I remember reading a news article a few years back that talked about how rates of depression and suicide peaked for people in their 40s, and thinking about how odd that was. Aren’t the 40s a season that includes the best of everything? By that point, for many, the kids are growing, the exhausting “new parent” learning curve has eased, and career paths are probably settled. You’re old enough to be confident in your own skin, but young enough to have health, energy, excitement and financial stability. It seemed like that should be one of the best times of life, not the worst.
Talking about it with my husband, who has an uncanny knack for getting to the heart of things, he said something that changed my perspective in an instant. He said, “By their 40s most people realize that they’ll probably never achieve the dreams they had when they were younger. They look around and wonder if it’s too late for them, if they’ve already experienced their best in life.”
Well, here we are in our 40s, and I’ve got to say, it is definitely a time of wondering. Wondering what life would be like if I’d made some different choices back in my 20s. Wondering which dreams are still worth pursuing and which ones are too much of a waste of time and energy at this point in life. Wondering at the new adult me who continues to emerge anew after being consumed and transformed by motherhood for so many years. I feel a bit like an insect coming out of metamorphosis.
There are still dreams simmering on the burner, but the change-the-world ones have been replaced by smaller bites to chew. More immediate goals that are easier to see and reach, more tangible. Life is so busy, full, and (mostly) happy at this point. Big, all-consuming dreams are muted a bit by a toddler that demands my full attention, hollering “Mom, I TALKING!!!” I know at this point that I can’t change the world, but I also know I can profoundly shape her world, and that, ironically, now seems just as good, just as satisfying.
But what if this is as good as it gets? What if those old dreams never fully materialize? What if my life’s greatest success is limited to raising a handful of happy, caring, productive kids to adulthood, building a loving home, and contributing locally to my church and community? Could I die happy, knowing I’ve fulfilled my life’s purpose? I feel a twinge of guilt even asking the question. This is a first-world issue, after all. These are the existential questions that nag those who have enough comfort and leisure time to mull over them.
I think my answer is yes. A thousand times yes. Since I have sought God’s guidance in my life, I will be content with the path that I’m on, with the faith that I am exactly where I should be. Society’s view of “success” in our North American culture is materialistic and individualistic. But we are not islands; we are wired to live and thrive within families and communities. And I know the most important, sacred work I can do is to love, guide and support the people in my home. They are my greatest joy and my impact on their lives will outlast anything else I could do, by far.
Maybe there are other great things and yet-to-be-fulfilled dreams on the horizon. I hope so. Maybe not. But right here, right now, I know that if my family and friends know I love them with my whole heart, if my little corner of the world is a brighter and kinder place because I’ve lived in it, that will be enough, in the end, to put on my life’s resume and offer to the King.