Your life isn’t about you, you are about life.
– Richard Rohr
When I say “midlife crisis”, what comes to mind? I’m willing to bet it’s not positive. YET, what if midlife crises could be positive? In fact, what if they even should be a BLESSING? As many of my friends and I enter midlife, and went/are going through a variety upheavals and/or changes in life, relationships, beliefs, and/or ways of being in the world, a theory occurred to me: I think midlife “crises” are actually normal and should be a BLESSING.
It all starts when life begins to fall apart. The question is: What sense do we make of and how do we respond to miscarriage, infidelity, unemployment, divorce, death, cancer, major injury, and the like? Do we include and enfold these traumas into a larger, more expansive, more inclusive, peaceful, and grace-filled mode of living? Or do we get smaller, more bitter, more selfish, more fearful, angrier, and/or more worried?
Note, I think this can, and does, apply to “positives” as well. A promotion, a remarriage, a personal business taking off, getting a book published, retiring, having the kids move out, becoming a grandparent, moving to a new house, and so on, are all crises of sorts.
As we age and go through our own unique ups and downs in life, we hopefully get wiser. What do I mean by “wiser”? Great question! I think around midlife the accumulation of crises in each of our lives (good and bad) reaches a tipping point. Our previous container for understanding life gets full and no longer works, as it’s too small. We expect good people to get good things and be treated well. We think “bad” things will happen to bad people, or at least someone else and someone we don’t know. My point is, it seems around midlife we realize that life isn’t “fair”, it isn’t controllable, and much doesn’t go the way we’d like or expect it to.
This propels us either to a bigger, more expansive understanding of things, wherein we become more understanding, more compassionate, more merciful, more inclusive, more forgiving, more giving, and more loving (wisdom). Or it leads us to collapse in on ourselves, becoming more selfish, more self-absorbed, more correct/right, more closed off, and more fearful. BTW, this last image is the stereotypical result of a midlife crisis, at least initially. It’s the guy who divorces his wife for the young, model and gets a sports car.
I think this wisdom unfolds in three arenas: Self, Others, and God. When it comes to self, the blessing of a midlife crisis allows us accept the radical truth of grace: We NEVER had to do ANYTHING to be successful, worthy, and loved. We simply always were and always will be, with NO effort or achievement on our part. This humility (and lets be honest, our egos don’t like this truth, they want to DO great things to BE valuable) is freedom.
When it comes to others, we see this same truth echoed in them. We realize the inherent beauty and value in EVERY other person. This brings us to a place where we freely, gladly, and fully care for others … even when they’re being jerks! What is more, we become less jerky as we no longer have to prove ourselves. We don’t have to be correct/right all the time and on every topic. We leave room for others to disagree with us, even on “heated” issues, because we value being connected more than correct.
On the God side of things, it seems to me a midlife blessing nudges us toward surrender and bigness. Realizing life is both beyond our control and doesn’t live by the rules we think it does or should, frees us to stop trying to be god and govern our worlds and those of others. We let go, give up, and relax into our Creator. Now, if you’re like me there might be some alarm bells going off in your head. I’m NOT saying we let go and let God, I’m NOT saying we literally give up. Instead, I’m saying we relax into the truths that life is beyond our control and the Divine is always and forever with us, for us, all around us, in us, and on our side. This, friends, brings freedom and peace. It transforms us into a non-anxious presence, a person who is free from the pressure to perform AND the need to get others to respond, change, give, or whatever in response to the gifts we give her or him (note, by “gifts” I mean the time we spend, the words we share, the encouragement we give, the meals we share, the things we do for him/her, and so on; basically, the “gift” of our time, presence, thoughts, and energy).
In short, we give the gifts of our time, efforts, words, thoughts, and energies to others and walk away. We live more and more detached from expecting tit for tat, praise, change, or whatever in response to our efforts. We still engage and work for the thriving and flourishing of others, we just do it without putting the pressure of our expectations on either them or ourselves.
Richard Rohr and many other spiritual teachers see transformation as occurring in three stages: order > disorder > reorder. While this is a series of events we’re constantly going through in life, I think our midlife crisis is a uniquely big, important, and essential aspect of each of our transformation. It’s the BIG DISORDER, which should result in the BLESSING of the BIG REORDER. Richard Rohr talks of this in terms of first half of life and second half of life. In the first half of life we’re all about achieving, becoming, earning, doing, succeeding, growing, competing, winning, and the like (our egos steer our ships). The midlife crisis we each eventually go through then opens the door to the second half of life and invites us in. While some people decline the invite, those who accept are steadily transformed into people who’re all about connecting, giving, forgiving, listening, accepting, caring, sharing, being, and loving (Love steers our ships).
I’d say my midlife crisis started 12 years ago. Since I was only 30, maybe that makes me an early bloomer for the first time in life, lol. At any rate, at the time my daughter’s mom (my wife at the time) and I had been going to a church we LOVED for years. Every week we went to a young adult gathering where the music was fantastic and the message applicable.
Then the church decided to end the young adult gathering and have everyone go to “regular” church (which we didn’t particularly like). Hmm, let me back up a bit. A little earlier that year, my daughter (Lara) was born. Recalling how good things can be “crises” I think this major change may have been part of it all and the blessing. At any rate, within the space of less than a year-and-a-half, I had a daughter, lost the church gathering I adored, began questioning “truths” I’d been taught about God/life/love, moved, started a big-shot/stressful job in the Air Force, had a miscarriage, came to understand the terrible impact of abuse on peoples’ lives, and was traumatically separated from my wife in a long, painful, and redeeming process that eventually ended in divorce.
(My beautiful and joy filled daughter when she was a baby back then 🙂
Up until then my life had been pretty much ordered and made sense according to how I understood things to work. Until then when I’d aimed for success, I’d been successful … but suddenly, I wasn’t. Before things had been orderly, yet suddenly they weren’t. I was in the midst of disorder.
As my world blew apart, I had the option to either get smaller, more selfish, and more fearful, or join something bigger, wherein lay more wholeness, peace, joy, and love. In fits and starts, while sometimes tripping into the first list, I think I’ve generally picked the second path … with LOTS of HELP from LOTS of AMAZING friends and family! ❤ I think this is the blessing the midlife crisis we each goes through invites us to accept.
There’s a big, expansive, inclusive, peaceful, non-anxious, calm, graceful, and understanding quality to life on the reordered side of the midlife crisis. Richard Rohr describes it (and sums up my experience) by saying: “Only in the final ‘reorder’ stage can darkness and light coexist, can paradox be okay. We are finally at home in the only world that ever existed. This is true and contemplative knowing. Here death is a part of life, failure is a part of victory, and imperfection is included in perfection. Opposites collide and unite; EVERYTHING BELONGS.” [Emphasis mine]
What are your thoughts on and/or experiences of midlife crises? What do you think about my take on it? What could it mean for you? I really think midlife crises are a blessing; they’re a gift meant to urge us to embrace the messiness of life as somehow beautiful. They plant a never-ending flow of peace, joy, and love in our hearts, which endures in the midst of ALL life’s storms.
At this point you and I realize, your life isn’t about you, you are about life!
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Grace and peace,