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When Your Scaffolding Won’t Support You

A strange thing catches people off guard as they get older.

The rhythms and practices of self-care that used to support our well-being don’t seem to do the job anymore.

So, we redouble our efforts. We get more disciplined. We work harder at what we’ve always done. And, the results? We become more exhausted, less creative, and more desperate for the next vacation break. To say it another way, our souls become weary.

You can’t peg this trend to a definitive age or moment in life, but more often than not, it begins to catch up to us in our later 30’s or early 40’s. The complexities of life grow exponentially in that era. Our early successes lead to greater responsibilities at work or in ministry. Our parents hit health and other life-stage challenges. Exercise gets harder to sustain. Our children become teenagers—no commentary needed. Not to mention our own health related pot holes.

You know what I mean by that scaffolding, right? Those crucial relational and internal support systems that make life rich. Romance with your spouse. Spiritual disciplines. Times of solitude and reflection. Engagement with close friends. Play and rest that balances work and chores. Delight in your children. etc. etc.

Think of it as the scaffolding that supports the internal quality of your life. In the same way that the scaffolding you need to work on a one story building is much less robust than what you need for five stories, the rhythms you need to sustain your life when you were a young adult are insufficient for your 40’s. (By the way, what works in our 40’s won’t be enough to sustain you in your 50’s or 60’s either.)

Don’t panic. There is nothing wrong with you. It’s merely one of those realities in life that no one warned us about.

As we grow older and the challenges of life grow more demanding, we simply cannot find all we need to nurture our inner life from the practices that got it done when we were younger.

Shoot, back then we could run on adrenaline and pizza all day long.

Consider the spiritual practices we learned when we were in our early 20’s. Many of us were trained to spend some quiet time with God every day. We read the Bible, maybe read a devotional, talked to God about the things on our prayer list, and sometimes memorized a few verses from Scripture. It worked. It was meaningful. It formed us.

But, then as we got older, the complexities of life left simple devotional practices feeling thin. We needed additional ways to explore the mystery and majesty of God’s nature. We need new rhythms to help us embrace the paradoxes that lurk at the intersection of an earthly life and a supernatural God. We need to grapple with the nuances of grace and truth, of omnipotence and suffering, of prayer and silence.

Have you noticed that quite often, leaders in their 40’s and 50’s start exploring the disciplines of Church Fathers? Solitude. Silence. Fasting. Listening Prayer. For many people, what began as an existential crisis of faith became a gateway to ancient pathways of engaging with God.

And, the stronger scaffolding we need is not just in the arena of our spiritual lives. Consider a few more examples...

Friendships—How many people woke up one day to realize they don’t really have any deep friendships. Sure they have work acquaintances, but who are their 2:00 am friends?

Marriages—Remember when a weekly date was enough to help you sustain closeness? Shoot, do you even remember having a weekly date—or one where you didn’t spend the whole time talking about your bills or the kids?

Mentors—Sure, you probably invest a lot in other people, but who do you connect with that regularly pours their life and experience into you? The older you get the harder it is to find the mentors you need.

Exercise—Does the mere mention of exercise awaken a bit of guilt? The point I’m making has nothing to do with guilt. We just need to be honest and admit that when we were younger we did more active stuff all the time. As we age, exercise only happens when we become more deliberate, even obsessive about it.


The Principle:

The rhythms and disciplines of life that sustained us when we were younger will be inadequate to meet the demands of future seasons. At every stage of life we need to discover the practices of new scaffolding that will fuel a robust inner life.

The Prescription:

I can state the prescription in two words: TIME and MONEY.

I’d love to sugar coat it, but that won’t serve anyone. To discover and build new scaffolding that sustains your personal vitality, it is going to cost you more. More time—greater intentionality and greater quantity. And more money—investing in yourself and your well being. Consider a few examples.

Your best friends will take new jobs—or you will—and move elsewhere. Staying connected is going to take time and effort and probably some travel as well. But, great friends with whom you share personal history are rare indeed. Surrender them at your own peril. To quote one of my oldest friends, “we are too old to make new old friends.”

As you get older and your work or ministry responsibilities increase, the kind of mentoring you need becomes more specialized. Finding and accessing mentors who can speak to those new needs will require travel or sacrificial allocations of time.

Your marriage takes hits every day. It’s not a malicious thing, it’s just the price tag of a broken world. The question is, "what do you and your spouse need to access the healing balm of healthy time together?" A random date or a short getaway surrounded by 51 weeks of getting beat up is probably not going to get the job done. Only you know what rhythms will be adequate, but my experience is that you need more than you think you need. You don’t need me to tell you what to do or how to be creative in finding what works for you, but I’ll bet it will require time and money. What matters is not what you do, but how you will build the scaffolding that supports deep relationship with the one person in the world that it is most easy to take for granted.


Look yourself in the mirror and do an honest assessment of your own scaffolding. Make a list of every life-support system that is important to you and then ask, “what are the rhythms and disciplines I actively practice in that area?” And, “Are they working like I need them to?”

Once you’ve done that, then start dreaming about what you could do to shore up the ones that won’t hold your weight any longer. You don’t need a perfect plan, you need a starting point. While you're at it, grab a friend and do it together. Begin to experiment. Share your ideas. Evaluate your progress.

The point is frighteningly simple. When your scaffolding won’t support you any longer, don’t freak out. That’s normal. Instead, get up and start building new scaffolding.

Photo Credit: Kevin Grieve on Unsplash


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