The word “menopause” is often associated with its negative symptoms– hot flashes, sleeplessness, and weight struggles. But what if we’ve missed the gifts associated with menopause? Through personal experience and research, Dr. Cheryl Bridges Johns has identified 7 benefits of this oft-maligned season in a woman’s life. Listen in today to hear the good gifts God has in store for His maturing daughters!
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- Cheryl’s website: https://CherylBJohns.com
- Blog post from Cheryl: “Anger Becomes Her”
- Episode #207 Transcript — coming soon!
- What have you dreaded about menopause? (Or what did you dread?)
- What surprising plus did you learn about menopause as you listened?
- How do you anticipate what you’ll receive or what do you appreciate about what you’ve already received?
Featured Author — Cheryl Bridges Johns
Cheryl is the Robert E. Fisher Professor of Spiritual Renewal at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary. She helped her husband, Jackie, plant a church, where they served for 27 years.
They have two daughters and five grandchildren. The Johns have a small farm where they raise Dexter cattle and blueberries.
Transcript — scroll to read here (or download above)
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Episode #207: How Menopause Might Take You by Surprise (in a GOOD way!)
Note: This is a machine-generated transcript that is only about 60-70% accurate.
So tell us what led you to write a book about this important but not often talked about topic of menopause?
Well, I think the first thing I would say is that going through the experience myself, and having somewhat of a rough ride with it. And I remember my husband and I were riding in the car. And I said, I think when all of this time is over, I’m going to see it as a gift. And he said, Well, maybe you should write a book about that. So I did. And then I had for years been doing studies in human development and particular women’s development, women’s studies, and looking at the unique ways women go through the life journey, and so much, so many times that that unique journey is not addressed appropriately. And so I wanted to help women to see that they’re just this there’s this built in what we sometimes called development a window. I think God has given us to grow and develop into more mature wise women
it’s a this is sounds goofy but it’s a gift to start to see it as a gift because it is difficult.
Alright, so I like that concept of it being a developmental when window. So how is menopause a built in development a win window for women to discover meaning and purpose for that second half of life?
Yeah, you know, we’re never static. We we grow the lifespan is until until death and each stage of life presents what sometimes psychologists call developmental task We forget about that. I think we assume that when we become adults at least mid 30s 40s, that we’re sort of static. We know that we age but we don’t understand that there are some real radical transformation yet ahead. We you know, you can look at Child Development theories and we talk about all of those developmental tasks that children have to go through learning to walk learning to run just, and then and an adolescence Erik Erikson talked about, you know, learning, developing self identity and so forth. But for women believe that we don’t recognize the developmental window that God provides during perimenopause and menopause, to maybe shed some things of the past and then to take up some new things. things for the future. And, you know, for centuries it’s been a very difficult subject for women because there’s so much I talk about this some in the book but they prejudice against older women. prejudice against postmenopausal women, the witch trials in the 14th. Through the 17th centuries were pretty rough on older women, especially older women with power. And even into the 20th century, it was still common to say that menopause was the death of the woman and the woman. Well, that’s horrible. To say, well, you, you kind of lose your ability to bear children and therefore you lose a lot of your youthfulness and worthiness, so to speak, and what good is a woman then after that, it was assumed that her mind wasn’t as good that she was sort of all worn out the old gray mare kind of thing. So the death of the woman In the woman, I tried to re frame that into the birth of the woman in a woman. And there’s Yeah, there’s some things that die, the ability, the capacity to have children, all of that we need to mourn. But then development is wonderful if it’s okay now what’s coming? There’s some new new things coming. And I call them gifts. No, these wonderful developmental tasks that I see is just gifts to women.
Well, so I mean it you talk about this shift in perspective. So how can women find the courage to move beyond the first half of life and become spiritual holding containers?
