Mentoring in Midlife
‘I was young and now I am old.’ Psalm 37:25
Midlife normally occurs anywhere between the ages of 40-60, and can last for a few years or as long as a decade. It may be ‘triggered’ by a precipitating event like a significant birthday or the sudden realisation that life is passing us by, with more behind us than ahead of us. It may or may not be a crisis (buying sports cars is optional) but it is often a time of turmoil and evaluation, which is why mid-lifers often seek the help of a mentor.
- Mentors can help people to review the past
To move forward we need to make sense of our past and understand what has shaped us. This may mean discovering more about our childhood, visiting places we once knew, and re-connecting with friends we left behind. For a few it may mean a search for birth parents or unraveling family history.
Others may need to make peace with the past, coming to terms with how life has worked out for them. Some may have seen dreams fulfilled, others may have experienced disappointment – the breakdown of a marriage, childlessness, a career that didn’t work out, the onset of poor health, the realisation that they will remain single, and so on. Seeing God’s hand in all the events of life can help with this process, as can being willing to forgive and let go of any sadness or regret (Romans 8:28, Genesis 45:5-8 and 50:20).
- Mentors can support people in recognising the movements of God in their life
The first half of life is about achievement, building a life and getting ahead. This means we live in the external world, at pace, and with little time for reflection. Exhaustion and the threat of burnout call us to a better way of living and the nurturing of our inner life. Recognising this movement towards interiority helps to bring balance to life, and to find our identity not in what we do but in who we are.
There may also be a growing desire to be true to ourselves, and not simply to live up to the expectations of others, or even be chained to the image we have created for ourselves. We may become more aware of our ‘false self’ (the persona we have created to get by in life but which is not totally who I am) and long to be more fully our ‘true self in God’ (the person God made me to be). This movement towards greater authenticity and integrity is characteristic of midlife and an integral part of our spiritual growth.
Midlife can be a period of great soul searching as we question previously held beliefs, especially about God, the Bible, suffering, and the church. For some this is deeply disorientating but is part of coming to a mature faith. Often this will mean an acceptance mystery (that we can never fathom all that God does) and a growing sense of the need for trust in his goodness and grace even when we don’t understand. This is the movement from knowing to not-knowing, and although disturbing it is a well-worn path and not to be feared.
- Mentors can guide people as they discern God’s will for the future
The question of what to do with the rest of our life looms large in midlife, which is why it is helpful to pause and ask God to show us his direction for the future. It may be that we build on what has gone before, or it could be that we sense a new direction altogether. It always requires faith to step into something new and midlife is for many is a time to take bold steps.
What we are looking for as we approach the second half of life is the coming together of who we are (our personality and gifting) with what we do (our work, ministry or calling). When these two fit well together we will be at our most efficient and effective. We will be operating out of who we are and our work will be more enjoyable and fulfilling. Our most significant contribution is likely to be in the second-half of life so it is worth taking time to this carefully and prayerfully about God’s will for us.
There is both danger and opportunity during the midlife transition – of making bad choices, but also of discovering new and exciting possibilities. That’s why the support of a mentor is crucial during this stage of life.