A Woman, Her Mid-Life Crisis, & the Bible

As I've read through this "Women Helping Women" book that I began last week (I'm loving it, by the way-- and I highly recommend it!), I've been struck by one thing in particular. Though I've read about many different difficult life circumstances and how to biblically serve and counsel the women in each situation, the one that has been the most sad to me is the woman who is caught off-guard at mid-life.
  • Perhaps she's peri-menopausal and has pursued her career all this time and now is faced with the fact that she can't have biological children.
  • Perhaps her children have been the center of her life and identity and now she has an empty nest.
  • Perhaps her husband has left her and "traded her in" for a younger, newer model.
  • Perhaps she's always been admired for her external beauty and now must face the reality of her declining physiology.
  • Perhaps caring for aging parents catches her off-guard and attacks her sense of peace and security, as well as wearing her out physically, emotionally, and mentally.
  • Often the years seem to have passed too quickly and she may feel used up
Whatever the case, the mid-life "crisis" is indeed something we need to brace ourselves for-- and try to prepare for, I think.

The facts are these:
  1. There are chemical changes going on with women at this point. They are real. They are (from what I read, understand, and have seen) difficult to deal with. They are unpredictable and maddening at times.
  2. There are almost always significant life changes going on with women at this point. They are sometimes heart-wrenching and nearly always leave women to have to find something new on which to focus.
  3. God has provided a specific role for women at this age. Titus 2 gives maturing, experienced women a new place to invest... once they have raised their own families, managed a household, and lived as a disciple of Christ, they are to invest in passing that wisdom and the things that they've learned to younger women. God has given the middle-aged woman an important job! This is not the time to check out, or to disengage. When we reach this stage, we must remember that we are still desperately needed in the battle!
A LOOK AT NAOMI'S MID-LIFE CRISIS
Last night, while listening to Doug read the story of Ruth to the children during family Bible time, I was struck by the fact that Naomi is a classic biblical example of a mid-life crisis gone right. Incredibly difficult things had happened in her life and caused her to despair. She was stuck in a season of bitterness and dejection. She was so physically altered from her younger years that her friends asked each other, "is that really Naomi?" Her husband and sons had all died, her beauty, youth, and vitality was apparently gone, and her situation seemed hopeless.

Not only was Naomi in the throes of a very difficult season of life, but she was also stuck with two grieving, pagan daughters-in-law. She could take no more and decided to go home to Bethlehem. Though she urged them to remain in their home land, they journeyed on with her. After another urging, one of the young woman, Orpah, decided to return home. (An interesting sidenote: apparently, Jewish sages contend that Orpah was the grandmother of Goliath.)

BUT THEN THERE WAS RUTH...
But Ruth gave Naomi's life new hope. We see here what a breath of fresh air a younger woman can be for an older woman! To be loved, to be needed, to feel relevant and like you have something to offer-- Ruth gave Naomi all of these things. Naomi may have died quickly after her journey back to Bethlehem had it not been for Ruth... as we read of Ruth out scavenging through fields, it seems that Naomi was physically exhausted and amazed at Ruth's provision-- something she could not have done for herself. Naomi also seems to lack joy in her heart that would give her the motivation to make a life "from scratch" in Bethlehem. But Ruth gives her the motivation she needs.

BLESSING UPON BLESSING
And as Ruth pours her life and heart into helping and serving Naomi, Ruth is blessed in remarkable and eternal ways. But, conversely, as Naomi pours her life and heart into Ruth, Naomi is blessed. Blessed far beyond anything she could have ever done in Moab with two pagan sons in a pagan land. In fact, without Ruth's tenacity, we likely wouldn't even know that Naomi existed. And though Naomi isn't actually in the blood lineage of Christ, she becomes a fellow mother-in-law alongside a great woman of faith, the prostitute Rahab (Boaz's mother). Not only that, but she serves as grandmother to the grandfather of King David!

What an amazing "second half" of life God gave to Naomi! (In fact, a book has been written on that very theme: Second Calling: Passion and Purpose for the Rest of Your Life.) We need to take this to heart and not look with sadness at growing older-- though our culture SCREAMS in our ears that we become less and less beautiful, less and less useful, and less and less valuable as we age-- and instead, purpose that we will invest in others and continue to be used by God, maybe even more mightily in the second half of life.

