Inside: Are you in the middle of a Christian midlife crisis or slump? You’re not alone. Here’s how you can feel better sooner rather than later.
When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up faster. It would take forever for the next birthday to roll around. Fast forward a few decades, and I’ve discovered that each birthday zips by too fast.
And there’s a new challenge known as the midlife slump. Perhaps you’re in one now.
You might yearn for more purpose and meaning, despite relative outward success. A vague sense of disappointment keeps you awake at night. Or you feel trapped and fantasize about trading your life for a life sipping a Mai Tai on the beach.
Whether you’re in a Christian midlife crisis or more stuck in a rut, I’ve got some ways to help you feel better.
What is a Midlife Crisis?
You might be a Generation Xer like me, smack dab in your midlife years. Or you might be a millennial dreading the sight of midlife looming on the horizon.
In either case, the midlife vantage point is a unique one. We look backward to see that half our life has passed with the other half fast approaching. The world is no longer the oyster of our youth, as we face thoughts of our mortality.
Are we who we want to be? Will we ever be? Does it even matter?
We may have reached our life goals, only to discover it wasn’t all it was chalked up to be. We may realize that we’ll never reach our dreams. Or that we were climbing the wrong ladder all along.
Midlife is indeed a time of reckoning. Our lives may be shockingly different from what we had envisioned. Heck, even the world isn’t what we thought it was.
According to most definitions, midlife takes place between the ages of 40 and 60. Merriam-Webster defines a midlife crisis as “a period of emotional turmoil in middle age characterized especially by a strong desire for change.”
A midlife crisis involves questioning and doubts regarding our identity and life choices. It comes at a time when our roles and health are changing. In extreme cases, people feel the urge to make impulsive changes in their marriages, careers, and lifestyles.
What Are the First Signs of a Midlife Crisis?
- Sadness or regret over life choices
- Disappointment over career achievement
- Boredom or restlessness
- Questioning life’s purpose
- Deep dissatisfaction
- Lack of motivation
- Reminiscing or nostalgia
- Fantasizing of alternate lifestyles
- Impulsive decision-making
What Triggers Midlife Crisis?
A midlife crisis are usually triggered by a major life event, such as the following:
- Loss of a job
- Separation or divorce
- Loss of a parent, family member, or friend
- A major health concern
- Children leaving home
- Caring for aging parents
The good news is that most people don’t have a full-blown midlife crisis. One major study found that about 26% of Americans say that they experienced a midlife crisis.
Other studies show that many more people experience a midlife slump or malaise. And all of us will go through a major life event in our midlife years. Whatever your situation, here’s how you can cope.
How Do You Overcome a Christian Midlife Crisis?
1. Process Your Pain with God
Perhaps you haven’t been able to start that business that you always wanted. Your marriage feels more like a roommate arrangement. Or you’re still stuck in the same paper-pushing job after 17 years.
Don’t plow through a Christian midlife crisis alone without letting God in. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (NIV).
We must process our pain, rather than stuff it down inside. We need to grieve the loss of our dreams if we are to find hope again.
God will be faithful to comfort you, so put your disappointments in His loving hands today.
2. Accept Your God-Given Limits
Until now, the world has been telling us we can have it all. But we can’t.
We’re finite creatures with a limited time on this earth. And it’s precisely these limits that keep us humble and dependent on God.
Midlife is a time when expectations crash against the reality of limited abilities, energy, and time. It’s humbling—and painful—to accept that we might not “have it all” in this lifetime. But it’s one of the keys to experiencing peace and joy in the second half of life.
God still has plans for us. It just might look different from what you and I originally imagined.
3. (Re)define Your Meaning and Purpose
Much of midlife dissatisfaction, boredom, and impulsivity can be boiled down to the search for meaning and purpose.
If you can (re)define your meaning and purpose in life, you’re halfway out of a slump.
Now is the time to reevaluate your life—prayerfully. Lay your plans down and ask God regarding each area of your life. You might dedicate a period of time to seeking Him until you receive the clarity you need.
God just might change how you view your life at the present.
4. Remember the Happiness Curve
But even if you have a sense of purpose, you might still experience a vague sense of discontent.
It’s not you.
In his book The Happiness Curve, Jonathan Rauch describes a well-documented happiness U-curve that shows a drop in life satisfaction for people in their midlife years. This drop happens regardless of life circumstances, income, and health.
