A strange thing happened to me after years of good work. I began to feel … well … unsettled. And yet I had been doing the same thing for almost two decades. You’d think I would be settled by now. Everything was going well; it’s not that I was having ‘escapist’ feelings. I remember one friend saying, ‘Well Dan, you are in a good spot. Congratulations.’ Yes, things were good. I did notice, though, that I was feeling quite tired. Not the kind of tiredness that a good night’s sleep would eradicate, or even a nice two-week vacation. But a tiredness that was deeper than that. I had to get a pillow from home and a thin mat, and would lay down on my office floor mid afternoon for a 20 minute ‘power nap,’ just to keep going. Weird; I never had to do that before.
It had been great serving God through my church. We were blessed with four children. The pastoral staff were more than co-workers, they felt like good friends. The church was growing; we’d relocated campuses and build a new facility. Attendance was 1200. I was happy, fulfilled. Sure, I had had to deal with the typical problems that come with people, but that was part of the territory, and I knew that. I had had a particularly difficult and painful challenge which had taken about three years to get through, but I was past that now.
So what’s this feeling arising? I felt a growing yearning for a ‘time out.’ I remember praying, ‘Lord, I’d like a time out, not a burn out.’ I had seen other leaders go through burn out, and I did not want to go there. I felt a growing yearning to stop the treadmill, get off and re-think, be refreshed, to learn again, but this time deeper.
Strange thoughts emerged; not bad thoughts, but just thoughts I had not had before. Like, “What’s next?” and “Do you really want to do this the rest of your life?” and “I wish I had the time to read and reflect; but I’m too busy for that.” These thoughts were unsettling.
… a year later …
God granted my request; I was able to take a year’s sabbatical and pursue doctoral studies in leadership. I discovered that there is a general pattern in how God works in people over their lifetime, and that somewhere in midlife everyone comes to a point of pausing … thinking … reflecting … wondering … yearning. ‘Midlife’ is not a specific chronological number, but generally sometime between 40 and 60. I looked at the research, compared it with my life, and sure enough there I was right on schedule — aged 42 when I had prayed the prayer.
I found out it is normal to have these strange thoughts and feelings at midlife. They are deep questions, not quickly answered. It requires a journey, a unique midlife journey. Deep reflection, wise input, courageous actions – these are necessary for the midlife journey. The stats are that only 1 out of 4 can figure out this journey on their own. Three out of 4 people at this time in life need help with a guided process.
I’m 57 now. I’ve been thinking and experiencing this midlife shift for 15 years. And things are much clearer now. I love talking with people in these midlife decades.
So maybe you are having unsettling thoughts and feelings. I have come to realize that they are a gift from God, an invitation to think again about life, deeply. Because the good news is that your best contribution is likely to be in the second half of life; but you will need to go deeper to accomplish it.
What are some of the ‘strange thoughts’ and feelings you have experienced at midlife? Post your comment below, and I will respond. Let’s talk about this.