I can't speak for you, but I pray that God will grow my usefulness and ability to love, minister, and effectively reach younger women as I grow older. I pray that I won't fall into a "carefree retirement", or like the book of Titus warns about, become an old biddy who takes more delight in having fun with wine than in pouring my heart and life out for the next generations. Father, keep us from it! Help us to remember how you took Naomi-- a broken, tired, bitter older woman-- and used her gloriously in Your incredible plan for humanity! Grow us into useful, godly older women, I pray!


Related reading: Putting Age in Perspective

16 comments:

MacCárthaigh Family said...

Just popping by to wish you and yours a happy 4th of July from Ireland!
Ruth

Emma said...

This post was really interesting to me, Jess. My MIL has been going through a mid-life crisis and it has nearly destroyed my FIL. She ended up divorcing her husband of 30 years (because she no longer loved him), totally changed her appearance (lost a lot of weight, changed her style of dress, began to dye her hair and wear makeup (which she had been vehemently opposed to most of her life), and returned to school to get a masters in psychology. In my heart of hearts, I feel like this was a result of her becoming a grandmother two years ago, but she's never said so. I wish that she would read this book! I certainly will.

Sarah said...

I'm going to forward this on to my mom - very good! A sidenote - we just read the "Ruth" story yesterday and I was struck by both Naomi and Ruth - and how blessed that they are in the lineage of Jesus!

Chris said...

Hey Jess! Happy 4th!
I was excited when I saw the post that referenced Ruth and Naomi. We just talked about their story in the Bible study I am leading this summer. What an incredible story and I love your insight! Isn't it so cool how relevant God's word is and how the OT ties to the NT!!!
Thanks again, my friend.
Jamie

Catherine R. said...

Jess, I think you really have natural counseling abilities and it's great that you are sharpening your skills.

I am somewhat fearful of the midlife phase when I think about it. I look at my mother who has been divorced numerous times and lives by herself... she spent all my life pushing me away because I was an annoyance to her and now she complains that I don't call her as she is clearly reaping what she sowed in the form of loneliness and alienation in these years of declining physical vitality. She probably wishes she forged meaningful bonds with her children when she was instead irritated that they came between her and her shirtless boyfriends.

Clearly, it is not too early to reflect on those years to come.

Gina@Chats With An "Old Lady" said...

I am not quite there in midlife, but am about to enter into this in the not so distant future. I am in full blown perimenopause and I can tell you that there is no book, or person, (as it is different for each womam, I am finding) that can prepare you for what you experience as your hormones begin to go crazy. There is no body that can really explain to you what it is like to watch your child turn 18 and become a young adult right in front of you. You can read about it, have a lot of theories, and think that you will do it a certain way...but there is really nothing that can prepare you for what it is like...except one thing. God. The one thing I am holding on to is that God has walked me through each season of my life. No one could have prepared me for the birth of our first born or explained what it felt like to be exhausted and to have postpartum depression. But God ushered me through it. As many wonderful parenting books as I read, no one could have prepared me for what it feels like when a child resists you and isn't "textbook"! But God has ushered us through it...and has given us wisdom...and is working in our children's hearts right before our eyes. The bottom line is that we need God TODAY. We need to be faithful to HIm today. Then, we need to remember how faithful He has been and cling to that as we enter each season. As much as we "prepare" ourselves, the "entering in" to each season is something that will be new to each of us, and we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. That is the key!

Bethany Hudson said...

This was SUCH a meaningful post for me, Jess. My poor mother is a Naomi right now. I was the center of her life (her only child), but now I'm married with a baby of my own and living 3,000 miles away. My father left her and is marrying a woman half his age. She really doesn't have any Christian support, other than a couple of her sisters who are both swamped with their own midlife issues! But, I have marvelled at how God has met her during this time--she has not become bitter but more and more generous, even when she's at the breaking point. I am in awe of how she has continually surrendered to God, letting him transform her, rather than her circumstances. Thanks for the reminder that it isn't only us young'uns who need help. :)
~Bethany

Julie said...

Hey Jess--I like the new blog style! :)

Also--I really appreciated how you shared what you learned about the approaching mid-life years BUT also shared what God showed you in the book of Ruth. It's nice to think ahead a bit, but as an earlier commenter wrote--it's hard to really know how you'll handle something until you're smack in the middle of it.

But what you shared about Ruth was encouraging to me, as a younger woman.

We've been in a new town/church for a year now, and there are many women my mother's age who are lonely for children who have gone on to college or moved away. Instead of waiting for them to initiate conversation or a relationship, perhaps I should be reaching out to them and trying to encourage them through this transition in their lives. What a blessing that would be to ME!

