Spiritual dangers of a midlife crisis

Lorraine Murray

Combined ShapeCaption
Lorraine Murray

The typical midlife crisis features a married man who’s bored with his job and anguishing about aging, because his hair is graying and his paunch is growing. His wife and family, once sources of joy, now seem like a chain around his neck. He wonders, “Is this all there is?”

This crisis can hit women too, but there’s a predictable pattern with men, who sometimes purchase sports cars and join a gym. Other men take a more treacherous path by divorcing their wife, moving out of the family home and starting a new relationship.

Judging by the many online photos showing geriatric male celebrities with dewy-eyed young women, it seems this path leads to a more meaningful, happy existence, right? Well, no, actually, because this solution to a crisis is fraught with spiritual dangers, since it rests on a false premise, namely that we have a God-given right to happiness. If everyone operated under this assumption, there would be no heroes.

We wouldn’t read stories about firefighters rushing into burning buildings, knowing the likelihood of re-emerging is slim. We wouldn’t read about the courageous grandmother in Georgia who jumped into a lake to save her teenage granddaughter and lost her own life. We wouldn’t meet parents who work long hours, sometimes two jobs, so they can provide for their kids.

My friend’s father contracted stomach cancer when my friend was 16. The father had taken a new job and had to work a year before his wife would receive benefits after his death. Despite being in terrible pain, the father continued working, and when the year was up, he came home, went to bed and died the next week. He became a hero to his family, because he put their well-being over his own happiness.

The father modeled the sacrificial love that led Christ to die on the cross. He knew Christ hadn’t taught that life’s goal is happiness, but rather serving others and loving God. Clearly, Christ could have run away from the unspeakable suffering he faced, but he carried his cross and accepted his death willingly.

Believing the goal of life is our own happiness can harm others. In many divorces, the spouse who is left behind grieves the death of the relationship, while the children blame themselves for the marriage failing.

Try telling heartbroken children Daddy got bored with his family, so he’s starting a new life without them. Try telling them Daddy doesn’t love Mommy anymore, and they’ll conclude he doesn’t love them either.

A midlife crisis can be painful, but it can be conquered without harming others. First, take the focus away from yourself and find folks who are carrying much bigger crosses than yours. Get in touch with Veterans’ hospitals, nursing homes, Habitat for Humanity and refugee centers -- and don’t forget to look within your own family.

Second, start praying for your wife and children, your co-workers and your neighbors, and ask God for the grace to become a hero to your family.

Finally, accept that aging and death are inevitable, so the time we have is precious. We can aim for the biggest prize of all, which isn’t our own happiness, but instead someday hearing God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”