I’ve been on a journey the past 12 months. Well, honestly, it’s been much longer than that, for hope and courage and fear and life circumstances from years gone by are woven into a web below the path I’ve walked recently. In recent months, these layers have all pointed to an intimacy I’d uncover with my Maker as my dreams became shards with edges sharp. Dramatic? Yes. When you’ve risked hope, and you find yourself with empty hands, it does feel quite dramatic.
I began to dance with midlife when I was 35, a bit early. Is this it? Is this really it? … and… I’ve given it my all, and it doesn’t quite feel like enough. I read a book and committed to find my identity in Christ, and that sustained me over the next several years.
But a shattered dream after months and months of hoping wakes you up to your frailty, and overnight you’re face to face with the truth that you’re really not in control — of your story, of what others think of you, of others’ behavior. At this breaking, midlife and its quiet doubt become harder to ignore.
I’ve written about my God who transcends time and prepares our hearts in advance for the pain of the now. It’s real, friends, it really is. That book I read on my own at 35? Well, a group of us read it together a few years ago. I never re-read books, but I thought it would be beneficial to open this one again because its words were so striking the first time. And my friends were reading it. Now I see God was preparing my heart for 2017. Oh, my God who transcends time and blurs the lines of present and past lessons to prepare me for tomorrow — I’m overwhelmed with His care.
So we begin here with that book — followed by two more. I can’t imagine all three will resonate with each of you, but they were part of the lifeline God held out when I felt myself sinking into my fallenness. I can’t say the order in which you read them will be magical for you, but they were for me. We’re so complex. Sometimes you need doctrine and a guidebook. Sometimes you need prose so beautiful you have to re-read its paragraphs a time or two to soak it all in. And sometimes you need a non-intimidating, friend-like writer who lays her soul out bare and gently pulls you out of yourself.
Lost in the Middle: Midlife and the Grace of God by Paul David Tripp
I sum up this book in one sentence: “Midlife reveals your idols that have always been there.” It’s a scary thing when you discover things about yourself that you never saw before. On the margins of my book, you can see my pencil scribbles (because I’m too scared to write in pen):
– where is it that you’re looking to find your value?
– self-righteousness = when my obedience is prompted only by the amount of my blessings, the blessings I define
– did I want to travel so much to earn significance?
– disconnect — numbness — lost — apathy
I imagine Tripp’s words will evoke responses different than mine, but I promise he’ll lead you boldly towards self-discovery. And when we come face to face with truths we’ve tried to cover up for years with ambitions and affections, well, our Maker and His grace become all the more beautiful, all the more sustaining.
Tripp’s guidance is rooted firmly in Scripture, and I’m amazed how he ties ancient stories I’ve heard countless times to the doubt and insecurity I’m feeling today. Over 300 pages, Lost in the Middle presents you with themes of the invincibility lie, feeling exposed, trying to make a name for yourself, suffering, identity crisis, and yes, idolatry.
I’m so glad this was the book I read first about midlife. Twice.
Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr
She stopped by with a treat for my family and a book for me before I had started healing. Grief has its stages, and I was feeling all of them — except acceptance. My friend entered my home and stepped right into my range of emotions, right into the awkwardness, armed with Falling Upward.
Richard Rohr is one of the most beautiful writers I’ve ever read. He writes of the paradox, the irony, of your faith in Christ maturing (“upward”) as a result of failing or stumbling into humility (“falling”). He speaks of our two stages of life and the rhythm of coming to terms with our own brokenness which launches us into the second half. Rohr challenges the reader to face the truth and fall well.
Hear his words:
“In most all legends and literature, sacrifice of something to achieve something else is almost always the pattern. Some kind of falling or “necessary suffering” is always programmed into the journey. It creates the whole storyline inside of which we can find ourselves. Losing, failing, falling, sin, and the suffering that comes from those experiences — all of this is a necessary and even good part of the human journey. How often did Jesus tell stories where the character does his life totally right and is, in fact, wrong; and the other who does it totally wrong ends up God’s beloved? We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.”
A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman
Self-discovery, for me, revealed a lack of humility, and it surprised me. Entitlement is hard to see in yourself. And while it’s good to face the truth, my new discoveries paralyzed me. I didn’t trust myself, my heart, my motives — so I stopped dancing — even when the rhythm begged to pulse out of me. I stopped using my voice, questioned my passion, and doubted my purpose while embracing shame. I feared the critic, and silence seemed like a more favorable option than risk-taking.
A Million Little Ways wooed me back into community. Believing I reflect the Master Artist and bear His image is an invitation to come alive despite the truth of what I’ve come through. Freeman beckons the reader to live from our facets of wholeness instead of our remnants of dysfunction. She tenderly dares, “The world needs you to come alive right where you are and not where you wish you were.”
Chasing your crazy ideas, validating the dream you just can’t shake, remembering your belovedness — Freeman calls out your art and boldly puts you back in front of the canvas. And I love her for it.
Are you waking up asking, “It this it?” Are you aching at how life has (or has not) turned out? Are you hiding in shame over how little you’ve accomplished all these years?
Or are you facing a season of suffering, desperately longing to know there’s purpose that will unfold from it?
Friend, you are so not alone. You are seen and loved and known.
Where as Lost in the Middle speaks truth boldly and helps you recalibrate your thinking, Falling Upward is like a tender song that helps you interpret your heart. And A Million Little Ways beckons you and gives you permission to find God-sustaining courage to respond to your story for the benefit of others.
I needed all three.