What happens when we finally get what we’ve been working for during our 20s, 30s and into our 40s: The college degree or training is earned, the career success is launched, the college loans paid off, we have the marriage, the kids, the house, the car—it’s all happened. And we’re happy, right? The kids may have moved on, the house has been upgraded, the career promotions have happened, and there might even be money in the bank.
But then what?
That’s the question that torments many people who’ve reached mid-life and beyond because, whether we consciously recognize it or not, the questions swirling through our minds are often filled with sadness and disappointment: What have I accomplished? What’s left to pursue? What other goals do I have? What’s left to do now except work the grind until retirement at 65-70—and then…?
What’s the point of even getting up in the morning?
A Crisis by Any Other Name
This particular phase of life goes by many different names—the “Mid-Life Crisis,” the “Empty Nest Syndrome,” and/or the “Great Depression.” And to ease the pain of it, people often turn to other pursuits—affairs, alcohol, divorce, aimless travel, reckless adventure, pursuit of youthfulness, spending sprees, or endless therapy. But none of these things really ease the pain of this season of life because it’s caused by one thing: emptiness.
When we don’t have a goal or purpose to fulfill in life or a dream or destiny to chase, we often seek to fill that vast, fanged void with whatever it is we think will eliminate the emptiness and fulfill us: seeking a new relationship, ditching an old relationship, buying stuff, wandering the world, or even blotting out the pain with “just one” drink or pill—which becomes two or four or six… every day… as we waste away on some therapist’s couch rehashing our childhoods and blaming our mommies.
But that’s not the answer.
So what is the solution to emptiness? It’s simple: purpose. We need a purpose to fulfill in order to give life meaning and without one, we often just wither away. But in order to find purpose, we need to understand the meaning of “seasons” our lives. The Word of God talks about these seasons, different times and ages to accomplish various tasks and goals.
“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every activity under heaven—A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted; A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up… I have seen the tasks which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves… He has set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end…” (Ecc. 3:1-3, 10-11)
The Lord appoints our work and often, we understand what that is—in the early years; it’s to do what we all attempt to do: get started in life. We pursue a way to earn a living, find a spouse, raise children, get some stability—and then…? When we’ve accomplished that, we often think we’ve outlived our usefulness so we turn to other things.
However, we have not outlived our influence nor our impact. The reality is simply that we’ve completed one season in our lives and it’s time to explore the next season.
The Lord has a purpose for us and a destiny for us to fulfill and here’s the kicker: We often don’t have time to pursue that destiny until we’re finished with the full-time task of raising a family and/or finishing a career.
The Wisdom of Age
It’s interesting to note that many of the most famous movers and shakers in the Bible were people who got started pursuing their destinies later in life. And by later, I mean what our culture often considers “too late.” They also didn’t begin until they had a well-established relationship with God.
Abraham and Sarah, for example, didn’t fulfill their destiny as the parents of many nations until well after Abraham was established financially—in other words, he was rich—and had come to know and trust his God. And they weren’t the only ones: Moses didn’t return to Israel to deliver the Israelites until he was 80 years old—and until after he came to know the real God. (Remember, he was raised as an Egyptian.) Noah didn’t start building the ark until he was 120 and by then, he was recognized as a man of God, and Paul the Apostle didn’t begin serving the Lord until after he’d studied the law for many years and then had a personal encounter with Jesus.
The point is that age is not a factor, especially old age. Many cultures, particularly eastern cultures, revere their elderly much more so than western cultures. This is exceptionally smart since there’s a wisdom that comes with age which cannot be found in books. It’s called “experiential wisdom”. Sometimes, we really don’t know anything until we’ve walked through some things. And here’s the key: because of their wisdom, I believe this is why the Lord gives important tasks to people who are older; they have a greater understanding of how to fulfill their purposes and complete their assignments. Moreover—and this is the most significant thing—they’ve come to know and trust God through seasons of watching his faithfulness and learning his ways.
There’s a faith that’s built through years of walking with the Lord through good times and bad, learning that he never fails and that we can trust him—no matter what.
That’s something that we often just don’t truly understand in the springtime of our lives. We know about God’s faithfulness but we haven’t been around long enough or through enough to really have tested it, to really know it.
It’s sometimes difficult to understand the eternal purpose for the work that we do for the Lord or for the assignments that he gives us, but then that’s why Ecclesiastes says that “God has set eternity in the hearts of men.” When the going gets tough, or the job seems too big or too boring or not significant enough, we can sense that there’s something bigger at play, more important in the big scheme of things than what we can see in the natural. If we’re doing what God has assigned us to do, there’s nothing mundane or useless about it. It might be a part of something bigger, something that we might not be able to discern—yet—but will someday. We will understand our purpose as a cog in the eternal wheel of destiny and so we will, someday, hear those precious words, “’Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’”
If you believe you’ve reached the end of the path and you feel empty and irrelevant, then you’ve reached a crossroads in life. You can take the road that leads to a futile search for significance, or you can embark on a new season in your destiny, a path full of new assignments and eternal purpose.
Mid-life does not have to be a crisis.