Yeah, you know, that chapter on identify the seven gifts and or seven developmental task and one of the gifts identify is the gift of spiritual Freedom. And again, it’s as if we are to be static. And that was a hardest chapter to write this, this gift of spiritual freedom because I think women are given spiritual holding containers. And Richard Rohr talks about this a lot about holding containers and they are good because without parameters of holding containers, we would not know who we are, we would know our tradition, we wouldn’t know what we believe. So as children especially and young people, we need good safe holding containers. But they can get pretty tight. And then I think for women is sort of like Well, here’s a holding container we want to give you in your early 20s and you’re supposed to live and die in it and let’s have some women’s conferences on bloom where you’re planted and you know, she she made the most of the space given How many times have I heard, just made the most of this face? So what I’m trying to do is help women say that first part of life may have been good and wonderful. affirm that, but what might be some way to ways in which God is calling you to step out of those holding containers, like, you’ve always been this and you’ve always done this. But what if there’s a new calling of another space of vision that’s larger than the one that you’ve just been giving? Given? And what if God actually calls you to step out into some Uncharted space? Try to help women walk out of that space faithfully to Scripture unto themselves with courage and I’m like, Okay, I’m, I’m standing here at baggage claim. You’re You’re leaving that first half of life with a lot of baggage. Now, and there are all these people standing there baggage claim with signs. It’s like, I’ll be your spiritual guide. Well, some of these women are in their early 30s and 40s. And that’s fine. But what I want to say is I’ve kind of got some roads under my belt, and I’m standing here with my sign saying, I’ll be your spiritual guide into the second half of life and help you go through this process of moving into maybe new space, Uncharted space, with with faith and courage, and besides that, you know, God’s Spirit is with us. And sometimes, God’s Spirit actually like the word there where the spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness is almost like the emphasis there in the Greek is and the spirit show shall be him into the wilderness or pushed him in. And I feel like menopause. perimenopause is a spiritual shoving, pushing, wake up call that the the holding containers you have felt comfortable in. If you stay, you may stagnate, you never stay the same. You either grow or stagnate, but you don’t have the choice of just staying the same. And I think too many women are updated versions of their younger selves. Their older versions just updated the software kind of thing you know, rather than they might need some kind of radical transformation and the things that happened to our body and our brain during perimenopause are primed. We’re just primed for that change.
That’s good news. I mean, that’s good. That God has has physically wired As for a new and exciting season, and that’s that’s good news.
You know, as you’re talking about the holding containers I’m thinking about repotting a plant that’s become rootbound to the point that you know, like fungus has grown and it is going to die. And and I’m not a I don’t have a green thumb. I have a Blackfoot thumb. But you know, I’ve seen that happen. And then as you’re saying that we might need radical change. My first thought, which Amy and I will talk about when we do our second episode here is don’t I owe it to everybody who knows me to stay the same? Don’t I owe it to my family to stay the same? Don’t I owe it to my friends to stay the same? Don’t I owe it to my church to say the same? You don’t have to answer that one. But that was the first thing that that came to mind. How dare I
step out of a holding container that somebody else made for me, right? I mean, that’s a whole we could go a long ways down that road, I think.
So in an early chapter in your book, Seven transforming gifts of menopause. It’s titled The gift of anger. And so my first thought was, well, that’s an oxymoron, right? their gift and anger. How can that go together? And you introduced me to a brand new term that’s been running through my head perimenopausal anger. So first of all, what is perimenopausal anger and second, talk to us about how anger can possibly be a gift?
Okay, yeah, that was the last chapter. I added it sort of at the at the very end not. And I think I’m glad. I’m glad that I added that chapter. perimenopausal anger or sometimes it’s called perimenopausal rage happens when now you’ve got this lovely wash of hormones that happens to women. During puberty. You’ve got sort of this dance that goes on with estrogen and progesterone and your feel it’s the nesting syndrome, the feel good and the you know, the authority on this time. Christiane Northrup, I used a lot of her work. She’s a physician specializing in this. And it’s the kind of thing that causes women to almost get drugged. I hate to say that it’s like we’re drugged at puberty with this feel good sense of, I want to nurture I want to ness and the ability to let things go. I’m going to let that go. I’ll just put that aside. I’ll let it go. We have a remarkable capacity in this first part of our journey to sort of brush things aside and let things go. But at perimenopause, that balance there in that lovely dance of progesterone and estrogen gets all out of whack. And you get sometimes rise in estrogen and drops in progesterone and what happens is the rose colored glasses come off and on You’re no longer drugged, so to speak, and you go, I let that go. I did that. I overlooked that because things never disappear. They go down into the caverns of our psyche, deep down in there, they’re still there. And when this hormonal stuff in our brain gives way, they start coming back. They’ve got issues. It’s like, the things that you buried come back and sometimes in vivid ways. And almost like you don’t have the anger, the anchor has you. And that’s part of this pyramid or what sometimes is called perimenopausal rage. Women who have experienced trauma in their earlier life. Episodes of trauma are more likely to experience this sort of uncontrollable anger and rage. And it’s a time to not hate yourself. Or it’s a time to be gentle with yourself knowing that, for one thing, anger is legitimate. It’s something that’s telling you, you need to pay attention to things because when things get buried, they fester. And when things fester, they make you sick and many, all kinds of ways that the whole system of our psyche and, and our body and everything gets out of whack. And the more we repress the, the worse it is on our body. And so this anger that’s always been there. Maybe we were abused, or maybe our husband left us or maybe this happened or we lost this job unfairly. And we think well, I’m a good Christian woman. I’m gonna pray about that and let it go. It doesn’t go away. It just kind of get stirred up. And and that’s probably good, but the it’s it’s a cumulative thing and the bill collectors comes calling and says, Okay, we got to deal with this now. And that’s why I advise in this chapter for women to find a therapist and maybe even some good antidepressants in hormone therapy that’s balanced to give us assistance in that period of time. There’s no shame in that.
