I don’t hear much reference to “mid-life crisis” anymore, but it was a thing in the 1980s. The idea is that a person, usually a man, reaches a point when he realizes he will not be an astronaut or write the great American novel; he’s tubby, struggling to pay the bills and disappointed in himself. This leads to an irrational fling with a red Corvette or a swimsuit model. There were movies about this, but they weren’t great.
Something true lurks behind the silliness of the concept. Things happen to us, sometimes terrible things, which “unfairly” change the arc of our lives. I know people who are bound to the infirmities of a beloved family member. Others were hobbled earlier in life by the death or misbehavior of a parent. Some are victims of crimes or accidents that leave them permanently changed. None of this was supposed to happen, we think, and this lament becomes the dark cloud that rests on our heads for the rest of our days.
There is certainly a temptation toward this hardwired into the aging process. I remember being outraged at the universe when I was told my eyes were going bad 30 years ago. The hits keep coming, but I’ve stopped being outraged by them. Nearly everything will disappoint us if we live long enough.
I find the story of Joseph, starting in Genesis 37, encouraging when my expectations of life aren’t met. Joseph expected to be exalted over his brothers, but he didn’t expect to be enslaved, betrayed and imprisoned. He lost years out of the prime of his life. Even after his release he did not go home. Where did Joseph go to get back those years? The Lord was in Joseph’s life, start to finish, but when he was in prison for years he had only faith that the Lord was in it.
Joseph’s expectations as a young man were not what the Lord had willed to give him. My youthful expectations and yours have not come to pass, and we don’t know how many times we’ve been blessed by that. We can only project an idyllic “what might have been.”
It goes on from there. Moses was a member of Pharaoh’s household until he lost that and became a fugitive shepherd with a nice, safe life. From there he became the enemy of Egypt and later the object of scorn by the people he led. He wandered until the end of his life. Elijah was likely a shepherd on the east side of the Jordan until the Lord sent him to confront, and become the enemy of, an evil king. Mary was on track to be the wife of an honorable craftsman in Nazareth. The Lord made her the best-known widow in history.
These things are only blessings from God in hindsight. In the midst of the suffering it is tough, discouraging, bitter.
We don’t enter our seniority having accomplished the exact things we set out to do. That’s OK. But what about physical infirmity? Can we leave behind the dream of being as strong, handsome and whole as we were at 30? I know the choice is not entirely ours, but I also know a lot of people who are hesitant to let others see them as they’ve become, the best they’ll be for the rest of their lives. Our bodies are scarred by accidents, illness and life-saving surgeries. We lose things – teeth, organs and appendages. Each one of those is a nail in the coffin of our perfect youth. As chipper as we might be about the seriousness of aging (“It’s not for sissies!”), we also groan a little at the loss; it changes our view of ourselves and of life if we’re not careful.
But these are our lives. None of us gets all we wanted, thank the Lord.
There’s more to our lives, though. We know that, but it’s hard to move our focus from this existence, so familiar to us, to an eternal one. The Lord helps us with that. He began helping me when my eyes starting going bad. Little by little we become less enamored with the perfection of our bodies and our dreams as God gives us years to see them more clearly.
In our spirits, our eternal selves, we live as God’s children, but in our flesh and in this place we live as His creatures. We gather experience, skill, scars and failures as we serve God here. But we must not forget that we are His creatures, vessels made for His purposes, to be used and used up.
Our dreams and expectations are trifling things; again, we know that. My stubborn heart resents that the Lord’s path is not the course I set. I only regret it in the present tense though. Looking back, I see His hand, His goodness and His sovereignty in it all.
Take comfort today in the goodness of the Lord to you thus far. Trust Him while you’re still in Joseph’s prison that He means it all for good.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary Ledbetter is editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN.)