just giving up. My excuse was that he did not communicate clearly to me, but in reality, I was NOT listening.
- I was just as capable of outrageous behavior. Several times during our separation I found myself in deep depression, having thoughts and ideas go through my head that seemed like "solutions" to my pain. These actions were so out-of-character for me, and I’m thankful that God pulled me through that depression, and desperation, which ultimately gave me a greater understanding of what my husband was going through.
During our four and a half year separation my husband filed for a divorce, which was never completed. God restored our marriage, and somehow he has transformed that, terribly painful time into hope. Our daughters, who were bitter and hurt beyond belief when their daddy abandoned us, began to openly share how they would not change a thing because of the lessons they learned. Their eyes were opened to how messy real life can be and how effectively God has personally healed each one of us.
additional advice that helped me get through my trial.
- Talking openly about my situation with my chat room friends.
- Stay cool and quiet about my situation around my family and most of my other friends. They had good intentions and wanted us (our girls and I) to stop hurting, but the more I shared, the more bad advice they gave me. Basically, they want us to get away from the pain instead of working through it to find healing and peace.
- During anxious moments, turn immediately to prayer, for my husband, the other woman he was with, my children, my friends' marriages.
- Listen to Christian music and tapes and seek out God's voice of encouragement in these things.
- STOP questioning the fact that GOD can do miracles in people's lives and hearts. If my husband could take such a dramatic turn AWAY from his family, then why is it so unlikely that he could make another dramatic turn BACK? Isn't this the same God that brings LIFE from DEATH? When Christ was "dead" and those around him were mourning, it was just days from a new beginning and new life. This is GOD'S work and HIS timing.
- I became stubborn in my love for my husband. Everyone wanted me to quit loving him, and opening my heart to him. This included my friends (even Christians) and my family. I needed to find my own "stubborn attitude" and stick to it. It was my way of making a stand for what I believed was right, and that was to live out my marriage vows.
The Midlife Chat Room was a life-line for me. I remember Jim saying at the Florida Chat Room Retreat, "When your marriage is restored, please don't leave the Chat Room. We need you in there." I've remembered that and it's been a privilege to continue to serve as a Facilitator in the Chat Room. Not only does it give me an outlet in which to minister and make friends, it is also a great reminder for me of where my marriage once was. I usually look at my husband with fresh gratitude and love when I finish an hour in the chat room, so it is still good therapy for me as well!
February is a powerful month that is hard to ignore. I have heard it called Valentine's month, the month of love, and S.A.M. (Single Awareness Month). Regardless of how you view this month, I want to encourage you to look for God's best in your life. If your relationships are going well, enjoy them and let them encourage you. I have noticed that we all have a habit of overanalyzing the good times as we prepare ourselves for things to change. Instead, enjoy the season of warmth. If your relationships are not going as you would like them, turn your thoughts to the God who never fails, never leaves, and never forgets. You may want to check out the "Letter from Jesus" at midlife.com just to remind yourself how good God is even when life is not.
This is a very busy month of speaking for Pam and me. We will be in Florida, Colorado, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Toronto, Canada. We would greatly appreciate your prayers for endurance and influence.
It is a privilege to be in partnership with you all to help people navigate the stormy waters of midlife. May God richly bless you for your prayers, encouragement, and financial support that enables the midlife ministry to provide online resources and interactive chat rooms to help people find their way when the fog is thick.
This is the third 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' activities in and around Capernaum, which he referred to as his home town during his earthly ministry. He provides a powerful example of the importance of friendship, a consistent place of worship, and networking in the pursuit of our goals. You will find wisdom and confidence for many of your decisions as you see Jesus using the same techniques that work for us.
Pam Farrel points the way for women in midlife to live smart, savvy, and strong during this exciting and demanding season. Insights on relationships, health, menopause, finances, and more are infused with biblical wisdom and loads of humor. Designed for personal use or group study, 10 Secrets to Living Smart, Savvy, & Strong will empower those baby-boomer women who seek life-enhancing wisdom to get the most out of this time of their lives.
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
Choose to live your life forward...
Here's encouragement from our founder, Dr. Jim Conway, and our editor, Lisa Kahan.
From Jim: It's rather funny that people look at me as successful and "all together," when deep within me is a nagging sense of insecurity left over from my childhood. Lots of people grew up with some of the same problems I had. My insecurity didn't start to go away until I became a Christian a few months before I entered college.
As a child, I felt I didn't belong in the world of people. It was as if I had come from another planet where the creatures didn't understand relationships. Now I was here on earth - but without the foggiest idea about how to make friends. I didn't feel as if I belonged in the world - or that people liked or wanted me.
The first school I attended was in Maple Heights, Ohio. I frequently stood against the building in a sheltered corner of the playground during recess periods, watching the other kids play. I was a loner, the outsider.
We moved to Cleveland and Ross became a friend. Ross was a year older than I, bigger, confident and outgoing, and attractive to all the girls. He was a born leader and was very intelligent. In many ways, Ross was everything I wanted to be, and I was honored that he considered me his friend. Even though Ross was my friend, I felt insecure. Yes, he was my friend, but could I depend on that? Would I always be his most important friend?
People with poor self-images expect the worst, and the worst always comes along. Ross was interested in magic tricks and met another friend who shared this interest. I was left out. "Alone again, naturally," as the song says. This experience reinforced my feeling that I didn't belong.
I was no better off at romance. There was this terrifically cute girl in Miss Listel's fifth-grade class. I mean she was a knockout for an eleven-year-old! Unfortunately, I only loved her from afar. She was in love with Jimmy. He was another one of those intelligent, good-looking, big boys. I was the shortest boy in my class. All Jimmy had to do was smile at girls and they fell at his feet.