Do you find that women are blindsided by this?
Yeah, yeah, I think we are because we’re not we don’t talk about this period of time, even in our generation. You know, we can talk about everything, you know, people talk about things today that I think not I would just talk about all this in public, you know, but we don’t talk we still don’t talk about nopales menopausal anger and we still stereotype and the angry menopausal sweating woman you know, and out of control, screaming. Well, that may happen but That’s not all that bad and preparing ourselves like if someone’s listening to this who’s in their 30s or 40s, early 40s or so it’s, it’s good to say okay, I may be prone to this. And if you had serious PMS, and maybe pretty bad, postpartum depression, then you want to prepare for perimenopause. Just go ahead and prepare for that in ways that would say, Okay, I’m going to probably get more depressed and I’m going to have more anxiety during this time. I may have a lot of anger. So I want to go ahead and shore up my life as before I go into that in my book, just reading ahead. It’s okay for a woman. Past menopause to remember can be helpful because we’re never static and things that you didn’t deal with you can still deal with it today. 70 but also, these are good things to look at and deal with in your 30s and 40s, in the sense that I don’t want to wait to where I’m desperate. And I want to kind of be proactive, I guess is the word proactive? Mm hmm.
Well, I just feel like everything you’re saying can take so much shame, and so much isolation out of the experience. Because if we think well, it’s just me and I’m losing my mind, then we’re going to try to white knuckle it through, but to realize that actually, there are very valid chemical reasons,
opens up all sorts of possibilities. Yeah, and you don’t find many support groups for women going through this.
I was I don’t know of any great point.
In the chapter on the gift of spiritual freedom, you encourage women to embrace non dualistic thinking. So tell us what non dualistic thinking is, and why should we embrace it and how do we do that? Yeah,
dualistic thinking is a capacity you get pretty early in life. And we hone that skill in, in our cognitive development and what psychologist Jean Piaget called the Oh goodness, my mind just went blank. It’s a concrete thinking and then we move into more abstract formal operational thinking. And that has two stages. One is called dichotomizing thinking. And that’s the 13 year old 14 year old who knows everything and you know, nothing. They make, you know, when a great debate team members and now let’s go at it, here’s creation, here’s evolution, here’s democracy here. So and we can nuance to the differences and this is a like this and this is dissimilar. It’s an important skill of thought to take categorize and to systematize and used in science like this genius of a species has these characteristics, another has that and but then around the age of 16, or, or even younger we begin to move into develop the capacity to think about thinking to do more abstract in a way that it’s not so cut and dry and black and white, so that one could say the opposite of a profound truth is another profound truth. Now, if you’ve just got dichotomizing thinking you got What did you just say? The opposite of a truth is error or falsehood, but not always. It’s another profound truth can be the opposite of profound truth and the Apostle Paul was sort of the master at dialectical thinking. He would say I’m living but yet I’m dying. It is, you know, becoming all things to all people. And it’s the particular and the general together it is to lose your life in order to gain your life and all of these kinds of things that are part of being a mature Christian education, especially I guess, in the last 40 or 50 years in the states in particular, when we went to all of the back to basic stuff we, we didn’t do a lot of education for dialectical thought. And it’s teaching to the test. And therefore, I think a lot of adults today have parts of their brain that sort of have atrophied. We don’t use a lot of dialectical thought on everyday activities. You don’t need that to balance your checkbook or whatever. But to go into some of the deeper mysteries of life, and to Go into spiritual maturity, you’ve got to lay aside some of that. Black and White dichotomizing thought and go beyond the sign, soundbites that come out of that into it is both and women have been rewarded for not thinking dialectically because, again, it’s okay here is the woman’s place. And here’s the man’s place or whatever and, okay, that’s dichotomizing thinking. And
it’s often dialectical thought is, I want to ask, what if we put this together and this together? I know they’ve never been put together but there might be a synergy or creative energy in that synthesis there and to go outside of boxes of thought and move And somewhat sometimes leaps of thought, and bring this person in the room with this person and what can we learn from each of them? Rather than, I’m just going to be with people in my box back to the holding containers. People just like me, I’m more comfortable with that. And I will share this Facebook meme because it’s my my group’s meme, right? I’m going to this is, this is my truth. This is my world. And for women to go outside of that it is more difficult. Historically, it’s been women have been denied higher education and the ability and the opportunity to develop the skills of dialectical thought and embed embrace paradox in ways that living and growing and developing causes us to be forced maybe to embrace paradox but You know, suffering and joy. We live long enough we learn perhaps how to embrace that. That’s a paradox. That’s dialectical thought, I’m suffering, but I have great joy. And so I just think that for women to mature, it’s important to learn the skill of dialectical thinking, to, to push some boundaries and to say, Well, what if, what if, you know, and push out some things that you might not have put into your world?
