Middle Age Brings Both Joys and Challenges

While we were waiting for a table at Cracker Barrel this morning, my daughter-in-law and I had a brief conversation about our impending March birthdays.

“I’ll be 27,” Cassie said. “That’s so old. I’m three years away from 30.”

“Trade you,” I said.

On March 29, I’ll be 53. It’s hard to fathom I’ll soon be closer to 70 than to 35.

I ruminate occasionally on how my life and my perceptions have changed as I’ve aged:

• Concerning my Christian faith, I find I now have far more questions than answers. Twenty years ago, I knew everything there was to know about God and the church and the Bible. You’ve heard the old saw that claims middle age is when your broad mind and narrow waist exchange places? Well, I find that the older I get, the more broad-minded I become. I find that to be the case with many of my middle-aged friends as well. Even my dad, who’s 78, says growing older has had that effect on him.

• I’m single. My wife, Renee, and I were married 26 years. We’d always looked forward to getting old together but she died in 2005. A friend said it’s as if I’d written the novel of my life, then somebody came along and ripped out the last third of it. I’m not miserable or depressed. I have a girlfriend I love. I’ll marry again. But this isn’t, as my buddy put it, the manuscript I’d written in my head. It’s a whole different book.

• Renee and I both were raised in modest circumstances, and grew up feeling we were always one emergency away from poverty. After we married, we dedicated ourselves to making wise financial decisions. We lived beneath our means, minimized our debts, saved consistently. Now, I discover that–having done the “responsible” things–I’ve been hammered by a combination of the loss of Renee’s income, the crash of the stock market, and a couple of other investments that seemed solid but turned out rocky. I’m not broke, but my impending retirement years look more precarious now than ever before.

• I’ve learned that the way I see the world isn’t the way most people view it. I’ve pastored for more than 25 years, but my congregation remains small. I’ve written for about as long, and never hit the big time. I’ve decided that just because I think things are a certain way doesn’t automatically mean others will agree.

• I used to be obsessed with sports and popular entertainment. No more. I haven’t watched a single University of Kentucky basketball game this season. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an episode of any top-rated TV series. I stare at the racks of People and Us magazines at the supermarket, and don’t even know who those people on the covers are. And I don’t care anymore.

• Still, I’m more content than I used to be. I accept myself for who I am. I don’t need to be the smartest guy in the room. I don’t care whether people think I’m a brilliant writer. I’m not much concerned about whether women find me attractive. Most nights, I’m happy to sit in my recliner and watch an old black-and-white movie or read a book about American history. I’m comfortable in my own skin. That’s a blessing.

• I’m so grateful for my immediate family. I loved going to Cracker Barrel this morning with Cassie, my son John, and my four-month-old granddaughter, Harper. My girlfriend, Liz, stopped in to see us while we were there. I’d just as soon have been at Cracker Barrel in Mount Sterling, Ky., as anywhere on earth, with anyone else on earth.

• I’m thankful for my congregation. Yes, the church I lead is small. But the folks there are less my parishioners than my best friends. I may not appeal to the masses, but I seem to appeal to these folks, and they appeal to me.

In essence, I’ve learned I don’t have all–or even most of–the answers for myself or everyone else. I’ve learned God’s a lot more complicated and mysterious than I once realized. I’ve learned I’m not exempt from the vicissitudes of life, from pain and suffering and disappointment. I’ve learned that, nonetheless, there’s plenty to enjoy here in middle age, and plenty to be thankful for, and a lot to look forward to.



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