Turning middle-age is a chance to look inside oneself
By Karen Stiller
o, maybe I’m not going to be a rock star after all. Or sit on a couch with Oprah looking great and chuckling about my novel. I have come to realize that acceptance is part of being in one’s 40s. Coming to terms with what your life actually is compared to what you thought it might be, working through those feelings and then, hopefully, pulling your holey argyle socks up and moving along.
Maybe what is happening in these years is that we are doing the take-stock-of-life thing, reorienting, taking life’s temperature and just maybe choosing a new or slightly altered direction. This can be good and healthy. It can also be depressing as hell. Because done honestly, it inevitably means the dreaded “looking inside oneself.”
In your 40s, you’ve lived enough of life to have accumulated some road-wear. When you’re dealing with your “stuff” with a friend, the occasional therapist (highly recommended for times when life needs an oil change) or whomever it is you trust, you realize you might actually have some “stuff” to deal with. You’ve racked up some mistakes along with your first-place ribbons. And it almost inevitably means revisiting your brokenness — yet again — and maybe doing some heavy-duty soul work. You’ve probably developed some bad habits in the relationship department, some parenting patterns that involve shrieking and some coping mechanisms that depend heavily on jujubes and denial. I know I have.
By this time in my life, I have done some things I never thought I could, and things that I honestly never thought I would. I have pleasantly surprised myself with how far I could go and then amazed myself with how low I could fall. I have had a faith so strong that I have literally pictured myself curled up in God’s big, giant, soft, squishy palm, and faith so weak that I have sat in church and doubted it all, every last bit of it. I’ve seen friends rise and fall and live through despair.
When you are in those low places, places of The Great Sadness as Mack in the bestseller The Shack calls it, sometimes it may feel as though God doesn’t show up in the nick of time — at least not in the nickishness that you think God might be able to pull off. It would have been nice to look up and see God sitting on the couch beside me a couple of afternoons recently. But that sounds whiny. And it’s actually not true.
Because by the time you are in your 40s, you hopefully have gathered (along with your bruises) a few very good friends who are willing to both go bowling with you and listen to your brokenness. People with whom you can share your mistakes, who will sit and cry — then laugh — with you in a parking lot or just be honest with you about what they see in front of them. Friends like that are sharers of the sadness. And there aren’t really that many of them. You might have two of them, or maybe three.
But all you actually need is one. And, of course, that is where God does show up. God bought me a half-coffee, half-hot chocolate at Tim Horton’s just this past week as a matter of fact (and then lost his earring in my van).
So, that’s another thing I’ve seen played out in these early years of the Middle Ages: sharers of the sadness (and later, of course, the happiness) know how to show up. Again and again. We all need them. And by this time in life, we’ve got them.