Jess said...

I hope it doesn't come across as though I'm making a firm declaration of "this is how it's gonna be" when I hit that time in life... how could I do that?

At the same time, I do think, just like with any other life transition, that there are things we can do now-- like thinking about what's most important in life, like being sure to not over-emphasize children to the detriment of a marriage, like clinging to Christ for our self-worth-- that will indeed make things less difficult in many ways.

Just like with having your first baby, or what I would imagine it's like to lose someone close to you, there isn't any way to "know"... but there are ways to prepare our hearts and minds to respond correctly and biblically to trials and tragedy when they come... and THAT's what I want to do.

I don't want to act like a know-it-all. Surely I don't know a thing about personally walking through a mid-life "crisis". But I DO want to start thinking about it now so that it doesn't catch me as much off-guard.

Additionally, like you mentioned, Julie, I want to think about how I can potentially befriend a woman who may be in this season and feel like young women aren't interested in what she has to say.

Thanks as always for the discussion, ladies.

Word Warrior said...

Jess,

I wanted to ask you about your blog background...I've tried to no avail to copy the code and can't get it to work. Any hints? Thanks ;-)

Jess said...

Yup. Go to squidfinger.com And view the "patterns" (one of the top tabs). There are skads of designs worth using. :)

Gina@Chats With An "Old Lady" said...

I have found this conversation interesting, as I know that when I was younger I would think about how I would do things as I looked ahead, and when I reached that season it was so different than I imagined. I think that what you might be saying,Jess, is that you want to EQUIP yourself. That is a good thing. We can be equiped by reading about it, and talking to women who have "been there"...but the going through it and experiencing it is something we just can't prepare ourselves for or understand until we are there. So, you are doing a good thing by equiping yourself. But then we have to prepare ourselves for the unknown of what it will be like to go through it.

I really think that it is so important to show women in midlife crisis or menopause such grace. It is such a hard time! I want to encourage you younger ones to show your moms or mother in laws a huge amount of grace...even if they are not dealing with it as graciously as you may think they should. It is hard hard hard! As much as we try to not make our kids "everything"...if motherhood has been a calling, the children have been an all consuming "job"...24 hours a day on call...they are a part of you. There is no way to move into the season of them leaving the nest without pain. YOu may have a strong marriage and hobbies etc, and yet your kids are still a part of you and your family unit has been just that...a family unit. When one of the family is no longer sleeping under your roof, there is pain...and a sense of loss. It is an adjustment! We need to allow these women to feel that...and pray for them. It's normal! So I guess that the older women need prayer and encouragement just as much as the younger, because we are entering into unknown seasons as well!

YOu are doing a good thing by thinking this through.

Anonymous said...

I'm turning 40 next year, so who knows? My midlife crisis may be just around the corner.

I have thought about this prospect before. For me, the answer is that simple cliche: growing old sure beats the alternative.

My mother and my mother's sister both died before the age of 50. They didn't live to see their children married or grandchildren born.

I plan to keep that in mind if I ever start feeling sad about aging.

Trivia: Apparently Oprah's parents intended to name her after Orpah, but misspelled the name on her birth certificate.

Laurie B

Lylah said...

this very excellent post - by the way is why - as a menopausal mom, titus 2 woman - is emphatic about all women knowing how to become an on-purpose woman -who knows WHO they are, WHOSE they are and WHERE they are headed. living life on-purpose is my theme.

bless u...as you find the REST. lylah

Bethany Hudson said...

Hi Jess,
I know you're on sabbatical, but I just wanted to let you know that I nominated you for the Brilliante Weblog Award. Check out my site for details :)
http://applecidermama.blogspot.com
In Christ,
Bethany

dawn said...

thanks for this post! i`m turning 39 tomorrow and while 40 doesn`t sound nearly as old as it used to, i find that i`ve been given to much reflection on my life thus far for some time now. and i`m very weepy...i managed to waste a good portion of the precious time God has given me and it just really hit me this morning that you just can`t get it back, so what you do with it while you have it is so very important. i have a 10 yr old dd who is beginning to change into a young woman, which is hard for me, and a 2 yr old ds who is about more than i can handle most days. and 3 stepsons who are 16, 18 & 20 and that`s a whole other crazy part of my life. i feel so mixed up and strange, like i`m living someone else`s life. your post and the comments have encouraged me to lean on the Lord and look at this approaching new season of my life as a blessing and not as something to be feared. thank you!