You might picture this U-curve as being in the shape of a smile, with the dip representing the lower happiness level in midlife:
People’s younger years tend to be characterized by hope and optimism, followed by doubt and discontent in their 40s and 50s. They experience more wisdom and gratitude in their 60s and beyond.
The dip in happiness occurs because we’re overly optimistic in our younger years about how much satisfaction we will get out of reaching our future goals, hence the disappointment.
Fortunately, Raunch’s findings show that the midlife slump is more about people’s perceptions, not about their actual circumstances. Their moods tend to improve over time.
Studies show that after midlife, happiness increases with every 10 years of age, regardless of natural disposition. This is encouraging news! So hang on and ride it out.
5. Keep a Big-Picture Perspective
The happiness U-curve also reminds us of the bigger picture. God ordains different seasons in our lives. Just as the winter is necessary for a tree’s spring growth, so it is with our spiritual lives.
Even in the darkest seasons, God is working to bring fruit. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”
No matter your circumstances, it’s only a season. Ecclesiastes 3:1 reminds us, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Kids grow up, jobs change, and people retire. Nothing is forever.
Keeping a big-picture perspective helps us cope with the present. The next season is around the corner—and we’ll never get the present moment back.
6. Seek Wisdom More Than Wealth
According to Rauch’s research, one trait that helped people feel better as they got older is increased wisdom. We can learn from this finding, purposely seeking to grow in wisdom.
We should seek to gain wisdom from the book of Proverbs more than we seek to build our 401Ks. As Proverbs 16:16 says, “How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver!” Increased discernment also protects us from rash midlife decisions that we end up regretting.
The book of Ecclesiastes is another invaluable book of wisdom. After searching for ultimate meaning in work, education, pleasure, and wealth, King Solomon concludes there’s no meaning in life apart from God (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
Let’s learn from Solomon, who learned these lessons the hard way so that we don’t have to.
7. Practice Contentment
Another trait that accompanies greater life satisfaction later in life is increased contentment. Numerous studies show that most older adults tend to focus on positive events and feelings, known as the positivity effect.
Having gone through more ups and downs, older adults have increased resilience and emotional stability in the face of life challenges. They’re more able to relate to the apostle Paul who wrote, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Philippians 4:12).
But we don’t have to wait until then to experience contentment. We can make the intentional effort to learn contentment right now.
Jeff Haden writes that midlife happiness starts to improve when “…we gradually accept that failing to achieve every dream we once held dear isn’t the end of the world, and slowly start to focus more on enjoying what we do have than what we don’t.”
No matter where you are on the happiness U-curve, contentment will go a long way.
8. Take Care of Your Health
At the same time, let’s not neglect our physical bodies. You might notice that your energy level seems to run low all the time now. You wake up with a sore back for no reason. Or you have to read your mail up close to decipher the fine print.
We might not be able to do things as we did in our twenties. Poor diet and exercise habits will only worsen any midlife malaise. Being good stewards on earth includes caring for the bodies God has given us.
So eat healthy, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and take care of your mental health. The better we take care of ourselves, the better we’ll feel. And the more faithful we can be to God.
9. Stop for Rest Breaks
Sometimes, we just get plain burned out halfway through life. It has nothing to do with our circumstances or age, but more to do with our jammed-packed schedules.
Make sure that you’re practicing a regular rhythm of rest to recharge. Perhaps now is the time to start incorporating a weekly Sabbath. In any case, don’t wait until you become an empty nester or retire to rest. Give yourself permission to slow down today.
Rest breaks are part of God’s mercy to us to replenish us along the way, like water held out to thirsty marathon runners in a race. Don’t be too busy to stop when God holds out refreshment for you. He’ll give you the encouragement you need when you stop to rest in Him.
Climbing Out of the Midlife Rut
Any farmer will tell you that when a tractor falls into a rut, it’s key to drive slowly and steadily. Panicking and spinning the wheels frantically only leads to more trouble.
Likewise, instead of hurriedly trying to get out of a midlife rut in your own strength, slow down and seek God today. He’ll be faithful to get you out.
Recap: How to Deal With a Christian Midlife Crisis
- Process your pain with God.
- Accept your God-given limits.
- (Re)define your meaning and purpose.
- Remember the happiness curve.
- Keep a big-picture perspective.
- Seek wisdom more than wealth.
- Practice contentment.
- Take care of your health.
- Stop for rest breaks.
What would help you cope better in midlife?
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