Midlife, Unwelcomed Interruption or Adventure?

I reached my fortieth birthday with anticipation and optimism assuming I was prepared for the midlife transition. After all, I had “THE Dr. Jim Conway” as a personal mentor. Jim and I talked extensively about the “forces” that put pressure on people to become self-absorbed and discontent during their midlife years which include career re-evaluations, physical changes, and developmental mandates. I was confident that I had a clear perspective on my next season of life and would make the most of the changes that were sure to come.

One force I was sure wouldn’t be much of a problem was the process of re-evaluating my career focus because there is a legacy in my family of doing what you love. My dad worked as an aerospace engineer and considered it a privilege. He could often be heard to say, “I can’t believe they pay me to do this.” When he hit midlife and asked himself, “Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life?” he quickly answered, “Yes!” with great enthusiasm. As a result, I had an instinct for pursuing work that was personally satisfying.

In my early twenties, I worked for an architectural drafting firm. It was fun but lacked the strong sense of satisfaction I had seen in my dad’s career. I decided to go back to school, finish my education, and start a career in ministry. In typical male fashion, I concluded, “That is taken care of. I can check it off my list until retirement.”

Life was great for the next twenty years working as a Youth Pastor, and then as Lead Pastor, which was demanding but fulfilling. Even though it required more effort and more hours, being a Pastor felt easier than being a draftsman. I was in “the groove” and thought life would be like this forever.

Then IT happened! I was forced to re-evaluate my career as I gave up my position as a pastor to become a full-time writer and conference speaker with my wife, Pam. Conference work lacked the oomph of leadership that I was accustomed to. I certainly couldn’t “boss my wife around” and my life became filled with short-term working relationships, rather than long-term interactions with employees and volunteers working toward a common goal. I tried reasoning with it in my head but these forces do not listen to logic. I had no reason to complain because I had good work to do, but it’s NOT what I originally set out to do!

Part of me saw this as an adventure because I knew I was approaching the season of life with the greatest potential for influence. Part of me, however, saw this as an unwelcomed interruption to my life as I knew it. I didn’t realize how vulnerable I was in this area. I was in my mid-forties and I was feeling more discontent than I ever had before.

I was comfortable in the role of full-time pastor and part-time speaker with Pam. I wanted both careers and I was frustrated that it couldn’t happen. Restlessness arose in my soul and it became hard to think clearly and make sound decisions. I began to experience the feelings that cause men to bail out on the life they have spent decades building. I remember thinking, My life is important and people are depending on me — but this doesn’t feel very good. Everyone just says I need to stop complaining and stay focused. I have been focused my whole life! I wonder if anyone really cares?

Fortunately, I recognized the danger of these thoughts and asked God to give me a verse that would guide me during this transition. I wanted one to jump out from the Bible as if God was handing it to me personally. In His faithfulness, Psalm 32:8-9 stood out!

Verse 8 was comforting, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” I needed to hear that God saw what I was going through and was committed to help me navigate the transition. Verse 9 was a little insulting, “Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.”

I remember my reaction vividly, “Lord, you just called me stubborn. I’m not stubborn!” The thought echoed in my mind like a voice in a canyon, “Yes you are, Bill. Nice try — but you really are stubborn.”

I needed to hear both verses because I was stubborn and selfishly demanding personal fulfillment. In other words, I wanted God to consult me before He decided His will for my life. Those two verses became my focal point throughout my career re-evaluation because I did not want to create a bunch of regrets. When I felt lost I would remember, “I will instruct you.” When I felt agitated or impatient I would replay, “Do not be like the mule.”

Midlife will always be a time of transition for people. It can be a time of great discovery and boldness or a time of discouragement and brokenness. Personally, I’m thankful that I knew to call out to God for guidance. If you’re in the midst of a life transition, call out to God today and ask Him to give you a verse that speaks directly to your heart and keeps you focused. If you already made a mess of life during your transition, call out to God today and ask Him to give you a verse that will show you how to walk the road of redemption as God faithfully works to repair the damage that was done. Maybe you can even start with posting Psalm 32:8-9 on your bathroom mirror, and allow it to lead you.