Here's his email: I’m a forty-two year old, married, Christian male who is struggling with purposelessness. Though my life is extremely hectic, it seems meaningless at times. A friend tells me it’s a “mid-life” crisis. If so, what can I do to get through it?”
Whether male or female, dealing effectively with the myriad of changes that come in the middle years of life can be a daunting task. Marriages often disintegrate, as one or both partners come to believe that they've been “missing something.” Most aren't sure what that “something” is; they just think they need to look elsewhere to find it. Phrases like, “I’ve got to find myself” or “I just need space” aren't uncommon during the middle years. Neither is divorce.
Among the extra tension points of the middle years are:
Unrealized Dreams. Often there's the realization that our lifetime dreams and goals won't be accomplished. We won’t be famous, or rich. At best, we may just be average people passing through. This can be difficult to accept. Kierkegaard said, “When a man aspires to be a Caesar and fails to become a Caesar, he will hate what he is because he is not a Caesar.”
Cynicism. One of the dangers of aging is cynicism. As we age, some move from idealism, to realism, to cynicism. We see enough pain, suffering and injustice along life’s way (or experience it ourselves) to become skeptical or calloused.
Guilt The middle years can heighten our sense of guilt over past failures. We look at the mistakes our children are making and somehow feel responsible. We look back on our years as a spouse and see lots of mistakes. We’d love a do-over, but it's not available. That finality can be oppressive.
Financial Pressures. The middle years are pregnant with financial strain--mortgages, college tuition, taxes, cars, and retirement. The need to support elderly parents can combine to create huge financial burdens. Some start to wonder, “Is it really worth the strain?”
Loss. As we age, friends and loved ones pass away. Our children leave home. We spend more time in hospitals, nursing homes and funeral homes than we’d like. Sometimes it feels like life is ebbing away, and there are visible reminders on all sides.
So what can we do? How can we navigate these challenging years? Here are some thoughts:
Base your self-esteem on what God thinks about you. He's for you, not against you. He's not mad at you. There's no condemnation (Romans 8:1). You're His child (John 1:12). You're important because He loves you, regardless of what anyone else thinks, or even how you view yourself. You don’t have to achieve anything to be somebody in God’s eyes. You're accepted and esteemed--holy and blameless (Col. 1:21-22). Nothing can change that; not even the challenges of middle-age.
Take an active interest in others. Stop asking “How am I doing?” and force yourself to say to others, “How are you doing?” Then listen, encourage and express love. A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small package.
Don’t become overly introspective, which is one of the great dangers of mid-life. We tend to overanalyze everything, especially ourselves. Despair, or even depression, is sometimes the result.
Be hopeful. As long as you're still alive, you do have a future! Jeremiah 29:11 says, “I know the plans I have for you…plans to give you a hope and a future.” Whether we’re forty or seventy, it's just healthy to be looking ahead. Rear-view mirrors have value, but they make terrible windshields.
Order your priorities. Because of the multiplicity of things that come our way in the middle years, we must order our priorities. It was during the middle years of his life that Paul wrote, “This one thing I do…” Paul knew what mattered most and gave his time and energy to its accomplishment.
Finally, reaffirm that God does have a plan and purpose for your life...ALL of your life. Paul wrote, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Gal. 6:9). God’s desire for us in the middle years of life is that we keep a vertical perspective and press on. In the meantime try this: enjoy life, don't just endure it. If you want to find reasons to be happy, you will.
Someone once asked me, “If you had only 24 hours to live, what would you tell your loved ones?” As I pondered the question, my friend said, “Just live each day as if the question were true.” Good advice, especially in the middle years.
Hugh Prather, in his essay, Notes to Myself wrote, If I had only forgotten future greatness and looked at the green things, and reached out to those around me, and smelled the air, and ignored all the forms and self-styled obligations, and heard the rain on the roof, and put my arms around my wife. Perhaps…it’s not too late.