Okay, forgive me. I realize that my last blog was supposed to be #2/2 of my reflections from my conference last week. But I just can't quit ruminating and marinating on what I heard. So this is #3/3--forgive my tardy posting, as well. It's been a nutty day.
In thinking about the "mid-life crisis" phenomenon, I am reminded of something that was shared briefly at the conference I attended last week. The comment was shared by Bill Hybels, Founder and Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago (I blogged about Pastor Hybels at length in my prior post, and here I go again--he made an impression). Pastor Hybels asked us whether we think leaders and/or their visions are most vulnerable to problems, struggles, and set-backs at the start of their ministry, in the middle, or near the end. I thought the answer would be, "near the end," for a few reasons. First, you're tired at the end. Secondly, you get lazy when you're near the end of a journey or mission (you've almost reached your goal, so you pull back a little--or maybe even a lot). Thirdly, as Ephesians 6:12 warns us, the enemy knows you are about to achieve something great, and he goes into full throttle trying to attack and prevent it from coming to fruition (kind of his last ditch effort at wrecking your vision or life's purpose). But the correct answer was, "in the middle," according to Pastor Hybels. Turns out, all my reasons were right, but they apply more accurately to the middle season of a journey, not the end.
Pastor Hybels explained that his research, experience, and knowledge from a lifetime spent in ministry and leadership have shown him clearly that a leader is most vulnerable to attack and failure in the middle of their quest for success than at any other point in their life. He explained that when you are in the middle of your journey towards a goal, you have less energy to drive and motivate you than you do at the start when you are fresh and excited to begin the new venture. This is probably why "rookies" get teased so much by mid-seasoners (who are jealous of the zeal and obvious "spit 'n vinegar" attitude of the newbies--theirs is long gone, and the naivete` of a rookie is pretty hard to resist when you're a jaded mid-lifer)! You also have less energy in mid-season than you do at the end when you can see the finish line and you are able to dig deep for the last bit of endurance to push across it. He added that the middle is tougher than the beginning and end for lots of other reasons--you're faced with the fact that you've weathered some losses. You've had to pay for some stupid mistakes. You've suffered some betrayals, and you've lived through many disappointments. Some of your dreams (perhaps all of them) haven't become realities. You are also very aware that you've got a lot of years left and you've been sold the belief that those years are going to be the hardest (obviously, our society doesn't smile upon being "old"). All of that has just worn you out and beat you down. He closed out his short discussion on this topic by saying something very positive that really hit home with me though. He said, "But it is in this middle season when looking back, you realize God just carried you. He so protected you."
I thought a great deal about this topic of the "middle" season after the conference--how it really is a tough one. It is quite a lot like the confusion of adolescence. You aren't fully mature yet, but you aren't a little kid anymore, either. When you hit forty, you clearly aren't that dumb, whimsical, "the world is my oyster" person you were in your twenties and thirties. As Pastor Hybels said, you're just tired. You've paid dues and been dealt some tough cards. The freshness and newness of life has long passed, making you somewhat seasoned (and sadly, maybe a little cynical). But you can't see what is ahead or the end yet, either. You're too old to wear a mini skirt, but too young to wear Clarks. But seriously, it is a complex locale in which to find yourself. It is also in this mid-season when you realize the end isn't that far off because the first forty years have gone by pretty quickly. So pondering that reality can be additionally hard at times. You're invincibility has long faded and you are suddenly quite aware of your mortality (and that of your nearest and dearest loved ones--namely, your parents, who you could lose at any moment and have no idea how you will ever live without them. You never have).
This idea of the mid-season being tougher can truly be applicable anywhere--marriage, college, career, child-rearing, friendships, you name it. It dawned on me that though Pastor Hybels was speaking specifically to ministry or leadership when he touched on this idea, it actually applies everywhere. The middle season of any journey or goal, no matter how short or long, truly is where the rubber meets the road. I think this is why so many marriages fail after 20 years, when you would think they were invincible. This has got to explain to some degree why many parents start to lose their kids when they hit puberty. I know it is why I got my first and only "C" in college in my 2nd year (I know, I know--you're playing your miniature violin right now). But it is all too often so true--we just get weary, bored, discontent, and disillusioned at times in the middle. We grow weak and lazy, as well. We get overly comfortable, and we take people and things for granted. It all just becomes so common-place.
I have to rant a little at this juncture. I do think our society truly sucks at making age seem like a fine wine--especially for women. We're supposed to work, raise kids, serve our community, work in our church, take care of our neighbors, love our family, spend time investing in friends, cook, clean, exercise, shop, and look attractive--all the while keeping a smile plastered on our faces (and it better be a genuine one)! After all that, we better not have acquired any unsightly wrinkles, bags, or frown lines. God forbid any of that hard work, selflessness, and genuine love show up on our faces (and God forbid our breasts sag after nursing our children for better immunity and health). Sorry--did I say that out loud?! Did I mention we can get crabby in the mid-season, too? Reminds me of the Fleetwood Mac song, "Landslide," with the lyrics, "time makes you bolder, children get older, and I'm getting older, too." Older and bolder--well, there's one catch phrase I rather like. If we can't be bolder as we get older, what is the point?! We've earned some crabbiness!
I was approached recently by a "twenty something" in the mall. He was an attractive, rather smart bloke who was trying fervently to sell me some hand lotion (you know the booth--the Dead Sea Miracle Potion one). I found myself wondering if all the claims he was making about the product were true. Could I afford to buy enough to dip my entire body in this stuff? I don't know why I got caught in this guy's web. I usually avoid these people like the plague by looking down, walking far out of their line of attack, and my best trick--pretending I didn't hear them yelling, "Excuse me, Ma'am, could I talk to you for a moment???!!!" Well, he kept complimenting me (where are my darn hip waders when I need them) and somewhat "hitting on" me even. I was kind and flattered to a point, but I really just wanted to get away and get on with my do list. Then he hits me with, "How old are you?" I replied, "Old enough to be your mother." He says, "Nahhh...seriously, how old are you?" I said, "Forty two." He said, "Well you're sure hot for forty-two--I never would have guessed it." I said, "Oh, goodness. I don't know about that. I'm an old lady, but you're awfully kind." Then he said, "Well, you've still got 8-10 good years left in you, so live it up and enjoy life!" So much for flattered. All I heard was, "8-10 good years." All his previous kind words (or sales tactics--however you wanna look at it), went right out the window. The "8-10 good years left," was all that resonated (and resonated, and resonated). I didn't buy his stupid hand lotion (but you probably guessed that). I did what any normal, intelligent 42-year old would do after being told that. I went to Dairy Queen.
But I think that pretty much sums up our society's opinion of mid-life, and certainly senior-life. They aren't "the good years" according to anyone who is hip or cool. As my mother says, "Growing old isn't for sissies!" Mom's always right. I guess Pastor Hybels would agree. They are the hard years in many ways. They are the "rubber meets the road" years. But finding the good in them is the key, and being aware that they are the hard years is even more crucial. The best way to combat anything is with knowledge. Knowledge is power. Now...where's my Prozac. (Just kidding).