Learning to Savor Each Stage of Life...
Life is similar to the cherry tree we once had in our front yard. First came magnificent blossoms with a sweet fragrance. Then came luxurious light green foliage, followed by the fruit enjoyed by all of us, including the robins.
As summer came, the tree provided a deep shade that covered part of the driveway. When fall advanced, the leaves changed colors and provided another spectacle of beauty. Cold days of winter caused the tree to experience a dormancy which was absolutely necessary before the new cycle could begin.
Each season of the tree had a special beauty and usefulness of its own. Life is the same. Each era of life has its own contributions and compensations. Problems arise when we fixate on only one value or purpose in life so that we don’t enjoy the characteristics of all seasons.
If we believe that a certain period of life is the only good time--for example, singleness, or child-bearing, or retirement--we will be discontented when we are not experiencing those years. As with the cherry tree, the secret to living is to enjoy the full expression of life with the attributes of each season.
We find it too simplistic to compare life to the four seasons--springtime as youth and young adulthood, summer as midlife, autumn as retirement, and winter as old age and death. It is more accurate to see each age as the cycles seen in the cherry tree.
For example, there are times in all the stages when there is a new start, a blossoming, but there are also periods of fruit-bearing and great productivity. There are times of shading and sheltering other people, as well as experiences of barrenness and rest, getting ready for another surge of growth.
These cycles occur in every stage of life. The midlife person who is rethinking values and restructuring life may be experiencing one of those dry and barren times that becomes a launching pad for a new round of blossoming and fruit-bearing. Each season of life has something to offer. As we understand each season, we will better understand ourselves and people around us.
The Dream Years
The early twenties are marked by setting a life direction or forming a dream. It’s the time of firming up values and deciding what is important related to career, family, and interpersonal relationships. Basically, young adults are answering the question, "What will I do with the rest of my life?" This vision that is forming will probably govern life for the next twenty years.
Life in the early twenties is marked with many changes because of the forming dream. This is when most people marry, start a family, and start careers.
The late twenties to early thirties is a time when the early twenties’ dream is reevaluated. This is an urgent time. There’s a desire to get settled into a home, make sure the career is coming along, and possess a sense of identity in the community and with friends. The person is asking, "How well am I progressing in the direction of my dream of the early twenties?"
During the twenties time is often regarded in a future sense. A lot of life is yet to be lived. People are able to put up with limitations because they expect the future to be better.
The thinking of the twenties is quite black-and-white. Everything has easy, precise answers. Life is very busy, but it hasn’t become terribly complex yet. Not until the person has moved into the middle years will he begin to wrestle with life’s deep and perplexing issues which often do not have simple answers.
The early adult years are marked by hope, a futuristic outlook, a fairly clear-cut dream, and a great deal of energy. The limitations are lack of life experience and the tendency to see life through black-and-white glasses.
The Productive/Anxious Years
The middle thirties through the late fifties are marked by two extremes--great productivity and great anxiety. Generally, the thirties and the fifties are the productive years, whereas the late thirties and early forties are often the anxious years.
The fifties also tend to be highly productive. Generally, both men and women have passed through their midlife reevaluation and are now using their wisdom and experience to make a significant impact. They have prioritized their lives, thrown away unnecessary obligations, and focused their energies on their redefined dreams.
The productivity of the thirties seems to be characterized by doing everything at once. Energy is boundless and opportunities are abundant. The productivity of the fifties comes out of more life experience and wisdom. Energy is not limitless, but wisdom and refined focusing often make this second productive era the most effective.
Anxiety. The anxious years are generally the late thirties or early forties for a woman and the early to mid-forties for a man. A period of stress due to menopause may also occur in the late forties or early fifties for women.
Women usually experience a midlife reevaluation in their late thirties or early forties as they rethink their marriage--if married, their career, children, themselves, and their beliefs. They ask, "Who am I? What have I accomplished? What am I going to do with the rest of my life?"
The man in his early to mid-forties will ask the same kinds of questions. In addition, he will be concerned with "How long do I yet have to live?"
This time of rethinking life can become what we have identified as a midlife crisis. For a period of time a breakdown may occur in the individual’s lifestyle and thinking patterns. The person may make some desperate changes and be characterized by deep depression or a desire to escape.
The late forties or nearly fifties are marked by menopause for a woman. She may experience a hormone imbalance at about the same time her lasts child leaves home. She may find herself readjusting in her marriage, becoming an in-law, and becoming a grandparent, at the same time her hormone imbalance is producing states of depression, loneliness, and bewilderment.
People in the anxiety years of life need understanding, encouragement, and support. They need to feel God saying to them, "I will not leave you nor forsake you" (Joshua 1:5).
The Reflective Years
People reevaluate their life direction several times in life and ask, "How am I doing?" Some of these periods are in the late twenties or early thirties, at midlife (late thirties to mid-forties), and at retirement. A final reevaluation comes at the point of the mate’s death of just before one’s own death.
During the early evaluation times people are looking forward to the future. Midlife evaluation is a concentrating on the present. The reflective years at the end of life are a time of looking at the full span of life with a past and present focus as well as a future focus into eternity.
This reflective age group has a lot to offer to younger age groups because they have a time focus that sees all of life. They’re well beyond the competitive emphasis of the young adult or early midlife person. They have accumulated life experience and are able to look at life issues with an understanding of their complexity and gray areas.
It is important for this age group to sense that they have a place in life and a continued contribution to make. It is also important for them to continue focusing away from physical performance toward mental and spiritual abilities. making friends in younger generations will help to provide a broad focus for friendships as well as an opportunity to minister and encourage the younger men and women. As we understand that each age group, like the cherry tree, makes a special contribution, we will come to value each age group.
The Bible says, "For the Lord is always good. He is always loving and kind, and His faithfulness goes on and on to each succeeding generation" (Psalm 100:5).
Conway / Farrel Articles ~ Reprint by permission only, ©2011
Midlife Dimensions ~www.Midlife.com
The Conways and Farrels are international speakers and popular authors.
Midlife Dimensions is a ministry founded by the Conways and continued by the Farrels.