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Reframing The Midlife Crisis - The February Beagle



Slowly discern a life, a truth, a way,

Where simple being flowers in delight.

Then let the chaff of life just blow away.


Malcolm Guite, from his poem - Psalm I: I Beatus vir qui non abati

 

Hello my dear friends,

I loved hearing from some of you last month, about your lives, what you're pondering and how your life looks. It makes me deeply happy to know the Beagle is a little ray of sunshine in your world.


I've just turned 52 and accordingly have been in a more than usual reflective mood. I talk the thoughts I'm putting here over on an Instagram LIVE if you prefer to watch and listen, I also expound a little bit more.


Have you ever been exploring a park, city or the wilds of a shopping centre? You'll sometimes find helpful location boards which enable you to get your bearings. Knowing where you are can help you retrace where you've come from and the steps you need to take to get to where you need to be.


A little exercise I've been doing for several years which I found quite sobering the first time is to imagine a horizontal line with a scale along it from zero to one hundred, and then to place myself along it where my current age sits.

It's confronting to see it like that isn't it. This is the point where many people have what's termed a midlife crisis, I seem to be prime material according to Wiki: A midlife crisis is a transition of identity and self-confidence that can occur in middle-aged individuals, typically 45 to 65 years old. The phenomenon is described as a psychological crisis brought about by events that highlight a person's growing age, inevitable mortality, and possibly lack of accomplishments in life.


This is usually how we view the second half of our life: (forgive my amateur design work)

We might be saying to ourselves that the best years are behind us, it's all downhill from here.


But rather than view the timeline as only consisting of two linear halves I prefer to view it as stages or seasons of life. I am all about reframing the way I see things and often through a biblical lens.


The first 20 years are spent in childhood then onto education and finally venturing into either higher education or the workforce. The next 20-30 are possibly then spent in a career, marriage and/or raising a family.


Before you've had the chance to blink you're knocking on the door to 40.


Often it’s not until our kids are grown, our career path fully explored or exhausted or we experience a life impacting event such as illness, divorce, the loss of a loved one or the birth of a new baby, that we find ourselves in what Anne Morrow Lindbergh calls (and I'm adopting) a second adolescence. As Wiki describes it above, these are the events that can psychologically send us into crisis mode, midlife or not.


Why a second adolescence?

As a teenager we’re launched upon the world, everyone is asking and expecting us to know what we want and where we’re going. Apparently the world is our oyster and we should instinctively know the path set before us. But as many of us know, to a large degree the high school education system failed us miserably, unable to nurture our inherent talents and gifts and most likely turned us off learning altogether. This has certainly been my English experience growing up with the teaching-to-the-test model. As teenagers though we were much better at towing the expected line, going through the formalities of where to step next. We tended to move along obediently, powerless almost.


No one prepares us for this second occurrence, these seasons of transition, they catch us off guard and we're disorientated. As Anne writes, "we don't view it as growing pains we see it as a sign of decay." I like what mentor Paul Scanlon says (the king of reframing IMHO), "Ageing is inevitable, decay is not". But as an adult with decades of life lessons and experience behind us we’re faced once again with the oyster. This time though, the situation is different. We have a measure of control, we have choices, we’ve gained career capitol as Cal Newport writes in So Good They Can’t Ignore You, we've gained wisdom.


We need to reframe the midlife crisis into a midlife reinvention of sorts, this second adolescence.


Periods of change and transition, no matter what stage of life, have the potential to offer us the same disorientation and opportunities. Here we get to be made more of a whole person, to be refined and reshaped into more of who we are and are still becoming.


You are here is the most important message I need to remind myself of. As someone with a vivd imagination and a tendency to wanderlust, embracing the art and practice of living in the now is so important. Here, now, is a place. I'm not merely passing through.


There is a day

when the road neither

comes nor goes, and the way

is not a way but a place.


Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things.


Wendell Berry as you may know has a passion for place and belonging, whether land or loves. I’ve found his influence to be very anchoring. We are here now, what is right in front of us is our place, our people, our story to put roots into. Here we make the memories that will warm us tomorrow, even in the darkest times. It's those darkest times that can most make us feel out of place, thrown out of the pattern of things as Elizabeth Goudge describes it. I take comfort from Hebrews 13 verses 13-14;


Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.


Life changing events can make us feel as if we're suddenly missing God's will or best. Yet it was outside the camp, away from the action as it were, literally on a Cross of death that God's perfect will was unfolding the greatest miracle ever known.


You are here, and you're in God's hands.


So, bake bread, put down roots, have babies, fold laundry, paint walls and plant flowers, welcome neighbours, join groups, engage in fellowship, get to know your community, pray. And also, dream, move forward, plan, start things you've always wanted to but never dared or had the time, take that course, launch that business, paint that picture, take the trip.