Hmm, that that resonates a great deal, and especially for Amy, who’s it’s very much been going through that journey herself.
Very much. Yeah. We’ll have a lot to talk about with that. Well, and I think your your picture of social media that was immediately what I thought of that we’re living in such divisive times, and I think It reflects a real lack of being able to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes or consider a possibility that has never been part of our lives before. And so it’s super important what you’re talking about. Mm
Well, our listeners gave us a ton of really great questions. And so we’re just going to focus on a couple that deal with the emotional and spiritual impact of menopause. And so, this is one that Amy, I’m going to jump to number seven and let you take number eight. Okay, okay. Okay. So this is this is one that both Amy and I have dealt with and we heard from our listeners, I was unprepared for the sleeplessness. I feel more sleep deprived now than I did when I was nursing a newborn and chasing a toddler. So how do I embrace the gift of my authentic self? While my memory my vocabulary and my reasoning skills are taking such a nosedive? Yeah,
Well, you just don’t embrace that gift yet. I think that the that’s why I have that first gift as the gift of just uncovering or the gift of deconstruction. And you just got to lean into that storm. But while you’re leaning into it, it’s not a time to maybe look for your vision or your authentic self, as much as just listening to your body. What’s my body saying? Maybe my eye is experiencing too much anxiety. Maybe I’ve I’ve been programmed to go on overdrive and live my life as if this hyper overdrive life is normal. And now my body is saying, no, this this is not normal. This is anxiety attacks are saying what what are they trying to tell us about how we are living? And in some ways, I think COVID-19 might be a good metaphor, because it is a way in which that we will have been fighting Forced to slow down and to maybe take a breath and to cool out of public space and a harried life of taking our kids from one soccer practice to game to this to travel tournament to that and never have to slow down so the things that happen in our body during perimenopause are sort of like our body saying I’m shedding some stuff here and I’m also letting you know I need your attention Hmm, I need you to look at me my the body your I’ve been your friend I’ve been I’ve been with you through childbearing. I’ve been with you through all this. But right now, just look at me your body and what is what’s your body saying? And so, for instance, in my time, the night sweats and the sleeplessness and anxiety I relied a lot on this integrative medicine physician that I went to who gave me a little bit of Lunesta, they helped me sleep and then the hormones helped the compounded hormones I took helped with the night sweats and things so that I could I don’t you don’t want to overmedicate. You don’t want to kill the messenger. But you want to at least level out enough to say, Okay, now, how can I listen to my body here and give my body more sleep more rest? How can I not put so much stress on on my system? What do I need to shed as my body is shedding? What do I need to shed in my lifestyle? Let go of the kind at that time to yourself. The book that came out shortly after mine the try soft By Andi kobler has been very helpful for I’ve just been reading through it. In other words, you know, we, we’ve been programmed to try harder to do with more time management, just if I manage my time better. Well, it might not be that we need to manage our time better it might be that we just need less harried activity. So trying, just be soft with us during that our own body, soft with ourselves, gentle with ourselves, God is gentle, and, and I had this image during this time of being wrapped up by the wings of the Spirit, like a cocoon and being held. And that sense of I’m just going into this cocoon for a while in order to shed some things. Then then be prepared though for The time of the rebirth, the vision, the self, but there is a time of deconstruction, where we don’t need to say okay, now what’s my vision for the second half of life? Or how am I going to find my authentic self, you just need to ride the storm. Just let it blow on you and ride it out. I like to body surf. And the best thrill is getting the way that the right time and then riding that to shore and I think that’s what we have to do.
Cheryl, what closing words do you have to motivate our listeners who want to embrace the transforming gifts of menopause.
The last chapter of the book is the gift of courage. And that’s a that’s a hard thing to have sometimes. But courage is not the absence of fear, it’s the ability to go ahead even with the fear and to tap into that younger, courageous self, maybe that got lost down in those caverns of our psyche. So it’s a, it’s a time to not withdrawal and to wither into, there’s a delicate balance of going into a cocoon. And and then you’ve got to be careful that you don’t go into a tomb. And you just withdraw. I’ve seen I’ve seen too I’ve seen women talk about this in the book who have had so much precious women have had so much complex trauma in their lives, that when this bill collector came, it just seemed to take everything and they ended up on disability and other things. So what I would suggest is, prepare for it. Find support, reading my book and other books that would help And know that, you know, it’s like, you know, when you prepare, if you’ve had a child for labor and delivery, you know that you’re going into something rough, but it’s going to be very good. And you just do all that you can to help yourself, move into that time and space and know that there’s beautiful stuff on the other side. And also, um, you’re not alone. You may feel God forsaken, literally. But God is there in a different way. Maybe not to rescue you from the storm, but just to be with you in that time.