In October I turned forty. I have a very busy life. I have been married for seventeen years, with two teenagers who are involved in sports and activities. I teach at an urban high school with some difficult students. At church, I teach Sunday School and women’s Bible study and help with youth group. This year I organized Vacation Bible School. In addition, my parents and in-laws live out-of-state, and my husband works evenings and weekends, so the daily responsibilities usually fall on me. I took this opportunity to reevaluate my life’s priorities, and I decided to fortify my life in important areas—Faith, Family, Friendship, Fitness, Finances, and Field.
Faith. This spring I felt overwhelmed with my many responsibilities, and as a result, my faith grew cold. Being busy with spiritual things does not make us spiritual. I was participating in many church activities, but I was working in the flesh. In my quiet time, God kept leading me to verses, reminding me to “be still” and to enter His rest. When I read his word, he guided me to a life-changing passage. “Repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19)
Take time to reflect on your spiritual life. I found that I was involved in a lot of activity, but not a lot of time in obedience. Do whatever it takes to get close to God. Recommit to attending church, join a Bible study, read the word daily, attend a seminar, or pour your heart out to God in prayer. He will not disappoint you. These years pose many challenges, and we need the strength and wisdom of the Lord to guide us.
Family. Many of us in our forties have been married for more than a decade and may be raising teenagers. This is a very stressful season for marriage and parenting, and we need to address this important area of our lives. My husband and I have been married for seventeen years, and we have opposite schedules. I am an early bird, rising at five a. m. daily, and he is a night owl, returning home from work at 10:30 when I’m already asleep. In addition, our personalities are very different, and if we don’t nurture our relationship, especially our communication, we create lots of stress.
Recently we have been setting aside Mondays as a time to reconnect. Last week we walked a jetty along the beach and this week my husband took me to a new fancy restaurant that was just my style. At first I was tempted to go somewhere local and not put out the time and money, but I didn’t want to discourage my husband’s effort to please me. We had delicious food and wonderful conversation; I laughed out loud the whole way home at my husband’s wonderful sense of humor.
If you have reached a bad place in your marriage, do all that you can to save it. Cut out everything else and focus on this relationship. Nothing else is more important, and if you have a bad marriage, it will infect all other areas of your life. Take the first step to improve communication and increase time together.
After a healthy marriage, parenting is an important priority, especially during the teen years. As a teacher in an urban high school, I meet with many parents who give up during this difficult season. This is the time to influence your child the most, because the decisions that are made now affect the rest of your child’s life.
Be sure to establish good lines of communication and healthy boundaries. Communicate with your child’s teachers and know their friends. My children know I can be counted on to give rides and bake cookies so that I can get to know their friends and keep tabs on their whereabouts. Get your children involved in sports and extra-curricular activities and make sure they attend church, Sunday School and youth group. It is important to have other adults that minister to your children and give them godly advice. I was grateful that our family physician, who is a Christian, counseled my son during his annual physical. He told my son very clearly that he was there for him if my son ever needed to make an appointment to see him alone to talk about any concerns, and he cautioned him to “not be stupid enough to smoke or drink or go with girls that do.” It was a relief to know that someone else was concerned about my son’s welfare.
Friends. It is important to have Christian friends to support you in difficult times and celebrate with you in joyful times. A great place to form friendships is in your local church. Our ladies’ Bible Study has women ranging in age from their 30’s to 80’s. Each of us is very different—married, single, working, retired, or a homemaker. We have different strengths and weaknesses that we can share with our sisters in Christ. We take time to pray for each other, to bring a meal when someone is sick, and to celebrate birthdays.
Friendships should always come after our families, and our closest friends should be Christians. Be sure your friendships are healthy and beneficial to both parties. Sometimes people gravitate towards friends that encourage unhealthy habits and selfish choices. True friends speak the truth in love and help you work through character flaws. The Bible tells us, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (Proverbs 13:20) Take time from a busy schedule to nurture friendships.
Fitness. After attending a mandatory parent meeting for my son’s basketball league, my husband and I wondered if we looked as old as all the other parents. In general, the parents were balding or graying, tired, and overweight. Although we encourage our children to be active, many parents sit passively on the sidelines. It is so important to stay healthy during our forties to prevent heart attacks, diabetes, and other illnesses. I often use the time during my daughter’s softball practice to walk or jog laps around the playing fields.
Walking is something everyone can do regardless of fitness level. It is free and can be done year-round. I started walking and continued to increase my pace and distance until I completed three marathons. While not everyone is a marathoner, the health benefits are for everyone.
Exercise is a great stress release, and an opportunity to reflect and pray. I often compose articles or lessons while I walk. When done with a friend, walking can cultivate your relationships as well. Whatever your fitness level, make sure to get up and get moving.
Finances. This year we had to reorganize our finances drastically. My husband was only working part-time, and my daughter needed expensive dental work. We had to cut out a lot of extras and I had to strategically grocery shop, following sales. I contacted our mortgage company to get a loan modification to reduce our monthly payment. Now we are on a budget and free of debt, but we have no savings. College is just a few years away for my son, and our one hundred year home needs some maintenance. It is important to get your finances in order. There are many excellent resources available. Be sure to contact your creditors if you are behind in payments or are suddenly unemployed. Also, be sure to continue to give to your local church.
A verse I clung to during our difficult financial times was Philippians 4:11, “…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”
Field. Job security is a thing of the past. When companies downsize, managers are often the first to go, forcing well-educated, experienced professionals to take minimum-wage jobs. Many retirees are working part-time to receive much-need health benefits. This is a good time to take stock of your marketable skills or even change professions to prevent unemployment. As a teacher, I have a great opportunity to pursue my writing career during summer vacation. Likewise, my husband works nights, and during the day is building a computer business. If you are an expert in your field, consider training others. Whatever you do, don’t stay stagnant. Try to find a way to be self-employed so that if downsizing occurs, you will be ready.
My grandmother recently celebrated her 90th birthday. She is in excellent health and a blessing and inspiration since she is such a godly, positive person. In order to age gracefully, it is important to “forty-fy” our lives during this important decade to prepare for a long, productive life. The Bible says, “The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty, if we have the strength…Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom,” (Psalm 90: 10a, 12)