Turning 40: Why I Thank God For My Painful Mid-Life Crisis – Hope 103.2

Turning 40:
Why I Thank God For My Painful Mid-Life Crisis

By Akos BaloghWednesday 4 Apr 2018

It happened at the strangest times. 

Whether arriving home from coaching my son’s soccer team, or finishing a long-distance bike-ride with friends. Without any warning, I felt it: A blanket of emotions – depressive, suffocating – descended on me. Taunting me. Whispering to my soul. Making me feel things I had rarely felt before.

I felt the weight of my mortality: that one day, no matter what, I was going to die. Yes, I had always known that my bodily existence had a use-by date. But I had never felt the weight of my upcoming date with the grim reaper.

Until now.

No, I hadn’t received a terminal diagnosis. As far as I knew, I was still fit and healthy. But my life had turned a corner. I had reached a milestone: I had just turned 40.

Turning 40

As Iooked back on my first forty years, I felt many emotions: thankfulness; joy; happiness. For life, for family, for friends.

But a stark realisation dawned on me: the last 40 years had just flown by – where they had they gone? And if the first 40 years had gone this quickly, then the next 40 years will go ever quicker (isn’t that the way?). In 40 years, I’ll be nearing death’s door (unless of course I get there sooner).

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And there’s nothing I – or anybody else – can do about it.

This dark realisation fell upon all areas of my life – nothing was immune. If my death was so certain, then what’s the point of life? What’s the point of working, raising a family, husbanding my wife – since we’re all going to die (relatively) soon anyway? Life began to feel meaningless.

I was not in a good place, so soon after turning 40.

Entering the ‘midlife crisis’

I asked my dear wife Sarah – a practicing psychologist – whether I was depressed. She gently assured me I wasn’t – I didn’t have all the symptoms. Something else was going on. And that something is what our culture commonly calls a ‘midlife crisis’.

Christian author Paul Tripp points out:

The disorientation of midlife is the result of the collision of a powerful personal awareness and a powerful personal interpretation… Suddenly we see things about ourselves that have been developing for years but went by unnoticed. [1]
For me, I had come to realise my mortality.

Swallowing the secular narrative

No, I hadn’t given up my faith in the Lord Jesus and his return – but boy, the reality of death tested it like nothing else ever had. I had functionally assumed the narrative that many in our culture take for granted: there is no god; we’re just chance accidents here on this planet; here today, and gone tomorrow – with no ultimate purpose, no life after death, no hope, and no meaning.

I felt the existential weight of this hope-less narrative as I hit mid-life.

Making sense of my mid-life crisis

Thankfully, God didn’t leave me floundering. He gave me a lifeline – a way to grow through this unexpected watershed. Ray Galea (a pastor friend of mine), recommended a book by American Author Paul Tripp, aptly named ‘Lost in the Middle – Midlife and the Grace of God’.

It was a God-send. It gave me the gospel-shaped perspective on midlife I so desperately needed. Through this book, it felt like Tripp was speaking to me personally, and applying the riches of the gospel to my situation.

Here’s some of what I learned:[2]

1) Midlife confusion is common.

It’s natural to get to your midlife and experience confusion and bewilderment as you look back on your life. Here are some of the characteristics of such confusion:

  • Discouragement. At some point you begin to realise that you have lost the expectancy, vibrancy, hopefulness, and courage of your youth;
  • Dread. A generalised worrying about aging and death;
  • Disinterest. Losing interest in things that once interested you – work, relationships, sport, etc.

2) The Root of the midlife problem is our wrong thinking about life.

According to Tripp, the crisis of midlife is essentially a problem of interpretation: Whatever trouble midlife brings to us is essentially caused by the wrong thinking we bring to it. [3] 

3) The Gospel-shaped solution

If the root of midlife struggles is a wrong interpretation of life, then we are faced with a choice: will we let the theology of Scripture exegete and interpret our life, or let life reinterpret our theology? [4]

In other words, will I let my midlife pain overtly shape my view of God – leading to doubt and uncertainty in Him? Or will I let Scripture interpret my pain – leading me to my suffering Saviour, who knows my distress?

The choice is clear.

“Whatever trouble midlife brings to us is essentially caused by the wrong thinking we bring to it.”

Looking back, I had let a secularised view of reality frame my experience of midlife – which is why I felt so fearful and starved for meaning. But a biblical view of reality provides a different interpretation, a different narrative: one that gives meaning, hope, and joy.

In particular, here is a gospel shaped interpretation of midlife:

  • Our suffering is part of God’s good plan for us. Our pain is not the failure of God’s plan. Instead, God is fulfilling his good purposes through our pain (cf. Rom 8:28).
  • Growing old exposes the futility of idols. Yes, we are aging, and our bodies are decaying. And so relying on keeping yourself healthy and good looking will only end in frustration. Instead, the aging process is a sign showing our need for the One who will rescue us from decay and death.
  • Growing old helps orient our hearts toward eternal hope. Growing old can open our eyes to the sweet eternal hope of the gospel in ways that youth and vibrant health never could.

The Severe Mercy of Midlife and Aging.

We live in culture that celebrates – nay, idolises – youthful beauty, and dreads growing old. It’s not surprising that Christians get caught up in thinking the same way.

But it’s in the midst of our aging – of the dashing of earthly hopes and dreams – that God can do his greatest work. As Tripp points out so beautifully:

Reject the self-pity, envy, and discouragement that are so tempting at this time. Look to heaven and be thankful. You are being rescued…Don’t mourn the death of your hope in the physical. Celebrate this death, for it is a welcome to a new life of renewed and vigorous love, service, and communion with your redeemer.”[5]

Amen.

Article supplied with thanks to Akos Balogh. About the Author: Akos is the Executive Director of the Gospel Coalition Australia. He has a Masters in Theology and is a trained Combat and Aerospace Engineer.

Notes: All quotes taken from Paul Tripp, Lost in the Middle – Midlife and the Grace of God

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