Question: "What does the Bible say about a midlife crisis?"
Answer: A midlife crisis is usually seen as the period of time, somewhere between 35 and 60 years of age, when a person goes through a “slump” of sorts, a depressed state in which he or she begins to reevaluate his or her direction and purpose in life. Everyone is different, of course, and personal reactions to a midlife crisis can vary wildly. Some people in midlife crisis long to regain their youth and thus go on spending sprees, act flirtatiously, or seek out adventure. Others inwardly fret about unmet goals, the uselessness of life, or the emptiness of their relationships. The Bible does not address the issue of midlife crisis directly, as the phenomenon has really only been researched since the 1970s, and the term midlife crisis is of fairly recent coinage.
Something akin to midlife crisis might be described in the book of Ecclesiastes, which details the emptiness of a life lived apart from God. Even after years of work and piling up accomplishments, the Preacher despairs of finding any lasting value:
“My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:10–11).
We can point to at least three biblical reasons why a person may experience something like a midlife crisis. First, we live in a fallen world in which all of us sin and none of us fully live up to our potential, so we all struggle with feelings of regret and disappointment. These feelings are naturally amplified as we age: as our mortality becomes more apparent, we realize we’re running out of time and our past failures are likely becoming more permanent. The Preacher says that “the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).
A second reason a person may face a midlife crisis is that he or she is undergoing spiritual warfare. The ultimate account of a “midlife crisis” is that of Job. This godly man lost everything he had due to the attacks of Satan on his life. Afterward, God restored to Job what he had lost and blessed him for not faltering in his faith during the time of attack (Job 42:12–17). While spiritual warfare can happen at any time in our lives, not just in midlife, it certainly could play an integral role in what we call today a midlife crisis.
A third likely reason we experience midlife crisis is selfishness. We are inherently selfish creatures (Romans 8:5), and when we spend the first half of life chasing wealth or prestige or feelings of happiness, then we are bound to feel let down at midlife. We may have earned the money, risen in the ranks, and enjoyed many things, but at what expense? If at 45 years old our relationships are in shambles, our job is in jeopardy, and stress is killing us, then we are ripe for the depression that often accompanies a midlife crisis.
What should a Christian do if he or she is experiencing a midlife crisis? Here are some suggestions:
– Take heart that every stage of life, including midlife, is ordained by God and part of His good plan for us. “The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old” (Proverbs 20:29).
– Realize that God knows all about the past and that He can use us for His glory despite our past sins and failures. Continue to serve the Lord and find joy in Him.
– Determine to imitate Paul’s forward-looking perspective: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things” (Philippians 3:13–15).
– If experiencing certain symptoms of midlife crisis such as chronic fatigue, restlessness, headaches, or anxiety, see a medical doctor.
– By God’s grace, persevere in the trial: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2–4).
Writer Donald Richie said, “Midlife crisis begins sometime in your 40s, when you look at your life and think, ‘Is this all?’ And it ends about 10 years later, when you look at your life again and think, ‘Actually, this is pretty good’” (quoted by Jonathan Rauch in “The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis,” The Atlantic, December 2014). For the believer in Jesus Christ, midlife is simply another step in God’s plan and can be embraced for the perspective, wisdom, and opportunities for service that come with growing older.