Essentials for the Stages of Life
By Shelly Esser
I pulled out the medical book we keep tucked away in our office to check out the serious symptoms my husband was experiencing. Everything pointed to diabetes, so he went to the doctor immediately. Yes, just as we thought, diabetes. However, we never expected the diagnosis to be type I diabetes, which is more serious and results in insulin dependency.
After poring over medical books and websites to educate myself, I realized I was entering a new stage in life that I was completely unprepared for - a chronic illness of a spouse. For over a year, the doctors tried to regulate my husband’s health without success. Moments of fear and panic overwhelmed me, partly because I felt so helpless, but also because I realized that this new stage would continue for the rest of our lives. Stages can be like that. Some we pass through quickly barely giving them notice, while others become central with no end until Heaven.
The Lord steadied me just as He had done so many times before. After all, He and I have been walking together through the various stages of my life since I was 14 years old. Now would be no different. That alone comforted me.
There are some essentials I’ve found to be helpful as we navigate our way through the various stages of life.
Certain in Uncertainty
With every stage of life, even the ones we think we’ve prepared for, comes a degree of uncertainty that can unravel us. Even in the midst of uncertain circumstances, we can always be certain of God -- certain that He will be with us, certain that He will walk with us through every difficult step, and certain that as we leave the details of our lives to Him, we will at many times be uncertain about how He will work it all out, but certain that He will. It really comes down to trusting God with our lives.
While dealing with my husband’s new illness, we were also in the middle of a move. One afternoon, while packing one of the girls’ rooms, I came across a ring on my daughter’s dresser that said, “Trust.” When I inquired about where it came from, Megan said, “Grandma gave it to me in a bag of jewelry she had.” I felt like that ring was dropped from heaven at just that moment so I could be daily reminded to trust God with all the uncertainty that was encircling our lives. Every time I started to doubt God, I would look at that ring on my finger and remember that God was in control even though everything looked so out of control. As we grow in our trust in God, we become more certain of His character and confident that He will see us through anything. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” We can trust in an all-knowing God.
A New Normal
My husband’s illness ushered in a new normal for us. Things will never be the same again. So often we think, “When things get back to normal…then…” There can be comfort in “normal” because we’re always hoping that the stages of our lives we’re uncomfortable with will be temporary ones. What if they’re not? My husband’s health will never be normal again. We can either let these types of realities inhibit and intrude on our lives in a way that keeps us despairing, or we can allow the new normals to be used of God for His purposes. We are powerless to change many of the stages of our lives, but God can bring us a new normal. Psalm 102:27 says, “But You remain the same, and Your years will never end.” To know that in every stage of our life, God remains the same is a wonderful truth. We can rest assured that no matter what happens to us, we don’t have to fear because His “normal” never changes.
Every stage we go through has its good and bad. Even in the difficult stages, God has something magnificently ordered for us. Colossians 2:7 tells us that we are to be “overflowing with thankfulness for all He has done.” As we practice thanking God, we begin to see His blessings more clearly. And there’s something wonderful about a grateful spirit, it does wonders for our heart and outlook on life in general. I have a gratitude journal where I make regular praise listings of all the things I’m thankful for. What do you have to be thankful for? Good health? A loving family? The possibilities are endless. Practicing thankfulness helps us to move our attention to what God is doing wherever we find ourselves. The more we demand, complain about, worry over, the less we can value, cherish, savor, enjoy, and accept. To look for the many small blessings is a choice we can daily make.
Some time ago, psychologist William Mouton Marston asked 3,000 people this question, “What have you to live for?”
He was shocked to find that 94 percent were simply enduring the present while waiting for the future. They would describe this as waiting for “something” to happen -- waiting for children to grow up and leave home, waiting for the next year, waiting for another time to take a long-dreamed-about trip, etc. They were all waiting for tomorrow. They were waiting without realizing that all anyone ever has is today because yesterday is gone and tomorrow might never come. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I have grown to appreciate just how precious life is. It’s so easy to waste our time wishing we were in another stage of life -- but it’s this experience, this sunset, this baby, this friendship, this job, this magazine issue, and I need to squeeze the wine of enjoyment from every minute, cultivating the beautiful quality of appreciation of God’s gifts, of others, and the now. We need to celebrate life every day. Even stages of sorrow, discouragement or pain are not devoid of little things to celebrate.
Probably the greatest reality we can take with us through all of life’s stages is that we are never alone - God is with us. He will never leave us and will walk with us every step of the way. As long as He and I keep in step together, I know I can face every stage of my life. I don’t know about you, but that’s comforting!