Midlife & Discernment: Learning To See with God’s Eyes

eye-211610_1280Learning To See with God’s Eyes

Whether it’s transition, gradual growth, or crisis, midlife offers wonderful opportunities to grow in doing God’s will, above all because we start to see with new eyes, with new awareness. Any time we are “shaken out of” a routine or habitual way of seeing or doing things, we become more open to hearing God’s unexpected invitations.

One characteristic of midlife is that we may become tired of doing things the way we’ve always done them. We may start reacting to things in unfamiliar ways—even ways that are the opposite of how we used to react. While earlier in life, we may have put the emphasis on “doing,” now we may feel that “being” is more important. We recognize how unrealistic our earlier high ideals are, and we become more accepting of the reality of human nature. In our 20s, we might have focused our energies on how much we’ve achieved and will achieve; now we may feel that it’s more important to focus on who we are, or becoming a better person, because accomplishment flows from who we are. We might shift our focus from being overly preoccupied with what others think of us to simply seeking to act with integrity. We might feel less patience with things that we consider nonessential, like others’ emotional drama over inconsequential things, or competitive behavior, so we simply ignore them.

The shift in our perspective might be so great that we might even feel that we’re becoming our opposite, because our new perspective is encouraging us to make new and different choices. In midlife, as at any time in life where we are facing big changes, moderation is a good basic principle and practice to keep in mind. If we can bring a discerning attitude into our new awareness, the uncertainty and excitement can help us to find new opportunities for seeking and living God’s will.

Taking Advantage of the Precious Moments of Our Lives

Midlife often brings with it strong new desires—desires that might make us feel less sure of ourselves. We can sense change within, and we might worry that certain values that had been so important to us are not as important any more. As at any time in life where we are facing big changes,  moderation is a good basic principle and practice to keep in mind during midlife.

Because we are increasingly aware that our lives are finite, we may suddenly start to feel that obstacles that used to stand in our way aren’t really obstacles any more. Our thought may be: if I don’t do this now, when will I?

My shyness makes a small personal example, although I don’t know if it’s just a natural maturing process or connected to midlife.

I’m a very shy person. In the past, it was hard-to-impossible to strike up conversations with people I didn’t know. In addition, I’m a small woman raised in the suburbs who had no experience with inner-city life. So perhaps it’s understandable—although certainly not desirable—that during my first couple of years in any big city, if I was walking alone on a city street and was approached by tall, large men who seemed homeless, I would smile, say “God bless you,” and walk away as fast as I could. (I would also pray for them, but they didn’t know that.) I’d feel guilty that I didn’t stop to really talk with them, but my timidity was very strong if I was alone.

Over the years, I’ve interacted with many people “on the street.” I started to realize how deceptive appearances are. I grew in my conviction that as a sister who practices seeing others through the eyes of God, I also wanted to try to respond with God’s heart. But I still had to struggle to overcome my shyness each time. Finally, one day I was out with a friend and witnessed how fearless she was when a someone on the street asked her for money. At that moment, I thought to myself, “I don’t need to let my shyness stand in the way of real encounters with people any more. These encounters are just too precious to let my fear get in the way!”

I don’t know if that was a “midlife” change of perspective, or just a natural maturing process, but I still remember the first time it just seemed natural to stop to talk to a man who was homeless who greeted me. We chatted for about five minutes—about how he was doing and about God. As I was leaving, the man asked me, “Sister, please bless me!” I didn’t even hesitate. I can’t remember now if he bowed his head so that I could put my hands on his head, or if I simply grasped his hands. But I prayed from my heart for him. And I walked away feeling that I was blessed; that I had received more than I’d given. That evening, as I was praying over my day, I was astonished to realize that I hadn’t felt a twinge of shyness–it  just felt that responding to him was the thing I was supposed to do at that moment.

My shyness is not completely gone. I still feel it at times, but fear is much less likely to stop me when I meet people for the first time. The real connection that can happen—even in a two-minute encounter on the street—is too important to miss. Ironically, now people tell me that they can’t believe that I’m shy. I’m grateful that my priorities have shifted through God’s grace and my life experience.

Midlife: Opportunity To Discern More Deeply

balikpapan-190894_1280The time of midlife offers many opportunities for discernment. As we gain life experience, we grow in many ways and see ourselves and our lives differently. Our discernments can therefore be richer and deeper. In midlife, people may experience or receive these gifts:

  • Spiritual and human maturing
  • New awareness of the preciousness and fragility of their lives
  • Awakening or deepening sense of what is important and what we want to accomplish in life

As we grow in maturity and reflect on our life experience, we grow in wisdom. We know ourselves better: both our strengths and our weaknesses, and we understand human nature better. If we are growing spiritually, our capacity to love in a fuller and freer way is probably growing. As we pass the “midpoint” of our lives, we recognize the giftedness and limits of our lives: we see more clearly that we only have a certain number of years in which to change the world for the better. We might feel a greater urgency to make difference in the world, or we may wonder if we are truly fulfilling God’s mission for us. Often, we  decide that we will no longer let fear or others’ opinions prevent us from saying or doing what we think is right. We may lose patience with the noise and nonsense that surround the nonessentials of life, such as: office politics, unhealthy rivalries (whether at work or in our personal lives), or doing things just for the sake of preserving reputation.

Midlife is sometimes talked about as if it’s a crisis, and it certainly can become one. As our perspective shifts in midlife, we see our lives and our responsibilities in a new light. Sometimes we can become depressed about the physical limitations that our age has or will bring, or the reality that our time here on earth no longer seems unlimited. (Recognizing the shortness of our lives can feel like a punch in the gut, even though we’ve always known this theoretically.) In midlife, our change in our point of view means we evaluate our lives differently, because we have more experience, and hopefully, more wisdom. We might look at our lives more from a spiritual perspective, rather than from the perspective of accomplishment, status, or early dreams. We may feel we have wasted our lives on nonessentials and become discouraged at what we haven’t accomplished, or that we haven’t fully lived up to our ideals.

The three big gifts of midlife mentioned above make this a rich time for discerning God’s invitations and for living God’s will more deeply and fully in our lives. These gifts—maturity, new awareness of the giftedness of our lives, and a deepening sense of what is truly important to us—shape our perspective so that we see in a new way. Less constrained by fears or conventions, we open ourselves more fully to God’s will.

What do you see as the gifts of midlife that can lead us into a deeper following of God’s will?