Thursday, December 3, 2009

Anatomy of a Mid-Life Crisis

December. It seems every December I become a bit retrospective. I think I did a pretty good job last December of dissecting why I get this way every year. So it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that it's happening to me again. In fact, things have been going so good for me this year, that I almost didn't recognize what I have been feeling. I actually thought to myself, "Am I having a mid-life crisis?" Then I remembered that go through this every December. 

The first time I truly began to feel the pain of meaninglessness was December, 1989. As a precocious tenth grader, I was obsessed with the book, The Catcher in the Rye, and I began to write a narrative of my own thoughts in similar fashion. On the very first page of that journal I lamented the fact that I was fifteen, because I was "halfway to thirty." Even at that time, I understood that time is running out for everyone, including myself. Naturally, this was not a mid-life crisis at all. (If it were, I'd be dead by now, as I once mused at 18: "I can consider this year a mid-life crisis if I die at 36.") Rather, this is what I would call an existential crisis. In fact, a mid-life crisis is nothing more than an existential crisis in mid-life, but you can have one at any age!

In preparing for this post, I came across an interesting article which inspired me, and also inspired me to inspire you. Lawrence Yong gives us "Five Things To Keep in Mind Always". On the subject of time, he writes:

Why do we always picture ourselves living at the top half of the hourglass, where time is always slipping away?

Instead, why don’t we imagine ourselves in the bottom half of the hourglass?

There, every minute is followed by another minute that comes pouring in. Every hour’s followed by another hour and everyday is just the first of many days to come.
These sentiments uncover the exact science behind the so-called "mid-life crisis." A mid-life crisis, or any existential crisis, for that matter, is nothing more than discontentment over what God has given us. Instead of focusing on what we have, we are too busy focusing on what we do not have: we do not have our youth, we do not have our vibrant health and strength as we once did, and thus, we think we do not have our "whole life" ahead of us.

Yet if we look closely, we will see something odd about that last one. In fact, I think it is the very reason why Lawrence's post gripped me. Technically, it's true: we don't have our whole life ahead of us. Some of it is, in fact, behind us. But we still have so much of life ahead of us! As Lawrence indicated, we need to place ourselves in the bottom half of that hourglass, looking up. Did you get that last part? Looking up.

"We do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor 4:18).Some folks imagine when those grains of sand finally run out that there is nothing left. However those sands are simply the number of days that He has given to us to prepare for what's next. A mid-life crisis occurs when we focus on the sand, rather than what comes after the sand. In a sense, if we pictured ourselves on the bottom half, looking up, the sand is actually obstructing our view of God. As Christians, we should be trying to look beyond the sand so that we can see God at work through it all. We are told that one day, we will be able to see clearly (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The antidote to worrying that you may be wasting your life is simple: Don't. If you stop focusing on the life you could have had, you will have the clear vision to look ahead to see the life that you actually do have: the life God intended for you. So look up, my friends! We have all eternity ahead of us.

Related Articles:
Striking the Set
Romanticizing the Past
Age and Idolatry

3 comments:

David said...

Jennifer,

Loved reading your thoughts. You are right, it is an existential crisis. I have been in an almost perpetual state of crisis for several years. Sometimes it is so bad, I can't help but laugh. I recently published a novel, Shmooky (and other post-mid-life confessions). It is a tale of love, loss and ultimately redemption at mid-life.It's a little quirky but attempts to address and explain the issues you raise.

David Sierra

Bobby Mosteller said...

Jennifer,

I can't encourage you enough to keep writing this stuff. It is amazing and for you to open up this way in order to help others is a blessing.

You really nailed down some thoughts for me with this last post. After reading about your issues with anger. I realized that a major cause in my own life, for anger and bitterness, is not being content with God's disposal. In a sense we have idolized our lives and have become egocentric to the degree of sin. For some reason we operate, sometimes without even thinking, with a presupposition that we deserve more than we have. I tried explaining this to my wife one time-

I mentioned to her that we take the morning sun and the beauty of our trees for granted. We have always known it and have never known life without it. We always assume that it should be there and it is not considered a blessing because we forget the fact that it is a miracle that it is even there to begin with. It is simply a miracle and particularly placed for man's enjoyment and to remind us of God's love and personal interest in US. That changes your perspective dramatically. You then see purpose everywhere and God's particular involvement in your particular life.

So when we start to see that God has blessed us in everything we then realized how even the small things are a tremendous blessing. I have really found new meaning in the phrase "This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it" It is a wonderful place to be when you realize everyday is made and hand-crafted especially for you personally. How can we not forget ourselves in Him?

I hope some of this makes sense. Keep up the great work Sister.

BM

Jennifer said...

Bobby, thank you so much for sharing. Not only does it make sense, it helps me! I am still battling hatred toward one individual for certain, and I know that hatred is a manifestation of anger and vice versa. If I were more content with what I have, I would not be so irritated by this person's every little word and deed.

I am glad I am writing this stuff down, too. I had to go back and re-read what I wrote last December - because I need to be reminded of these truths again this year . . .