In the space of a few hours recently, I listened independently to two friends – one of each gender – describe situations and feelings in their life that were eerily similar. Feelings of restlessness, depression, and distress over their inability to control what they were sensing.
Being ever-so-slightly older than these two individuals, I reminisced in my mind about my own similar exasperation around their age! When I gently suggested the ‘M’ word (mid-life), one said, “My spouse wondered if I was having a mid-life crisis, but I don’t think that’s what it is.” I hastened to assure my friend that mid-life doesn’t have to be a crisis, but it certainly is a transition.
Much has been written about midlife, but surprisingly, I don’t hear a lot of discussion about it. It’s rather embarrassing and just the suggestion that one is in midlife brings to mind images of marital infidelity, AARP cards, declining health and loss of things we deem important.
“I feel like I should have my life together by this time. Instead, I feel like I know less than nothing about where I’m headed and what I should be doing.”
“I feel out of control. I’m usually not so emotional, but I cry at the drop of a hat.”
“I’m restless. I want to do something different, but I’m stuck. I don’t want to have an affair, but I don’t know why I’m so bored with everything.”
These are real statements of those entering the unknown waters of midlife, a time aptly compared to adolescence for its uncertainty, confusion and often-undulating emotions and hormones.
This may seem a strange topic to discuss publicly, yet somehow I think there is much to consider. As a firm believer in a Sovereign God, I trust He orchestrates this life-period for an important purpose.
In his remarkable book Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, author Richard Rohr writes about two major life tasks for humans: first, to “build a strong ‘container’ or identity; the second to find the contents that the container was meant to hold.”
In other words, during the first ‘half’ of life (though it is not necessarily a chronological occurrence) most effort is put into surviving successfully – building a nice basement and some sort of foundation for our ‘house’. Tasks include establishing an identity, getting a job, family, security, etc. After years of pushing to achieve, life begins to settle into a routine and sometimes, around mid-life, we begin to wonder if this is all there is! A restlessness, boredom or uneasiness may begin to creep in. For some, unanswerable questions, personal failures, or damaged relationships intrude into the security they have worked so hard to achieve.
I believe these tremors (which may develop into an earthquake) signal a Heavenly tug to look beyond the outer endeavors that we’ve concentrated on, to the inner tasks that signal second-half-of-life growth. Perhaps that’s what 1 Corinthians 13:11 means, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”
“Most often we don’t pay attention to that inner task until we have had some kind of fall or failure in our outer tasks…Most of us find failure bewildering, but it does not have to be. The human ego prefers anything, just about anything, to failing or changing or dying.
“Sooner or later, if you are on any classic ‘spiritual schedule,’ some event, person, death, idea, or relationship will enter your life that you simply cannot deal with, using your present skill set, your acquired knowledge, or your strong willpowers. Spiritually speaking, you will be, you must be, led to the edge of your own private resources…This is the only way that Life-Fate-God-Grace-Mystery can get you to change, let go of your egocentric preoccupations, and go on the further and larger journey.”
While first-half-of-life tasks are necessary, “there is a deeper voice of God, which you must learn to hear and obey in the second half of life. It will sound an awful lot like the voices of risk, of trust, of surrender, of soul, of ‘common sense,’ of destiny, of love, or an intimate stranger, of your deepest self…The true faith journey only begins at this point. Up to now everything is mere preparation. Finally, we have a container strong enough to hold the contents of our real life, which is always filled with contradictions and adventures and immense challenges. Psychological wholeness and spiritual holiness never exclude the problem from the solution. If it is wholeness, then it is always paradoxical, and holds both the dark and light sides of things.” (emphasis provided)
If you caught a glimpse of yourself in this mirror, I pray a flicker of hope will arise in your heart. For, rather than being a thing to be frustrated at or feared, mid-life or growing up or second-half-of-life work just might be the most exciting time of spiritual growth, beyond your wildest imaginations.
Because just beyond your wildest imaginations is precisely where God dwells.
Ann Halim, Editor, eWeekend
(All quotes from Falling Upward, by Richard Rohr)
Reprinted with permission