Academically, I was also a failure - I was a D student. When I finally graduated from high school, I was third in my class - third from the bottom. Whenever I had to take a test, I would say to myself, "You know you're going to fail this test just as you've failed all the others. What's the use of trying?" As an example, I was sick on the day I took my IQ test and fell asleep during part of the exam. As a result, I was ranked as a high-grade moron.
Many of my writings are born out of my insecurities and my struggles. I want you to know there is hope. If you are going through some tough times, if it's been rough all your life, I want you to know that I understand - I've been there. I feel your hurt, because I also bleed.
But my hope for you is that you will find God in the midst of your pain or inadequacies. My wife, Sally, died from breast cancer in 2007, and it was in the few years following that I found a great closeness to God in the middle of my pain. Each day I spent time reading the Bible, especially the Psalms and the Proverbs, plus sections from the old and new testaments. Additionally I read other devotional books such as "31 Days of Praise."
I have learned that God has promised that he will continue the process of growth and change in all of us so that we will become far different from our background or pain. (See I Corinthians 15:10, Philippians 1:6, and Ephesians 3:20)
You are not trapped in your situation! God is alive and wants to help you now. Ask Him for the help you need!
From Lisa: "What will others think of me?" ~ is a question that many people, who have been abandoned by their spouse, worry about. They wonder if...
- their family will think of them as a failure, a black sheep, or a victim who needs pity?
- their in-laws will support them and still be family to them and their children? Or if they'll like the "other woman/man" better than them, and welcome them into their family?
- their friends will think they messed up and not want to be friends anymore, or that they'll try to fix them with words or actions that add more pain?
- their children will be mad at them, think of them as a bad parent who didn't do enough, and choose to like the other parent more?
- their children will grow up and become like the spouse that left, and leave their future family?
- their church friends will think of them as the poor single parent that will need help to get by daily life?
- people in general will think, "well, he/she is always bossy (overweight, boring, fill in the blank) and it's no wonder their spouse left them!"?
- their spouse ever returns, will people be mad at me for forgiving them and taking them back?
- their spouse ever returns, will people hate their spouse and not want to be friends with our family?
What matters is what you think of yourself and how you present yourself to everyone. What matters even more is what God thinks of you, and I can tell you that He loves you, no matter what you've done. Sure, you may not have been "the perfect spouse" - but it's never too late to change. Choose TODAY to live your life forward, being the person God wants you to be. Do not talk negatively about your wayward spouse in front of others, especially your children. Keep you heart open and be willing to forgive. Accept responsibility for your mistakes in the marriage, and do what you need to do to make amends and change your ways.
Look for God's daily reminders to you to live your life forward.
- Traffic lights: red = stop feeling sorry for yourself, yellow = slow down and don't worry about tomorrow, green = live your life forward!
- Check your change! Whenever you receive a Wisconsin quarter, hang on to it as a reminder to live your life "FORWARD"!
- Wearing a necklace? Whenever the clasp comes around to the front, take it and put it behind you, and live your life forward!
- Wearing a watch that can beep on the hour? Let that remind you to live your life forward hour by hour!
- When you walk through automatic sliding doors into or out of a store, let the doors close behind you, keeping your past separated from you, as you live your life forward!
I spent this past weekend in New England. The weather, the schedule, and the people were all relentless. Friday night brought torrential rain. The kind that blurs the lines on the road, turns paths into puddles, and soaks your clothes in an instant. Saturday ushered in showers throughout the day that required rain gear to move anywhere outside.
The conference schedule didn’t alter at all because of the rain. We had to move boxes from the car to the building in the rain on Friday night for setup, then dash back to our car as buckets of water poured over us. The event organizer said, “We never let weather dictate what we are going to do. We will open the doors earlier tomorrow than we planned so people can get out of the weather but we will stay on schedule!”
The people showed up eager to learn and full of questions. Every free moment was spent meeting with people, answering their inquiries, and helping them make decisions about resources that would help them become stronger people.
Life is relentless because God is relentless. The relationship God had with the nation of Israel, as described in Isaiah 3, can only be characterized as unrelenting. When the nation veered off course concluding they could make it on their own, God persistently applied His discipline. “See now, the Lord, the LORD Almighty, is about to take from Jerusalem and Judah both supply and support: all supplies of food and all supplies of water, the hero and the warrior, the judge and the prophet, the diviner and the elder . . . The look on their faces testifies against them.” (v. 1-9) He never wanted them to settle for self-sufficiency when they had His resources at their disposal. He never wanted them to settle for their limited human perspective when the all-knowing was willing to give His guidance. He never wanted them to rely on temporary assistance when the eternal God had committed Himself to their long-term well-being.
At the same time, His love constantly pursues the objects of His affection. “Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds.” (v. 10) In the midst of a tough pronouncement of judgment, the righteous are reminded of their reward. God takes a personal interest in making sure the people who respond to His love receive His favor and the resources they need to fulfill their God-given dream.
This was good for me to hear today. My life, like yours, is filled with daily chores, mundane tasks, and challenges that must be overcome even though they provide no intrinsic motivation. In addition, everyday is scattered with moral choices that impact the state of my heart. If I relentlessly pursue the best course of action, God’s love becomes obvious and effective. Just as faithfully, His discipline confronts the foolish choices that feed the desires of the flesh.
Lord, give me the longing today to experience your persistent love more often than your relentless discipline.
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