Welcome to our series on the beautiful midlife season! We will explore all the blessings, challenges, and changes that accompany this time in a woman's life, from the physical, to the relational, to the spiritual, and more. Come with your questions in the comments!
The Middle Ages is a period of time in European history that began with the fall of the Roman Empire and continued through to the Renaissance. Much like the historical time period, the middle ages in human development brings with it a leaving behind old ways, and invites a newness of thought and priorities. The term "renaissance" actually means "rebirth." Similarly, this time between the ages of 40 and 60 can best be navigated when viewed as a time for rediscovery, recommitment, or rebirth of the self.
One of the phenomena in American culture most associated with being middle-aged is the mid-life crisis. This psychological crisis is stereotyped often as the middle-aged man who divorces his wife of 25 years, picks up a young trophy wife, and buys a flashy sports car. Although some of us may know individuals who show some of these behaviors, more commonly the middle years force us into a healthy examination of our own life—including our bodies, goals, and achievements. The crisis occurs when our expectations of our life don’t meet with reality and we reject the chance to grow and, instead, we regress.
Another popular notion of mid-life is the empty-nest syndrome. This refers to feelings of life dissatisfaction following the raising of children. A couple devotes their life to a very child-centered way of living and once the children are gone, the couple finds themselves without a sense of purpose or even a sense of self. In reality, many families find themselves with adult children at home, still desiring that their children be more independent.
In both these scenarios, the dissatisfaction comes from a disconnect between expectations of reality. Many had idolized visions of what life would look like when they reached midlife, without taking into consideration normal human development.
Midlife Psychological Changes
As we enter the middle years, there are fundamental things about our body and mind that change. We see changes in hormones and subsequent changes in sleep, hair loss/greying, sex drive, cognitive challenges, weight gain, loss of muscle mass, and hearing and vision difficulties. Some also struggle with unfulfilled dreams leading to further disappointment. All of this can lead to isolation, depression, an increase in stress, and general feelings of dissatisfaction.
Living All of Life for the Beloved
The reality of midlife can be beautiful, especially for those who strive to live a life in Christ. In the early years of adulthood, it is easy to be focused on physically providing for and caring for others, leaving little time or energy to spare.
Midlife brings with it a different set of challenges, but those too can be opportunities for greater spiritual growth. In fact, there is little stability in religious identity in midlife; only about 20% of individuals remain stable. The other 80% split relatively equally between those who see a decline in their faith versus those who see an increase in their faith life. The trajectories for faith development seem to be influenced by the events experienced (for example, the death of a loved one or children and family dynamics).
The biological changes can also act as a catalyst for deeper spiritual growth and a renaissance of our spiritual selves as we examine our lives, even our own mortality, and we make changes in order to grow closer to and in deeper intimacy with Our Beloved.
Being Aware of and Attentive to the Shifts
Having an awareness of the biological and social changes of midlife gives us a chance to be intentional about how we respond. These responses are influenced by our attitude, which in turn will either help us to navigate this stage successfully or not.
For instance, if we see that we are experiencing cognitive difficulties, rather than letting the changes discourage us we can start to be intentional about using our brain more (not less) and trying to challenge it in new ways.
If we notice our bodies are hurting from inactivity, we can commit to moving more intentionally during the day.
When we notice our metabolism changing, we can change our diet to meet the metabolic needs of our stage in life.
One of the first changes I recognized was a problem with my sleep. I committed to regular sleep times, spoke with my doctor, made lifestyle changes, and adjusted my attitude such that sleepless time at night became quiet prayer time that I embraced.
A Great Gift
Midlife brings with it social, emotional, physical and even spiritual challenges. It can also be a time of internal quiet, reflection, and recommitment to what really matters. Our vision of health shifts away from vanity to longevity. We gain wisdom given as a gift and practiced through decades of living.
Consider approaching midlife as a time of renewal, or even a rebirth, rather than rebelling against nature. Find the beauty in this time and embrace your continued growth of mind, body, and spirit.