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Midlife: Crisis and Opportunity

Many people between the ages of forty and fifty lose the old certainties of life. They ask about the meaning of their lives. They question their work. Until then they had exerted all their energies to build a family and establish a solid economic foundation. Perhaps they built a house. But now they begin to question who and what they did this for.

Midlife crisis is not merely a matter of adapting oneself to changing physical and psychic realities. Nor is it simply coping with the decline of physical and intellectual energies or integrating the new desires and longings that frequently emerge at midlife. Rather, it’s a matter of a deep existential crisis in which the meaning of everything is called into question. Why do I work so much? Why do I wear myself out? Why do I not find more time for myself? Essentially, midlife is a crisis of meaning and, therefore, a religious crisis. And yet, hidden within the crisis, there is the opportunity to find new meaning for one’s life.

The crisis of midlife winnows the elements of human life so that one can refine and reorder them anew. From the perspective of faith, God himself is at work in this crisis. God moves the human heart to pry it open and free it from all self-deception. For believers, the crisis is not something that intrudes from the outside, where faith can be mustered as a source of power to cope with it. Rather, God himself is at work in the crisis and so, at the same time, the crisis is the place for new and intensive encounters and experiences with God. The crisis is a decisive crossroad on the path of faith. It is a juncture at which one must decide whether God will be embraced to enrich one’s life and help one grow and develop—whether one is prepared to surrender oneself in faith to God and to give one’s life to him.

According to Swiss therapist C. G. Jung, there can be no development of the self until one has acquired an intimate sense of the divine indwelling. The Apostle Paul’s idea of God in us where “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). The challenge of midlife is to let go of the narrow ego and submit oneself to God. Whoever refuses to surrender will never find wholeness and, finally, will never gain spiritual health.

Excerpted from The Spiritual Challenge of Midlife: Crisis and Opportunity by Anselm Grun, OSB (Liguori product code 814112).
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Published inReflections