We can own our life, just as it is.


And for the late bloomers, those who feel late to the party, dare to lift your hopes and gaze and believe that there is still so much in you, so much to give, to offer, to be and do, you are needed. Don't tell me God doesn't delight in late bloomers or isn't patient, the 'foolish' things. Did you know Moses spent 40 years a Prince, another 40 years on the backside of nowhere being faithful as a shepherd and husband before he was called upon to help with the mass exodus of God's people. 80 years old and leading the biggest emancipation and migration project in history!

  • Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 years old when “Little House in the Big Woods” was published.

  • It was 15 years between David being anointed as king over Israel and the realisation of that call.

  • A lady called Gladys Burrill became famous after completing the Honolulu Marathon at the age of 92.

“For is it not possible that middle age can be looked upon as a period of second flowering, second growth, even a kind of second adolescence? . . . The signs that precede growth, so similar, it seems to me, to those in early adolescence: discontent, restlessness, doubt, despair, longing, are interpreted falsely as signs of decay. In youth one does not as often misinterpret the signs; one accepts them, quite rightly, as growing pains. One takes them seriously, listens to them, follows where they lead. One is afraid. Naturally. Who is not afraid of pure space – that breath-taking empty space of an open door? But despite fear, one goes through to the room beyond.”


- Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift From The Sea


May we inhabit the here-and-now while continuing to go through to the rooms beyond. I hope you watch the IG Live it was a joy to share this message in a fuller context and also get a yourself a copy of Anne's book. I've linked to it below.

 

Still Life

Winter's Fayre

Fayre is an old-fashioned spelling of fare, used to talk about the type of food served somewhere; a chance to sample local fine fayre. I think one of the false beliefs about winter is that it’s totally barren and lifeless, easy to think when you see the exposed ribs of the trees and palid countenance of the landscape. But oh winter proves she is not dead but merely resting. She blushes at dusk in gradient strokes of purple and pink, and flushes with winter berries. The rich colour of these dried leaves in beautiful, tones of caramel and coffee. Isabella seems rather taken with them. I love the sense of movement in still life pieces; a berry about to fall, a perched feather or leaf, a tumbling apple. I used the natural catch of the muslin to hold the bottom leaf in place to give this illusion. The light hits it perfectly.

I'm not naturally a patient person, I usually know what I envision and want it to come about as quickly as possible. I'm decisive. I’ve had to learn to love the process not just the result.


Maybe love is too strong a word, accept is more accurate. I’ve learned to accept the process.


Maybe learned isn’t accurate either. I’m learning to accept the process.


Being impatient makes me rush, which makes me clumsy. I’ve lost count of the arrangements I’ve dislodged or been disappointed with because I tried to hurry. I could naval gaze for many hours as to this flaw of mine but no magic bullet insight will make me patient. I think being a Home Educator and SAHM has certainly added to my impatience over the past decade because when can one get a moment to one’s self!? A precious half hour may present itself but rather than luxuriate in it I’d panic at the choice of things to do and fret at not being able to do them well and poof! . . . the precious moment is gone and the need to be needed is back again. Repeat cycle.


We also live in an impatient world. No sooner is Halloween done when Christmas decorations appear the very next day! Christmas passes and Valentine's moves in, awash in chocolate and roses. Valentine's goes by and Easter eggs pop out along with packets of hot cross buns, and on and on. The driving current of the consumerist river sweeps us along with it, it all seems in such a mad dash. Jesus was never in a hurry so why am I? I wrote about that once. Even church life is not immune, my craziest days used to be Sunday, no Sabbath rest there.


I'm learning to accept my impatience, to own it, confess it, offer it up, lay it down, all the things. I'm learning to accept the process seek patience, it's not optional. Love is patient, 1 Cor 13. Without patience I cannot fully love.


Without patience I can't fully love my creativity. Without patience I can't love the learner driver who holds me up, the slower-than-I'd like cashier, the traffic conditions. While I may not love an actual gridlock I can angle my thoughts towards gratitude for the moment, hearing a calm voice instead of honking my horn, sighing, grumbling and stressing.


“Let’s slow down, not in pace or wordage but in nerves.”

- John Steinbeck


Tish Harrison Warren writes in Liturgy of The Ordinary that, 'in liturgical time, we make space--lots of space--for waiting . . . . to be impatient is to live without hope.' We are in the waiting and so we need to practice how to wait. All creation waits. We wait. God waits. We wait with hope.

As beautiful as this still life is I confess I'm longing for the arrival of spring colours. Here are two unpublished pieces I created last year, just so we can remind ourselves of what's to come.