Recently I was chatting to a friend who is 40 and she made the comment that she didn’t plan for this stage in life and she doesn’t really know what to do. She’s recently married, but doesn’t have children and I guess their family might not ever look exactly how she might have imagined (it’ll likely be smaller at least). I had kind of forgotten that was exactly what I had been feeling a couple of years ago too, I really had never thought much more about my life than getting my degree, travelling, working, getting married and fitting in a few kids. All of which you think you can do by like age 27 too right? It’s something of a shock to hit your mid-thirties and realise you don’t know what to do with your life from here.
The reason I got thinking about this more is I was watching a rerun of Friends this week and I think I clicked that they’re partly to blame. I loved that show in the 90s, probably like so many of you and I think I definitely thought my life might look a little bit like theirs. Friends ended right when they were getting married and moving off to the suburbs to raise families as I guess that stage was considered not so interesting for a sitcom and the actors were all ready to move on with their lives too. Maybe as a consequence we too never thought about life after age 35 because we just assumed this would be the natural order of things, that life would take care of itself? I think I certainly thought that I might not be in charge of my own life, decisions and goals as I would be letting a husband lead and putting my children’s dreams before my own, you know like any good mother and wife does. I’ve definitely spent a huge proportion of my 30s waiting for all that to happen and now I’m almost 40 and realising there is a whole lot of life out there that I can be living.
If you’re married with children and my age you’re probably reading this with a mix of emotions and contempt might just be top of the list. But, let me assure you, it’s tough if all your life you’ve thought you would have children, be married, have a family and that doesn’t happen. Yes, I do get to have some really fun things to spend my time on and I do get to focus on my career (not that I really care that much about that either anymore) and you maybe had to give that up to ensure that you stay sane and raise well-rounded children. But don’t always think the grass is greener, we all know it isn’t really. Yes, I also jet off to exotic locations for holidays, but mostly I’m going alone and that isn’t always that great. I also have to work really, really hard to make sure I’m not totally alone for Easter, Christmas and other events and I literally can have no one celebrate my birthday if I’m not careful (but I’ll always get a ton of messages hoping I get ‘spoilt’ – by whom I always wonder). And the hardest thing is just knowing the rest of my life might be quite different to how I thought it would be, no grandchildren or 25th wedding anniversaries or Christmases with big family gatherings.
One of the hardest things for me about not really having thought through my life after this age is that I have found I really have lacked hope as well. Of course, a lot of that was to do with my car accident as so much got taken away from me and it’s been a long, hard battle to rebuild my life. But, I know a lot of it is to do with being single and my biological clock as well and it’s really funny to hit a stage in life that you don’t necessarily have that much control over and even if you do get married you may not stay married through no fault of your own and babies are never a guarantee either. I think it’s probably time that we redefine a little of what it means to be an adult and embrace that the world gives us a lot of freedom and choice through education, equal rights, contraception and other 20th Century innovations. We’re all born in this age that we’re in for a reason and I believe God has planted me in this era for unique tasks. I mean, can you imagine me without an education, a voice, the internet? I would have been a pain in the butt!
So what’s the answer to feeling like you don’t know what to do with yourself now? Joey, the one single Friend had his own spin-off show and moved to LA, I know it’s fiction and he wasn’t a real person, but maybe that is sort of an answer for us all. Try something new, make some changes, follow a dream or a passion. Especially if you’re single you have so much time to give to people and causes that you believe in. To look at the Bible, Paul writes a lot on his singleness and says in the chapter where he addresses this:
‘Only let each person lead the life3 lthat the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.’ 1 Corinthians 7:17
I truly believe these chapters are not taught on enough in the Church as a rule and I think it would help us all to realise singleness can mean you are so much freer to move, reach people and spend time helping others. I think there is some freedom as well reading Paul’s writings to realise that we’re all called to different things and maybe we should just stop comparing ourselves to others.
And, if you’re struggling to see what your future holds and losing hope, can I suggest something?
Go dream a little.
I know it’s hard and maybe more than a little painful. But go somewhere that your soul feels happy and at rest and think about what you want and what you feel called to do. If you’re struggling to do even that (I couldn’t 4 years ago when it was suggested to me by a well-meaning friend) then maybe just quietly ask God to help you dream again. He responds to the prayers in the little, quiet voice as much as the big bold ones in my experience.
Our lives are not American sitcoms that end after ten seasons due to ratings. There is so much more to life than that and we all have so much to offer later in life we can’t withdraw and hold back. There are too many people coming along who need to benefit from our experience.