By Kim Shay
Over two years ago, I was taking my Dyson vacuum cleaner up the stairs to clean. When I got to the top of the stairs, the cord, which I had unwisely not wound around the machine, but carried in my hand, got tangled, and I had to unravel it. As I attempted to sort out the stubborn mess, I suddenly felt heat coming from within my body, at my torso, and which began moving upward. I felt a sudden rush of anxiety overwhelm me and for a minute, I honestly contemplated hurling the Dyson down the stairs. I didn’t because there is a closet at the bottom of the stairs, and even in the heat (no pun intended) of the moment, I realized it was not a good idea.
The heat passed, and when I went into the bathroom, my face, neck, and ears were bright red. I had experienced a hot flash. This wasn’t my first, and it has not been my last. I have come to the place now where I know what triggers them, and I know that unexplained anxiety is part of them. I’m 48 years old and into menopause.
Menopause: The Universal Experience
Why would we talk about menopause here? Isn’t that a physical issue? Yes, it is, but it’s a physical issue all women are created to experience. Unless a woman dies prematurely, she will go through menopause. Furthermore, our spiritual and physical selves cannot be divorced from each other, and very often, one affects the other. Not only does menopause come with things such as hot flashes, weight gain, and unwanted facial hair, it can come with serious mood swings that border on depression, debilitating migraines, inability to concentrate, insomnia, and increased risk for heart disease and osteoporosis. Menopause affects more than a mood; it can affect the whole woman, mind and body, and that can interfere with our spiritual lives.
Menopause, in the industrialized world, occurs at the average of 51.4 years. It can begin as early as 40 or as late as 58. It can take one to two years to complete. You know you’re in menopause when you go an entire year without menstruating. Menopause can also be entered unnaturally through surgical procedures requiring removal of the ovaries, or through chemotherapy. Just like every adolescent girl knew her first period was coming, women over 40 know menopause is coming. And while it may often be fodder for humor, for some women, it’s not a laughing matter.
Menopause often occurs alongside other significant changes in a woman’s life: her children leaving home, having aging or sick parents, a return to a busy career, caring for grandchildren, or perhaps a husband’s early retirement. At times, it’s a combination of things. Those things are difficult to cope with on their own, but the added complication of the emotional and physical aspects of menopause can make them harder.
Added to this is the fact that we live in a very youth-obsessed culture. One thing about menopause; it will let you know how much vanity is an issue for you. It might surprise you. We realize we’re getting older, and in a culture that doesn’t always praise age, we can feel out of touch, or worst, cast aside. The stress of getting older, and facing the challenges of age become much more real, and a woman can find herself struggling, or in the worst case, bitter. It sounds rather dismal, doesn’t it? What can we do? Just when we feel like we may have some freedom after years of raising children, we face physical challenges.
A Christian Response to Menopause
There are many things we can do. First, and foremost, we must remember that we are created in God’s image, and that our bodies were created by him even as we age. This process is part of God’s design. Second, we need to remember that the injunction in Romans 12:1-2 was not just for the young. He wants us to present our bodies for his service, regardless of our estrogen levels. In Christ, we have all we need for life and godliness, no matter how old we are. Menopause is not an excuse for not serving, and neither is it an excuse to let our emotions overwhelm us. Being older can actually be a great time of freedom for service. Menopause can cause us to be very self-focused because we feel like the body snatchers have invaded. It’s a time to look outside ourselves, to serve others as our health allows.
Third, we can be informed. Learn all you can about what to expect at this time in your life. Consult your doctor and ask for information, for reading suggestions. When we can’t control what’s going on with our bodies, we can feel productive by gathering information and understanding. Fourth, we can stay healthy. As we get older, this will only become more of a concern. Being more attentive to our health will be a help as we age. Don’t be as focused on your body image, but rather, think about your overall health. Stay active, eat well, and be in regular contact with your doctor. Finally be in the word regularly. When we saturate ourselves in God’s word, we see our creator as he is, and that helps us to see who we are. We cannot know ourselves with knowing God. As we get a right view of who we are, it will remind us what our purpose is: to serve Christ. We need daily reminders that God is faithful so that we will not grow weary.
Philippians 1:6 reminds us that God will complete what He has begun in us. He will do this no matter what our physical situation is, and indeed, He may use the struggle of this time in our lives to further refine us. Not that long ago, I had a wise older woman tell me, “Menopause won’t kill you.” She was right. The discomforts that come are not pleasant, but as in every case where we feel weak, God will show His strength in us.
Here are some resources you might find helpful:
- Pat Wingert, and Barbara Kantrowitz, The Menopause Book (Workman Publishing, New York, 2009)
- Elyse Fitzpatrick, The Afternoon of Life (P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ, 2004)
- Pamela Smith, R.D., When Your Hormones Go Haywire (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2003)
Kim Shay has been a child of God since 1985, married to Neil since 1987, and has been home full-time since 1989. She has three young adult children. She is currently a blogger, bible teacher and Curriculum Co-ordinator for her local church’s women’s ministry committee. She blogs at The Upward Call and Out of the Ordinary. You can follow her on Twitter @upwardcall.