Life in the Middle Ages
Midlife is more than a “crisis.” It is a summons to grow and a challenge to change. Midlife beckons us inward to discover our authenticity, to recognize both our limitations and our giftedness, to find our truest self.
Midlife cannot be defined by a chronological age. We are asking the same questions as adolescents: “Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?” Yet there are few aids to prepare us for this second journey—few counselors or signposts, even in the church. The answers we discovered in adolescence no longer ring true in midlife, but it is scary to embark on this new passage—and many never attempt it, resigning themselves to settle for a life that is safe and secure, even if no longer meaningful.
There is much written about change: changing oneself, changing others with better communication, changing situations by prayer, but in the end, most people remain basically the same. “Disguise and denial get better,” says Richard Rohr, but truly transformed people are rare. Paul describes radical change in his journey as a believer: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me . . .” (Gal. 2:20)
As I prayed for a mentor to understand and guide me during my midlife journey, I read When the Heart Waits, by Sue Monk Kidd. It is her story of learning to wait for God to strip away the false persona she had known in order to discover her authentic True Self. Sue became my mentor on this confusing journey and her book offered me the hope and purpose I was searching for:
“Is it possible, I asked myself, that I’m being summoned from some deep and holy place within? Am I being asked to enter a new passage in the spiritual life—the journey from false self to true self? Am I being asked to dismantle old masks and patterns and unfold a deeper, more authentic self—the one God created me to be? Am I being compelled to disturb my inner universe in quest of the undiscovered being who clamors from within?”
Carl Jung believed that “every midlife crisis is a spiritual crisis, that we are called to die to the old self (ego), the fruit of the first half of life and liberate the new man or woman within us.” Jung says that the first half of life, “morning,” relates to the outer world; the second half, “afternoon,” focuses on the inner life. He compares the midlife transition to a difficult birth.
At midlife, we realize our limitations and accept our mortality. Some things no longer matter. We spend the first half of life acquiring—accumulating stuff, earning degrees, bringing children into the world. We spend the second half letting go—children leaving, friends dying, down-sizing homes and possessions, shedding our false selves and the masks we have worn for decades to please others.
We are haunted with the fantasy of someday “having it all together,” achieving perfection. We search books, relationships, and expert advice for the key that will once and for all ensure our perfect happiness and fulfillment, filling our emptiness and restlessness. We instinctively evaluate our lives: How well have I used my gifts? Have I been a good wife? a good father? Have I come close to being what God created me for? In the process, we hear many voices. One voice knows what is most valuable and what direction we need to take, but God’s voice is often fragile and tentative, hard to hear amid the din of other messages.
Some voices are peppered with shoulds and oughts: “look what others have accomplished…they are creative, successful, productive…you’ve done nothing in comparison to them.” We need to be gentle with ourselves, forgiving the mistakes we’ve made and the hurts we’ve received. Midlife can involve a grieving process, letting go of former ways of viewing ourselves, longing for what might have been and will never be. This frees us, lifting burdens we’ve carried and allowing renewed energy to flow again.
Not everyone accepts the challenges of going deeper that the midlife journey demands because it can be lonely, dark, and uncertain. But those willing to let go of old fears and constraints are able to dream and prepare for what’s ahead. For those who choose God’s invitation for growth, there is fullness of joy and peace.
Life in the Middle Ages: A Midlife Retreat for Women – Oct. 22 and 29.
To learn more about this challenging season of life, join us for two days of retreat as we share with each other and enjoy time for solitude, listening to God in nature, worship, rest, and reflection. Click here for more information and registration.