Friday, July 4, 2008

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!
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 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.

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


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