If you're a woman over age 40, it's easy to become discouraged by our culture's message that aging means your best days are behind you. Every new wrinkle or gray hair can depress you, or it can remind you that God is the One carrying you forward into the second half of your life. If you use this time to renew your relationship with God, He'll give you passion and purpose that will make the second half of your life more fulfilling than the first. Here's how:
Reflect on how you're a different woman today than when you were in your 20s and 30s. Think and pray about the differences between your life today and your life as a young adult. How have your values and priorities changed? How have your relationships and responsibilities changed? What are some qualities about you and your life that have improved since when you were younger?
Distinguish between success and significance. During the first half of life, it's common for women to focus more on how they can be successful according to the world's standards (such as enjoying a happy marriage, raising well-behaved children, building an exciting career, and living in a large and beautiful home). But from God's perspective, what counts is significance - women living faithfully by fulfilling God's purposes for their lives - whether or not that makes them successful from the world's perspective. Ask God to help you see your life from His perspective, and to focus on significance rather than success from now on.
Focus less on what you do and more on who you become. God cares much more about the kind of person you're becoming than He does about what kind of activities you're doing. So base your schedule on priorities that will help you grow into a more spiritually mature person, and let go of any current commitments that distract you from that pursuit. Ask God to help you use all of your resources - time, energy, money, talents, etc. - to the fullest to accomplish His purposes during this second half of your life, so you don't waste anything He has given you. Be willing to eliminate good activities from your schedule so you'll be free to focus on what's best. Follow God's leading rather than your own ambitions. Every day, simply try to work in ways where your God-given passion and purpose meet the world's needs, trusting God to empower you to follow wherever He leads you. In the process, God will transform you into the person He wants you to become.
Let go of the past so you can live fully in the present and move into the future well. It's natural to grieve what you had in your youth that is now lost or fading due to the aging process, such as beauty and energy. But don't feel sorry for yourself as you age, or try in vain to hold onto your youth. Instead, let go of what you used to be like with the confidence that God is calling you to something better - focusing on qualities that will last forever, rather than temporary ones. Recognize that the aging process is a valuable time to develop your eternal soul that will far outlast your body. Pray honestly about your feelings as you age, keeping in mind that God can handle any feelings you express and will help you deal with them. Live intentionally right now and confidently take steps of faith into the future God has for you.
Exchange bitterness for forgiveness. Pray for the strength to forgive all of the people who have hurt you in the past, as God calls you to do so bitterness won't poison your heart and block a close relationship with Him. Confess and repent of your own sins that have been creating bitterness in your heart as you remember what you've done wrong, and accept God's forgiveness. Ask God to help you forgive yourself and move forward with new confidence. Remember that what God is calling you to is much better than what He is calling you from in life.
Trade crankiness for kindness. Don't allow the pain of your past to weigh you down and cause you to become a cranky woman who doesn't honor God or attract other people to Him. Ask the Holy Spirit to renew your mind each day and help you choose an attitude of kindness that expresses itself in kind actions to others you interact with every day.
Mentor younger women. Invest in the lives of the younger women you sense God leading you to help in some way. Pray with and for them. Use your talents to help meet their needs. Teach them the skills you've learned that can help them in situations they're facing now that you've successfully gone through before.
Give up idols. Ask God to reveal any idols in your life - anything to which you devote more attention than you do to your relationship with God - and help you give them up so you'll be free to grow closer to God. Consider what you want most, what you think about most, how you use your money, what you do with your leisure time, the company you enjoy, what you laugh at, and whom and what you admire. That process should give you a good idea about what matters most to you. Pray for the power you need to break free of any attachment that is currently a higher priority to you than your relationship with God. Remember that only God truly has the power to fulfill you in a lasting and complete way.
Make prayer a frequent habit. Develop the habit of praying often throughout each day and night, connecting with God to talk and listen whenever you're awake. As you pray, remain open to whatever God may want to do through your life. View prayer as your passport to adventure with God for every new day that He gives you.
Build close friendships. Now that you're free from some of the obligations that kept you busy as a younger woman, you can invest more deeply in friendships. Choose friends who encourage you spiritually, and do all you can yourself to encourage your friends to keep growing closer to God. Pray for the ability to recognize God's reflection in every person you encounter.
Keep the end in mind. Remember that each day brings you closer to the end of your life, so consider carefully what you want your legacy to be, and make daily choices that will help you create that legacy.
Adapted from Embracing Your Second Calling: Find Passion and Purpose for the Rest of Your Life, copyright 2010 by Dale Hanson Bourke. Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tn., www.thomasnelson.com.
Dale Hanson Bourke is president of the CIDRZ Foundation, supporting AIDS, malaria, and cervical cancer research in Africa. Previously, she spent 20 years as a marketing and publishing executive and was president of Publishing Directions, Inc., which launched, developed, and acquired major national magazines. She also served as publisher for Religion News Service and was senior vice president of marketing for World Relief. She has served on the boards of World Vision (US and International) and International Justice Mission and now serves on the boards of Opportunity International and MAP International. In addition, Bourke has written a nationally syndicated newspaper column and eight books, including The Skeptic's Guide to the Global AIDS Crisis and, most recently, The Skeptic's Guide to Global Poverty. She earned an MBA from the University of Maryland and a BA from Wheaton College. Dale and her husband, Tom, have two sons.