The “M” word (Menopause) garners different reactions. If you are my age (late 40s), you might be interested and trepidatious—this is your immediate future. If you are young, you might think it has nothing to do with you. If you are male, you may even roll your eyes and wonder why we are going on about women’s issues again.
Menopause is a “women’s issue” that is easily overlooked. But discussion is beginning to take us on a more helpful curve. Rachel Jones’ recent book A Brief Theology of Periods (see TGCA review), helps to bring these issues helpfully and gracefully into theological focus. After all, something that is “Women’s Business” affects 50% of the population—and over 50% of our church communities where the proportion of women is higher—which probably means we should look closer at it.
Views of Menopause
Menopause may be seen as a condition that needs to be treated … the death of a woman’s purpose and standing.
To modern medicine, menopause may be seen as a condition that needs to be treated so that a woman can continue functioning at her former capacity. To a society that prizes youth, it means the death of a woman’s purpose and standing. Once you’ve been through menopause, you are officially old. And, for many women, being old means that they become less of a person—in some cases, even invisible.
Is this what God intended for daughters made in his image?
Menopause as Part of the Created Order
One thing we can say is that menopause is uniquely female and is tied to our ability to have children. Menopause is the time when a woman stops producing eggs and so it is the marker of the time past which she cannot have any children. By that biological reality, menopause is part of the order built into the world. It allows our world and our bodies to function in a predictable and understandable pattern. It also makes it clear then, when something outside the norm (i.e. when God is directly intervening in our world) is occurring.
Thus, when Sarah, past the age of childbearing (Heb 11:11) falls pregnant with Isaac, we know for certain that it was God’s intervention because it was biologically impossible for her to have conceived. If the menopause was not a biological boundary, we would not know that this was God’s work.
For the rest of us, menopause is still part of God’s will; something he has coded into the timing of our biology. It is a “given” of our lives. It is something that he will use to reveal his glory.
Why all the Symptoms, God?
Nonetheless, it is a difficult time for woman, physically and emotionally. There are hot flashes, lack of sleep, general fatigue, painful sex, anxiety, osteoporosis, loss of hair and it plays merry hell with her moods and mental health.
Here menopause is a symptom and reminder of the Fall which has impacted women’s biology (as well as everything else) (Gen. 3:16); part of the the groaning of all creation as it longs to be set free from its decay (Rom 8:21).
If that is the case, however, we can know that God will be with us in them. It is a spur to lean on him and to prove his promises: that nothing can separate us from his love in Christ; that he will somehow make us more than conquerors (Rom 8:37-39).
So, we can access treatment and medical support, but it is something natural that happens to us and so to a large extent cannot be controlled. But we can look to God as our mainstay and use medication and diet as a support (not the other way round).
A New Life, rather than the Death of the Old
There is another element to menopause though. While this broken world sees a woman’s worth in her ability to bear children; in her youth and beauty, God sees a woman’s worth in her relationship with him. If we see menopause the way the world does, it might make us believe that a woman after menopause is effectively done with. If we see a woman the way God does, we need to ask, what does menopause mean for God’s purposes?
Menopause isn’t a death, it is a transition … the start of something.
Because menopause isn’t a death, it is a transition. We tend to focus on the part of the transition that is the end of something, but we also need to focus on the part of the transition that is the start of something. It is the start of life without periods and the potential for pregnancy. What does that life look like? What could it look like? What does that give us—time? Energy? Resources? Mental real estate? Could this freedom have something to do with the important and officially-acknowledged role of older women and widows in the New Testament (see 1Tim 5; Tit 2:3-4)? I wouldn’t want to stretch a biblical point too far as the message to those women, and the place of those women within the community of God, has a deeper significance than biology. But it is quite something that a biological transition allows us to move into these plans that God has for us.
However this transition works out in our varied lives, I think there is a pastoral opportunity and responsibility for ministers, pastoral leaders and each of us as part of the same body. It is our joyful responsibility to support women through the menopause process and what limits in their capacities it might temporarily mean. The opportunity is to help them think carefully about changes and to embrace the new place God is taking them, without the pressure of trying to be what they were before.
As a woman, it means a lot to me that God has coded a rationale into my biology. I am fearful of what comes next, but I know that I have pastoral groups around me with whom I can talk and rely on. And as I learn more, I am hopeful that I can support others pastorally too.
For now, I am thinking about what it will mean for me when I am past that point—what it will mean for my life and my identity and what it will enable me to do. I don’t have the answer for that yet, but I do know that God has a purpose in it.
 And this is true whether we think of menopause as part of God’s original design or an effect of the Fall.