Have you had your midlife crisis yet? Mine came a little early by some definitions.
Some acute awareness of mortality infiltrated me in my thirties; it was an awareness not just of my own human frailty, but of the eventual death of everything. The expiring of every second and then minute; the realization that everything is meaningless because it is fading, and the simultaneous compulsion to get busy trying to accomplish something precisely because time is running out.
Dave Matthews has a song lyric that says, “When I was young I didn’t think about it, but now I can’t get it out of my mind.” I think he was referring to death with that, and I think those words sum up the sort of heavy questioning and rumination that hit a person around thirtysomething, or whenever it is that The Crisis descends.
The Crisis. Life is going along busily and merrily enough before it hits—we’re wrapped up in commutes and mortgages and marriages and career drama and maybe children, we’re drinking a lot of coffee during the day and maybe a fair amount of beer and wine at night—and then, for some reason, a pause happens. We catch our breath for a moment, and we don’t recognize what is going on at first because we haven’t caught our breath in a long time. Everything stops spinning for a second—maybe because we got fired or sick or divorced, but maybe for no reason—and that’s when the questions begin to fill the unfamiliar silence that won’t last.
We ask: Why exactly did I get married, and if I never got married, why not? Why am I at my particular job? Is there enough time left in life to get famous or rich like I thought I would? Do I deep down hate my job? Why haven’t I moved around more, or why haven’t I settled down by now? Why am I suddenly questioning everything, and what is my next move in life? And again, does it even matter if I make a move or not?
What, why, what, why? The winds of The Crisis are now swirling.
Some would say that the concept of a midlife crisis is cliché, but they would be forgetting that The Crisis can take many nuanced forms. Maybe the Kevin Spacey, American Beauty version of a midlife crisis is a little weatherworn with its lust for youthful bodies and its renewed vigor for weightlifting and pot, but any such crisis of the soul is uniquely meaningful. I believe that The Crisis can hit at nearly any adult age and even several times within a lifespan, so the important thing isn’t whether your “midlife” crisis looks anything like that of 42-year-old Lester Burnham, it is whether you choose to assign great meaning to your own such journey. Because you need to in order to move forward.
And how does one move forward when life starts to seem too empty or too exhausting after a few decades? When under the mental and emotional assaults of a midlife (or a quarter-life or whatever-age) crisis, some people will clutch at the hands of a spouse or of a child and hang on for dear life. “It’s all about my kids,” some say, “I work for them and live for them.” Or, “It’s all about my wife. I work and live to give her everything she deserves.”
When experiencing The Crisis, people are longing for meaning and assurance—or maybe we can say that people want to be assured that their lives have meaning—so some people will get more involved in physical fitness, or charity, or hobbies, and others, as mentioned above, will rededicate themselves to a focus on loved ones. I consider all of these things to be extremely important—they are all worthy of our increased focus—but what about that problem that I mentioned at the beginning of this post: the one about things expiring and fading away.
The way I see it, the central problem of existence is that we die, and as such, the focus of a midlife (or any) quest for meaning must address that problem. How can we become immortal, we wonder? If it can’t happen through some fountain of youth at the local gym—if it can’t even happen through the creation of a lengthy bloodline or through some professional accomplishment that outlasts us—then how can it happen?
How can we find meaning not only for today, but for all of eternity? I believe that the answer to that question is a spiritual one.
I wonder if enough people get more spiritual because of The Crisis. Do enough “nonreligious” people start to wonder about why a beautifully complex life would just turn to eternal dust in a random instant, and do enough of those who consider themselves religious ask questions about the nature of their beliefs. Do they ask:
Who is God, and what does He really want with me and with everyone else on this planet? Do I only believe in Him because my parents and their parents before them said I should, or have I experienced the supernatural in a personal way? Have I examined my religion and my denomination and my church in the thoughtful way they deserve to be examined? Have I always relied on middlemen to get me close to God, or have I approached him personally and spoken to Him without the interference of other voices?
If you haven’t had your “midlife” crisis yet, I think that you probably will go through one or two before all is said and done, and I hope that you won’t ignore the spiritual undertones and overtones and right-in-your-face tones that are a part of such wondering and questioning. I didn’t write this post to proselytize—in fact, I didn’t even have a spiritual tone in mind when I began writing it—but I will leave you with two apt quotes to consider from the New Testament. Reflect on them as you will.
You’ve probably heard these words before, even if you aren’t a “religious” person, but the next time you are debating your next big move and wondering why that last job or relationship or raise or accomplishment didn’t leave you feeling full forever, consider these words from Jesus in John 14:27: "Peace I leave with you," He said. "My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
And the next time you are wondering what needs to be added to your life to make it truly meaningful—whether that wondering comes because of a midlife crisis or just because you are going through some everyday disappointment—consider these words from Jesus in Matthew 16:26: "And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than the soul?"
So, when you find yourself in the midst of The Crisis—when you are feeling old or unfulfilled or unloved or unaccomplished—go ahead and get back to the gym so that your curls and sprints put your 18-year-old self to shame. Go ahead and walk away from that job if you really need to. Shore up your relationships, make changes to your diet, travel more or settle down, get that instrument back in your hands, start a blog or a small business, or get yourself a new haircut and a new car. But just remember that everything fades except the soul, so don’t ignore it. Especially when it is begging for your attention in such a way.
Michael Priebe holds a journalism degree from The University of Wisconsin-Madison. He writes spiritual inspiration for stressed workers at The Lovely Grind and he blogs about his life at Michaelpriebewriter.com. He encourages you to sign up here to get his free e-book, Morning Buzz: 30 Devotions for Workday Inspiration.