A dear friend and I met for a long overdue visit. As we talked about our empty nests and the resulting changes in our lives, we both admitted to a bit of disappointment.
We thought by now we would have accomplished more, obtained more wisdom. We expected to be all round more valuable, important and contributing citizens of the world by our 50s.
A more profound question followed: Is God calling us to just be… ordinary? (gasp)
Perhaps midlife crises are fueled by the eventual realization that the singular and noteworthy “me” I’ve fancied myself to be, doesn’t actually exist. Even the most successful people usually aren’t quite all they once imagined, and all this earth offers doesn’t quite measure up (read Ecclesiastes for a thorough exploration).
A presumed famine of childhood self esteem elicited the “YOU are special” slogans which have been spoon fed to us for decades. They mostly serve to inflate our egos and encourage self absorption. The culture pitched, and we swung at extraordinary lives with all we had. We believed we could “be the change” (even for Jesus), and DO BIG things! WE could be anything and expected to “have it all” along the way, if we only worked hard enough. We were special people living in special times.
“Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” (1 Corinthians 1:27)
God’s guiding me to reassess life. In the process I’ve felt detached and isolated. Perhaps the nebulous mid life I’ve always heard about is at least partially to blame. What’s happening in me? What is God saying to us in this middle ground?
It would be easier to label it, medicate it, ignore it, hide it, numb it or otherwise busy myself to the point of oblivion, but I don’t think it’s that simple. I can’t just press on as I always have. I feel drawn into a cocoon, but I’m also emerging. God is doing something different in me — creating something altogether new and beautifully ordinary.
As believers we’ve continually been maturing and being transformed (some call it sanctification) as we’ve lived through various seasons — and God’s got much more in store for us. “I will be your God throughout your lifetime–until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” (Isaiah 46:4) “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18)
The empty nest gives God a great opportunity. Ambiguity and uncertainty are a part of change. Transitions by nature are liminal or without form. On the threshold between things. In his book “In Midlife” Murray Stein describes liminality “as ‘unformedness’ likened to being the elements of life before life itself is created. It is a time before creativity, but essential to the birth of new forms. A place of the ‘naked soul.'”
Yes! That’s how I feel. An element of the already but not yet. I sense the stillness before something important happens. There’s definitely excitement and anticipation. At the same time I feel stifled and exposed. Unsure and incomplete.
The relief and pleasure of sending my children out into the world has waned, and the space I’ve provided for God to do His new thing in me causes midlife allegations to intensify: you’re aimless… invisible… your life is mundane and meaningless.
While the accusations are untrue, I’m beginning to understand in the depths of my soul just how ordinary I am. Strangely, I think that revelation is part of what God’s been growing me toward.
It’s a little disappointing, but it also takes the pressure off to achieve — more than ever before. The shallow and mundane tasks of life are ordained by God just as much as the profound and impact full “big” moments. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) The impact of my Granny’s life sure was a great example of that!
My flesh balks at the idea. There’s a part of me that still wants to buy in to the slogans — to do big things. To be renowned. First to repress my own insecurity and then to impress others with my depth and importance. My uniqueness, understanding and achievement.
That’s spiritual pride. And a great pedestal from which I can easily fall into condemning, rebuking and judging others with an utter lack of self-awareness. I’ve encountered these mature and self righteous know-it-alls (Jesus called them Pharisees). I recognize in myself a mid-life tendency to become just such a pious onlooker, and I want to do anything I can to avoid becoming that person.
My flesh may have planned to be seen as profound, wise, useful and spiritually strong. But Jesus came to us as a baby in a lowly manger and died on a cross. Matthew 10:24 says “A disciple is not above his teacher…” By His grace God continually humbles and changes me. What I really want is not for people to see me at all, but to make Jesus more widely known. To love Him more and more. To allow Him to mold me and use me however He chooses.
We are in good company when our bodies grow wrinkly, tired, stiff or sick. When we feel disconnected, invisible or discarded. Misunderstood in an unfamiliar culture where we once had a starring role. The common experiences of humanity safeguard us from self-importance and the heavy heartedness of taking ourselves and our endeavors too seriously. We might have increased limitations as we age, but not the God we serve! In thankfully surrendering to our present role in His story, we will always flourish for God’s kingdom.
God and His business are the things we need to revere and truly take seriously. Certainly not our ordinary selves. So let’s lighten up. Matthew 11:28-30 says “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
By ourselves, we’re not so special. “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” (1 Timothy 6:7) “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.” (2 Corinthians 3:5) We’re fallen. Sinful. We are ordinary people, but we’re made in the image of God. He loves each one of us exactly as we are. That’s beyond special.
To be extraordinary, we surrender to being ordinary and needy and let God work in us. “God saved us by his grace when we believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8) He even mysteriously accomplishes salvation in those He chooses, so that none of us can boast.
Saved by grace, we live by grace. Repent and give up our right to play God in our own stories. Then accept that something extra: God our creator, Jesus’ work on the cross, and the gift of His indwelling Holy Spirit — the only extra that matters in giving ordinary people extraordinary lives!
Let Him be extraordinary and give Him all glory — and the possibilities are boundless as we transition into following God into whatever next thing He has in store.
***God’s got a sense of humor. Just after I wrote the longest post ever, I found this familiar verse. God said it much more succinctly and eloquently than I in Romans 12:1-2… “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” The Bible is our best guide! AMEN!
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