Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Stephen Arterburn & John Shore's new book, Midlife Manual for Men: Finding Significance in the Second Half, (Bethany House, 2007).
When you hit midlife, it’s natural to look back at what you’ve experienced so far. You may discover that, with about half of your life already behind you, you haven’t done all you’d hoped to do, or become the kind of man you’d like to be.
But a midlife crisis isn’t inevitable. Rather than quitting your job, buying a motorcycle, and leaving your family behind to ride off into the sunset, you can discover what truly matters most. Then you can live based on that, to make the rest of your life better than anything you’ve experienced before.
Here’s how to build the rest of your life around what matters most:
Accept change. Acknowledge and embrace the changes that have occurred to the various important roles you play: son, husband, provider, and father. Your parents raised you, but you now may find that you need to care for your parents. Your marriage relationship is likely much different now than it was when you got married years ago. You may feel an urge to change careers or even consider retirement. Perhaps you’ve enjoyed fatherhood, only to realize that your children grew up quicker than you’d expected. In prayer, honestly express your thoughts and feelings about the changes you’ve experienced. Ask God to help you accept them and learn everything He wants you to learn from them.
Get rid of unrealistic macho expectations. Now that you’re older, you’re wise enough to realize that being a man doesn’t necessarily mean that: you know everything, you’re a magnet for women, you’re in complete control of your emotions, you make a ton of money, you’re exceptionally wise, you’re naturally athletic, you can expect everything to go exactly as you planned it, you don’t mind physical pain, or you know all about cars and other machines. Forget about trying to be Superman and just be who you are.
Give up your sense of entitlement. Just because our society still sometimes makes men feel superior to women – and therefore entitled to more control, power, and privileges – realize that you’re completely equal with women, and not entitled to take selfish advantage of whatever power you have. Let this time in your life be one of learning how to respect others and growing in maturity.
Stop suppressing your emotions. Discover how to identify your emotions, give them serious credibility, and express them well to others.
Don’t go it alone anymore. Whenever something is bothering you a lot, don’t attempt to handle it on your own. Seek the support you need from your wife or a trusted friend or family member.
Recognize that all your power comes from God. Don’t be fooled anymore by the mistaken idea that you’re the source of your own power. Acknowledge that everything you do – even taking your next breath – you do because God graciously allows you to do it. Let your gratitude motivate you to use the power you have faithfully (such as by trying to make a positive difference in the world) rather than abusing it.
Take your responsibilities seriously. Now you have the experience to know that committing yourself to do something is a serious thing. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Remember that your words and actions have important consequences.
Move mountains a little at a time. Rather than shrinking back from significant tasks or despairing that your own small efforts won’t amount to much, know that you can get the job done if you focus well on doing a little bit at a time. Look back on what you’ve been able to accomplish so far in life, and let that encourage you that your work is worthwhile.
Be brave. Whenever you feel intimidated by a situation, remember all the challenges you’ve faced and successfully overcome up to this point in your life. Be proud of how brave you’ve been before, and continue to take whatever risks you sense God leading you to take.
Consider what it means to be a man. Think about how you got your ideas about how men are supposed to feel and act. Write down the qualities you believe men should have. Then ask yourself how possessing or desiring each of those qualities has impacted your life and your relationship with God. List three men who have meant the most to you personally, and list the characteristics that you admire about them. Be aware of how the simple fact of being a man either helps or hurts you in life. Ask God to help you discern what constitutes true manhood.
Become a great son. If you haven’t already, stop depending on your parents for your physical or emotional well-being. Realize that your thoughts as an adult are valid, despite how little your thoughts may have been respected as a kid. Get rid of the ideas your parents taught you about life and about yourself that were wrong; replace those mistaken concepts with biblical truth. Reclaim the instinctive joy of being a boy. Remember the basic life lessons you learned in childhood. Be proud of the fact that you survived childhood and emerged as a functioning adult. Appreciate the deep impact your family has had on your personality and entire life. Write two letters to your father: One in which you describe the ways he disappointed and hurt you over the years, and one in which you tell him how much you love him and why. Show the negative letter to your wife, close friend, or someone else you trust, and then store it in a safe place. Mail the positive letter to your dad (if he’s still alive), or read it to someone close to you who also knew your dad (if he has passed away). Think about how being your father’s son has affected your relationship with God. Imagine that you’re having a conversation with yourself as a little boy. Listen carefully to what your inner child says, and write it down. Then share your notes with your wife and talk about how you’d like to reclaim the little boy you used to be.
