Many men experience a mid-life crisis. Typically, not so many women go through this same sort of "hit-the-wall" passage in their middle adult years. Why? because women still garner tremendous meaning and significance through the raising of children and grandchildren. In fact, statistically, it has been shown that mothers of small children and women raising needy grandchildren have the lowest suicides rates of the total spectrum of humanity. Why? because they are needed.
Now back to the men—and women who suffer mid-life crises. What goes on here with this syndrome? Usually, it began in junior high and high school when we tended to grow outrageous fantasies about what life would deliver to us. Our illusions were grown in the fertile soil of media entertainment and storybooks, coupled with our own juvenile driving insistent inability to master any self-delay or self-denial in reference to our emerging self. Then, for years and years we fertilized our unrealities rather than weeding them out.
Then came the victimization stage. Out came the measuring sticks, and nothing, absolutely nothing measured up in our circumstances or relationships—not even close. Thus, loudly, our protestations began—the masked cries for help. "Hey, what I'm experiencing doesn't fit with how life is supposed to be." This was followed by the engulfing "me-ism"/entitlement/blame scenario. Rather than dump the illusion and recalibrate, we clutched the illusion even more vigorously. In order to make sense of it all, we pandered to self even more. "This is only happening to me; no one else goes through what I go through. Look at me. Take care of me." As this unfolds, others tire of the myopia and generally withdraw. The resultant isolation makes the malcontent even more lonely and perplexed.
But finally, in some drowsy hour, often deep in the night when the noise stops, the truth wills out. The clutch is finally released. But is it over? In many cases, no, it is not. Often, depression marches right in to replace it. There's your mid-life crisis.
So, what does the self-made "victim" DO? He/she frantically now sets out to re-do early life. Find a different spouse. Go out and change my circumstances—find better ones. Surely, the right circumstances will deliver the right kind of life. The only problem is that now, as an older person, all the original plethora of potential spouses is gone—most of the options are used ones and/or defeated ones—and few and far between ones at all. And one's own fading beauty and fading energy make all the "catching a fairy-tale mate" far more sluggish. And when he thinks he finds one, he doesn't count on the question of "what they will look like in old age?" and how will they act toward him in the final chapter? Is this apt to be better than what I now have? Hmmm...I hadn't thought about old age at all—only my immediate hour. I thought I could reject with impunity. "I'll reject you, but you will feed me lunch!" Face absolute aloneness in my final hour? —hadn't thought about that, either. The only important hour is this current one. Or be rejected by my grown children and spouse in response to my prior rejection of them? I thought that there was only one person who mattered in this story. Arrghh.
And how goes the self-crafting of new circumstances? Can we even do it? Or do we find dead ends at the end of every furtive, darting idea? In addition, we find to our own chagrin that we can't even define what we want now—like trying to catch a butterfly. Every butterfly caught now immediately loses its magic and lies stiff at the bottom of our jar.
So, is escapism the solution? Drink, drug, and bury oneself in entertainment? Embark, too, on enacting all kinds of little delicious suicides—like self-sabotage? Relationally increase methods of manipulation and control. Demand more. Or try on some type of adult screaming? i.e., louder self-made assertions about how life is supposed to be for me, wafted with more energy into mid-air. Or perhaps it is found in "buy, buy, buy," like a maniac. Surely a new Lexus will do it. Debt or die. Is not such a life a catastrophe?
When the mid-life crisis disorder is looked at under eagle-eye scrutiny, we find that experiencing mid-life crises is a First World problem. When we set it in its historical context we can identify different sorts of role models for weathering the mid-term storms. There, we find examples of nobility, courage, endurance, strangely cropping up in mid-life and old age. Honest earlier recalibration worked.
If we look even deeper at this modern syndrome, we can note that there is something even better than secular recalibration, engineered by our own wits, to weather mid-life. Could there be some spiritual answers? What if the disillusionment was planned by an all-knowing and all-wise God? Now, let's back up and re-do this challenge as a believer—even as a backslidden follower of the Lord.
What if God takes every believer through a "world-let-down" on purpose? —insisting that He alone is our core? What if it is part of His school of discipleship for eternal people? What if it is His graduate school of maturation? If the job is done well on our behalf, we find, to our initial shock, that nothing in life is as we imagined it! Nothing.
In fact, Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his matchless little book, Life Together, asserts that every community of relationships, whether it be one's family of origin, one's marriage, one's own family, one's church, one's neighborhood or job and work setting, has to crash—and with it, all the aspirations for perfect circumstances have to crash, too.
The restored objective, after falling through the fragile floor of worldliness, is to begin again on spiritual turf. Through gentle nudgings we now find that life is to be lived in the adoration of our Maker (habitual gratefulness for the smallest of graces—which then mushroom into thundering praises—living waters flowing out of us in torrents in eternity) and responding to His impulses for what to make of life, by our own exertions and influence, moment by moment. Only then do we step up to the wondrous platform of real life.
Far from demanding that life serve us, we find that the entrance level requirement to this far more fulfilling world is that we serve life. We begin by putting on the apron, and rolling up the sleeves. The hunt is on for the needs of others, this time—not the junior high scramble to make it into the in-crowd, myself. Getting outside of self is the bastion of fulfillment. How do we sustain it? By refueling at the throne—treasuring the infinite sweet embraces of our Maker. As the old hymn writer wrote: "Let me to Thy bosom fly. Other succor have I none!" This, alone, is reality. And here, on this sure turf, there are no mid-life crises—nor, much to our wildest delight, are there any post-life crises, either!