Q Does everyone go through a midlife crisis at some point? What are the symptoms? How can I deal with persistent feelings of restlessness and thoughts like “Is this all there is”?
A No, not everyone experiences a crisis in midlife. There are no genetic, hormonal, or environmental conditions that predispose us to experience changed psychological health and wellbeing. But it is a common experience.
A midlife crisis, or “a period of stress and self-doubt occurring in middle age” (according to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary), is a cultural phenomenon connected to our beliefs, values, and experiences of aging in relation to family, work, and the meaning of life.
A crisis of any kind can be seen as a period of upheaval, where the balance of our life is disturbed to such a degree that nothing seems stable or normal. It often begins when a specific incident or circumstance upsets the applecart of our life. Many things can trigger a midlife crisis: job loss, an “empty nest” at home, aging parents in need of extended care, or something as mundane as weight gain, the discovery of gray hairs, or a perceived loss of good looks.
Once we’re in the crisis we begin to feel restless and worried, and perhaps afraid of what might be in store for us in the future. We develop an expectation that from here on, life will only go downhill until we die.
It is important to know that feelings of restlessness and worry about the meaning of your life are a normal part of aging. These symptoms of midlife need not be viewed as negative. Instead, think of your restlessness and worrisome thoughts as an opportunity for you to contemplate changes that you might want to make as you mature.
If your body is signaling dissatisfaction through restlessness, ask yourself why, and begin to evaluate anew what gives meaning to your life, what makes you happy, and, most important, how you can answer God’s call in your life with renewed love and obedience. Take time to dream new dreams about the future. Allow time to grieve the losses of your life. At the same time, explore new possibilities for meaning through volunteering or educational opportunities. The world is still your oyster, and there is much left to discover.
I pray for blessing and courage for you as you navigate this crisis to renewed joy and peace.
Judy Cook is a family therapist and clinical director of Salem Christian Counseling Services, Hamilton, Ontario.
Q There is a cross by the ditch on my dad’s business property. About three times a year, when no one is around, someone puts new artificial flowers on or around the cross.
My dad needs to put a driveway where the cross is. My mother and grandmother say he shouldn’t remove the cross because it’s important to someone. Dad says these people have had enough time to grieve. What should he do? And does God approve of such crosses?
A Roadside crosses, like crosses or headstones in a cemetery, remind us of someone who has died. God certainly approves of people who stand by a roadside (or cemetery) cross to think about, and even weep for, their loved ones.
Your dad needs to be careful about putting a time limit on another person’s grief. Your mother and grandmother give good advice when they remind him that this cross “is important to someone.” The problem is that the cross, which commemorates someone who has died, interferes with the legitimate activity of the living.
Your father could contact the police to ask who might be decorating this space. If he can get that information, speaking to the person or people face to face would be appropriate. If your father can’t identify the “owners” of the cross, he could write a note that includes his phone number, put it in a weatherproof Zip-lock bag, and tack it to the cross.
In person or in a note, your father could say something like, “I am the owner of the property that your loved one’s roadside cross is on. I know that you stop by several times a year to place flowers near the cross. I appreciate the acts of love by which you remember this special person. But I have a problem. I need to put a driveway here so large trucks are better able to enter and exit my business. Please call me so we can talk about placing the cross at a location that continues to honor the memory of your loved one.”
If your dad can’t contact the people before work on the driveway begins, he could move the cross to a nearby location and attach a similar note. Most of the time, personal conversation solves difficulties like these.
—George Vander Weit
George Vander Weit is a retired pastor in the Christian Reformed Church.