Become a great husband. Make your marriage relationship more about love and less about sex, so your focus in bed is on making love instead of just the end result. Get rid of psychological baggage and be honest with your wife about your inner thoughts and feelings. Make your wife your best friend. Stop taking your wife for granted; realize there’s always more to learn about her, and work to discover more. Spend as much time as you can with your wife. Understand the value of compromise. Strive to be your wife’s hero. Thank God for how deeply He has been present in your life and your wife’s life. Ask your wife to tell you five things about herself that you may not already know. Talk openly with your wife about what’s like for you to go through midlife. When you find yourself expressing anger toward your wife, stop to consider whether you might be angry with her because of something uncomfortable going on inside of you. If so, apologize to your wife and talk about what’s really bothering you. Have an honest discussion with your wife about how satisfied you each are with your sex life and what you can do to improve it.
Become a great provider. Don’t define yourself just by the type of work you do. Embrace your identity in Christ, and seek to fully develop all the different parts of your life. Rise above the gossip and personal politics that exist in your workplace. Whenever you need encouragement to tackle a challenging task at work, remember how you overcome challenges to accomplish great things in the past. Use the valuable knowledge you’ve gained of team dynamics over the years to succeed at work. Thank God for the jobs you’ve gotten over the years and the ways you’ve been able to financially support your family. Imagine yourself walking away from your current job, and write down all the thoughts and feelings that come to you. Then go through your list to separate your unrealistic fears from real concerns. Make a list of bosses you’ve disliked, and why you disliked working for them. Think of what you did to adapt and survive, and be proud of how you are able to do that, so you can also do that in any future difficult situations. Write down all the types of jobs you thought as a child that you wanted to do when you grew up. Consider what ways you’ve been able to incorporate your current work into the dreams you had as a boy. Consider how you would choose to spend your time if you suddenly became very rich and never had to work another day in your life. Let your thoughts give you clues about how satisfied you are or aren’t with your current work, and what changes (if any) you’d like to make.
Become a great father. Enjoy the newfound time and energy you have if your kids are grown; be glad that the exhausting work of parenting young kids is behind you. Release yourself from the burden of always feeling as if you have to be your kids’ superhero. Embrace the freedom of just being yourself with them. Confess your parenting mistakes to God, and ask Him to forgive you. Apologize to each of your kids for specific ways you ended up hurting them in the past. Be proud of all you’ve done well as a parent. Thank God for your kids, and for all your parenting experiences have taught you about love. Be glad that you can now finally understand what your own parents went through when they were raising you. Make lists of what you think are your father’s best and worst qualities; then consider how you may have incorporated those qualities into your own parenting style. Ask your kids to tell you five things they don’t think you already know about them, and relish the time spent discovering more about them. Consider how some of your kids’ weaknesses may reflect some of your own. Appreciate your kids’ strengths. Write each child a letter describing specific qualities you like and admire about him or her.
Develop key character traits. Ask God to use your time at midlife to help you become a man of integrity, an openhearted son, a loving husband, a faithful provider, and a humble father.
Listen to God. Spends lots of time in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to make God’s will clear for you so you can move into the future with confidence, making the best decisions.
Take a vacation with your wife. Get away with your wife for a vacation where the only agenda is simply to have fun together. Enjoy how much the experience rejuvenates you from the stress of all you’re going through at midlife.
Take care of your body. Be sure to eat a nutritious diet and get plenty of exercise so your body will be more likely to serve you well in the second half of your life.
Grieve the past and embrace the future. Make time to grieve all you’ve lost in the past. Then decide to try new things, exploring interests and talents have been dormant until now. Imagine Jesus joining you in the future, and look forward to meeting Him there!
Adapted from Midlife Manual for Men: Finding Significance in the Second Half, copyright 2007 by Stephen Arterburn and John Shore. Published by Bethany House, Bloomington, Mn., www.bethanyhouse.com.
Stephen Arterburn is founder and chairman of New Life Ministries and host of the nationally syndicated New Life Live! daily radio broadcast. A nationally known speaker, he's been featured on Oprah, in USA Today, US News & World Report, the New York Times and many other media outlets. Steve founded the Women of Faith conferences and is a bestselling author of more than 70 books including the EVERY MAN series. Steve and his family live in Laguna Beach, California.
John Shore, an experienced writer and editor, is the author of I’m OK: You’re Not: The Message We’re Sending Nonbelievers and Why We Should Stop, and Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang. Click here to visit John's Crosswalk.com blog.