Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pay Attention to What Makes You Cry: Expanding Our Influence in Midlife

By Jennifer Grant

I’ve seen it now so often that I can’t keep track. I see it in women whose fridges no longer exhibit works of art in finger paint. They’re the ones who are beginning to see a little gray at their temples. These women have figured out, for better and worse, the shape and scope of their adult lives. They look at the trade-offs they have made – career for family, or vice versa – and begin to re-think them. They feel a growing desire to bring something new into the world, and that something usually doesn’t require a diaper bag. They get flashes of insight – “Hey, I could do that?” or “I always wanted to….” or “Remember how I was so good at…” These thoughts energize and frighten them. They are women in midlife.

A few years ago, I was negotiating the cramped shoe aisles at a department store when my cell phone rang. It was my closest friend, in tears, spilling over with a story. She had just finished reading Richard Stearns’ The Hole in Our Gospel and for the first time in her life, she felt compelled to engage with people who are affected by the AIDS pandemic in Africa, especially children.

“I just never knew the scope of it,” she said.

I sat on one of the little stools in the shoe section as other shoppers picked through the boxes of snow boots and sneakers around me. “What are you going to do?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Something.”

Since then, she has done something. She’s been to Ethiopia. She’s brought formula and other supplies to orphanages, educated herself about HIV/AIDS, and has addressed local women’s groups. In a few months, she and her husband will adopt a toddler daughter from Ethiopia who was orphaned by AIDS. My friend’s life has changed in midlife, her realm of influence has expanded from that of a woman focused on raising her family and pursuing artistic endeavors to being a voice for those who do not have the opportunity to speak for themselves. Her family portrait – quite literally – will reflect this change.

And it all started because she took note of what made her cry in midlife. Do you find yourself restless and even sometimes in tears?

Pay attention to what makes you cry.

In his book Beyond Words, Frederick Buechner wrote “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where…you should go next."

· Take heart that this new part of life is about more than you.

If you feel like a new endeavor, journey, or vocation is ahead but fear failure, remember that you are being led into a new area of influence on behalf of God and others. It’s not just about you, and you aren’t alone.

· Pray for guidance and keep your eyes open to the way God answers your prayers.

That uncomfortable restlessness and that lump in your throat are painful. You likely want the answers, sent immediately via email or text message. You are willing to do whatever’s required, but can’t stand waiting to know what it is. Making a transition takes time; see how God is sustaining you in this process.

· Take risks.

For my friend to adopt a child is a risk. To go back to work – or quit your job - write a book, start a new business, leave what is familiar to engage with those who are marginalized – these are all risks, but so is every single act of love.

May we all have clarity and faith as we approach whatever is the next chapter in our lives and expand our influence.

Jennifer Grant is a freelance writer and the author of the memoir Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter (Thomas Nelson, 2011). She is currently at work on her second book, also about family, to be published by Worthy Publishing in summer 2012. Find her online at


  1. I needed to read this today as I look to my unknown future. Thank you, Jennifer, for the reminder that whatever is coming is about more than me.

  2. Beautiful, Jennifer. Those quotes you shared were powerful -- the whole article is powerful. And it makes me think. I weep over human trafficking but haven't yet figured out what to do about it. Maybe I should just keep praying about it and see where God leads. I've seen Him lead in the past -- because of tears and a broken heart I have a child from Bulgaria, a child from Russia and a child from Guatemala. And I am thankful for them.

  3. Jen, this is a powerful piece and exactly what I needed to read today. You are so, so spot-on--and the Buechner quote is going up on my desk. Thank you!

  4. Thanks for helping me make this connection between calling and tears. Its one I think I've been missing.

  5. I was cleaning out my inbox and I almost didn't read this. Oh, how I relate and agree. It is taking the first step that is the hardest.

    Thanks for the reminders to pay attention to the tears. Hopefully, at mid-life our hearts cry with the heart of God. We can trust that our tears are his and move with Him to do the work of the kingdom to his glory.

    Yes, I needed to be reminded, "it is not about me."

  6. I have been busting out in unexpected tears as I come into contact with women. As a women's pastor who is presently on disability, my heart is grieving. I have been frustrated with the tears...I have felt my season is over...thank you for helping me to see the tears and this season differently with new possibilities! This was an answer to prayer!

  7. Hitting me right where I'm living. I especially appreciate your comment on the tears. I'm about to teach a class on soul care. It's a reminder to pay attention to something that so moves our souls - the deepest level of who we are - that is brings us to tears. Powerful words. Thanks, Jennifer.

  8. Thanks, Jennifer! This post eerily parallels my own story. I was profoundly affected by the adoption stories of some of my friends... and then I also read "The Hole in our Gospel." Today, we are in the process of adopting two siblings from -- Ethiopia! It's been a long roller-coaster of a journey, but God is good. Thanks for the encouragement today.

  9. Thanks Jennifer, what you have written is so true....we are singing off the same page. It is the business of listening to the voice of God inside us in a fresh way. Women as a whole..not all know who are are and find significance in the roles they paly..when those roles change like mothering..there is that sense of "what will I do now?, who am I anyway? this there another purpose for my life.
    We have been involved in a similar work..check us out on, and have spoken at the Mops convention.
    keep up the good work. Blessings, Sibyl