I’ve seen it now so often that I can’t keep track. I see it in women whose fridges no longer exhibit works of art in finger paint. They’re the ones who are beginning to see a little gray at their temples. These women have figured out, for better and worse, the shape and scope of their adult lives. They look at the trade-offs they have made – career for family, or vice versa – and begin to re-think them.
They feel a growing desire to bring something new into the world, and that something usually doesn’t require a diaper bag. They get flashes of insight – “Hey, I could do that?” or “I always wanted to….” or “Remember how I was so good at…” These thoughts energize and frighten them. They are women in midlife.
A few years ago, I was negotiating the cramped shoe aisles at a department store when my cell phone rang. It was my closest friend, in tears, spilling over with a story. She had just finished reading Richard Stearns’ The Hole in Our Gospel and for the first time in her life, she felt compelled to engage with people who are affected by the AIDS pandemic in Africa, especially children.
“I just never knew the scope of it,” she said.
I sat on one of the little stools in the shoe section as other shoppers picked through the boxes of snow boots and sneakers around me. “What are you going to do?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Something.”
Since then, she has done something. She’s been to Ethiopia. She’s brought formula and other supplies to orphanages, educated herself about HIV/AIDS, and has addressed local women’s groups. In a few months, she and her husband will adopt a toddler daughter from Ethiopiawho was orphaned by AIDS. My friend’s life has changed in midlife, her realm of influence has expanded from that of a woman focused on raising her family and pursuing artistic endeavors to being a voice for those who do not have the opportunity to speak for themselves. Her family portrait – quite literally – will reflect this change.
And it all started because she took note of what made her cry in midlife. Do you find yourself restless and even sometimes in tears?
Pay attention to what makes you cry.
In his book Beyond Words, Frederick Buechner wrote “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where…you should go next.”
Take heart that this new part of life is about more than you.
If you feel like a new endeavor, journey, or vocation is ahead but fear failure, remember that you are being led into a new area of influence on behalf of God and others. It’s not just about you, and you aren’t alone.
Pray for guidance and keep your eyes open to the way God answers your prayers.
That uncomfortable restlessness and that lump in your throat are painful. You likely want the answers, sent immediately via email or text message. You are willing to do whatever’s required, but can’t stand waiting to know what it is. Making a transition takes time; see how God is sustaining you in this process.
For my friend to adopt a child is a risk. To go back to work – or quit your job – write a book, start a new business, leave what is familiar to engage with those who are marginalized – these are all risks, but so is every single act of love.
May we all have clarity and faith as we approach whatever is the next chapter in our lives and expand our influence.
Jennifer Grant is the author of Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter (Thomas Nelson, 2011). She is a journalist who freelances for the Chicago Tribune and writes for Christianity Today’s her.meneutics blog. Her second book, MOMumental: Adventures in the Messy Art of Raising a Family has just been released by Worthy Publishing. Find her online at jennifergrant.com.