In recent months I have seen several people go into a state of personal crisis. A mid-life crisis that manifests in buying a motorbike and starting a combat sport is one thing, going into spiritual meltdown is something altogether different. Why does it happen? I don’t want to presume to know the inner workings of specific individual cases, but can I speculate slightly?
Life is good at thirty. Happily married and enjoying the adventure of starting a family. Business is challenging and money is tight. Church is a weekly feature of healthy life and it is more than just appearances, it feels vibrant and eternal and purposeful.
Somehow, somewhere in the subconscious is a sense that christianity is about devotion manifesting in dutiful living. After all, Christianity brings about moral change in a society, in a family, in a life. So it is not far from devotion to duty when the devotion might be slightly empty. Never mind, life is busy, challenges abound and successes seem fairly frequent.
Church life only seems to reinforce marginal mistakes in living the Christian life. Everyone at church looks the part, and now you aren’t a young adult, but an established one, one that others look to for stability and spiritual example. So the personal struggles and the gnawing feelings of emptiness are suppressed. You heartily amen the undertone of duty and diligence and ethical living championed overtly and subtly in the church.
Somewhere along the line, God has become someone who wants our goodness. We continue to try, but somewhere in there, in the forties, the fifties, somewhere we stop and we look at ourselves. My faith is absolutely empty. I know the truth. I affirm the truth. I live the truth. But I don’t feel the truth. God wants my goodness, really?
At this point there is a fork in the road, maybe even a junction. One option is to chuck it all in and go off the deep end into a life of self-focused hedonism (after all, I have missed out on so much by being good, now it is time to taste and see what the world has to offer before I am unable to indulge anymore). Some will then avoid any conversation that might be convicting, while others will use long acquired vocabulary to essentially abuse grace and justify selfish passions.
Another option is to rest in the security of truth known, and continue in good behaviour, but to lose all sense of credibility in terms of leading others. Hiding the vacuous state of our own souls we press on as if nothing has changed, but we have changed. Now we don’t give ourselves to others in the same way, and perhaps we hide from the emptiness within. Hobbies suddenly become obsessions, or personal likes become out of control masks to numb the void within.
Another option is to throw ourselves at God. After all, in the midst of the duty imposed on us over the years we have gained a bit of a taste for the notion that God is loving and relational. We have heard others speak of it, we have perhaps used learned vocabulary to describe our own “experience” of God. Now we decide to go after God and we crave a real and genuine spirituality. This could lead to bizarre mystical or spiritual experiences, or it could lead to genuine relationship with a God who doesn’t want our goodness, but our trust.
I don’t know, I don’t think I’ve had a mid-life crisis yet. But as I observe others whom I care about, I wonder if there is something of this deep down draining and deadening effect of dutiful Christianity. Eventually it leaves us wiped out and craving something more. The question is whether God actually just wants us to press on and be good, or whether He is wanting something far more personal and intimate and transformative?