We go through a million phases in life: childhood, adolescence, college, marriage, kids, empty nest, retirement. I’m on the cusp of empty nest. For years I’ve watched my friends cry rivers over their kids leaving home. This year it’s my turn (my eyes are getting a little sweaty even writing about it).
These ‘phase of life’ changes unsettle us because change is scary and we don’t know what the future holds. I don’t want to leave this phase of life; I like it. It all went too fast, and I don’t know if I’ll like what comes next.
Fear about the future coupled with grief of losing the present can result in a full-on emotional crisis.
I know I’m not a party of one when it comes to fearing the future. Maybe it’s a combination of losing a sense of control, and wondering if our best years are behind us. If we’ve had a happy life thus far we don’t want to lose it, and if it’s been a struggle we don’t want more of the same.
The future is a mystery where we’re not guaranteed safety, security, companionship, or even relevance. In today’s global challenges, we can’t necessarily predict our future well-being based on our past comforts.
Irrespective of our phase in life, the future can feel like shaky ground.
It’s Okay to Fess Up
Most of us are too proud to admit we’re scared of anything. Confessing our fears doesn’t speak them in to existence; it can actually take the power out of them. Anxiety about the future is a pretty common experience, and there can be comfort in sharing the burden with one another. When the winds of change begin to blow, it’s reasonable to feel insecure.
Moms may wonder how to fill the empty house and hours they’ll be faced with; retirees may wonder how they’ll feel relevant; dads may wonder how they’ll provide for their families in a rapidly changing world; or college kids stress whether they’ll be able to find a job. There’s no shortage of fears to go around.
Acknowledging them is the first step to finding support and regaining perspective.
Focus on What You Have Authority Over
The only value of fear is to prompt action where it can be effective. I call this my ‘circle of control’. God has given us authority over quite a bit: our actions, beliefs, words, behavior, priorities, and treatment of others. We don’t have control over: anyone else, global events, or time.
Change is inevitable whether we like it or not. Resistance is a lost opportunity to adapt to change by focusing on what we can control. Instead, try to embrace change and position yourself as well as you can to handle it. This may mean building up relationships, finding new hobbies, financial planning, or reinventing parts of your life.
We may not be able to control much about the future, but we can always control our perspective.
There’s a Reason it’s Called Faith
If we don’t control the future we must consider who does. Faith is trusting in what we can’t see (Heb 11:1). When the future looks scary our only hope is to believe that God really is who He says He is. God says He knows His plans for us, plans to prosper us and not to harm us (Jer 29:11). C.S. Lewis said, “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” I hear you, Clive.
I also want to know (and approve) those details. We don’t have that luxury though, because it negates faith, which is the only thing we offer back to God. We don’t know what the future will bring, but if we are in Christ, we have nothing but upside. If the future brings blessings, praise God. If it brings suffering, He promises it is temporary and He will sustain us (2 Cor 4:17, Psalm 55:22).
When we fear the future we need to go back to God’s promises for us, and be reminded that our best times are still ahead (1 Peter 1:6).
These are very uncertain days. There is suffering all around and I know many who feel apprehensive. As I enter in to my own phase of life change, I share in these feelings. We can’t hand-wring though, we have to keep moving and pursue our lives. Preparation goes a long way in keeping anxiety in check. Be proactive to influence your future as much as you’re able. As well, sharpen your spiritual disciplines as they will greatly contribute to inner peace.