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by Ron McDonald, Pastoral Counselor
Samaritan Counseling Centers

Three persons, all middle aged, were overheard in dialogue.

"I've accomplish just about every vocational and financial goal I set for myself during this first half of my life, yet I'm not sure success means anything."

"As for me, I've been working hard all my life, and I've got nothing much to show for it. I'm sick of it!"

"I'm not even in control of my emotions anymore. When I feel terrible, which is much of the time now, I'm either mean to others, self-loathing, or filled with anxiety. It's not good."

These are expressions of the three most typical kinds of mid-life crises. They are questions that can't be easily answered: in midlife we question our purpose--the meaning of life; the fairness of life; and why we do bad or stupid things when we want to be good. Midlife is fundamentally about finding some integrity in our lives. Can we affirm life when it doesn't look as rosy as we once thought it could be?

When Jesus cried out "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" he was giving words to the inward protest of everyone's midlife experience. Part of midlife is the inability to avoid suffering, unfairness, and doubt. We just can't ignore it anymore. Jesus' own response to this protest was a new perspective. He next said, "It is finished," which means it is enough; it is completed. Jesus, moving out of despair, had a vision of the integrity of his life, and his final statement from the cross--"Into Thy hands I commend my spirit"--contains the answer to the question of integrity.

Integrity is not about fairness. It is about living in the hands of God. What does that mean? It means that we are open to possibilities that our lives are meant for a higher purpose, and that our selfish desire for recognition or success is not nearly as important as the sacrifice that will be required of us when we truly answer God's call. That call might be of obvious importance, or it might be answered in secret, but our task at all ages is to be ready. If all you are called to do is to pick up a child who is hurt, then if you can join Jesus in commending yourself to God, you can also join Jesus in his vision of the completeness of his work. Our purpose on earth is not grand--not even if we become President. Our purpose is to commend ourselves humbly to God.

Yet even when we can affirm life despite doubts, unfairness, and suffering, we still run into the question-- How did we get the capacity to be evil, and how do we manage to rise above it? Carl Jung called this the encounter with one's shadow--the dark side of one's self.

One of the most profound paradoxes of the Bible stories is that those who would be our exemplars of the faith were, at one time, very sinful men and women. Jacob, a swindler, was named Israel. King David murdered Uriah, Bathsheba's husband. Solomon created a system of slavery. Peter denied Jesus three times. Paul was an accomplist to the unjust execution of Stephen. We are not called to be perfect. We are called to repent and to know that, but for the grace of God, we can do some terrible things.

The answer to the encounter with one's shadow is humility in recognizing our evil side, and the subsequent inability to be judgmental. And without judgmentalism, we can become filled with God's grace.

Midlife is a tough time, for when faced with the inevitable decline towards death, we encounter some tough questions. The answers--or the responses--are to be found in getting off our high horse and accepting the fact that our success or recognition is not what connects us to the grace of God. Instead, we walk with God when we humbly prostrate ourselves before the God who accepts us just as we are.

Copyright ©2005 Ron McDonald


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