Word Magazine June 1986 Page 17-18
DOES LIFE END AT MIDLIFE?
Homily By Father James C. Meena
In previous generations, say in the generation of my grandfather, life expectancy in this country was approximately 42 to 45 years for men, therefore very few men faced the “midlife” crisis that is being faced by more and more men today: that of reaching a stage in life where they have achieved everything they think is required of them. They have finished their education, they have achieved their career goals, they have married and raised their families, they feel they have climbed just about every mountain that life has placed before them. Suddenly, anywhere from the mid-thirties to the early sixties, they are faced with the realization that life holds no more challenges for them and their lives seem empty and useless. Many men in this period begin to thrash about emotionally to try to find some way of escaping the emptiness. Some of them leave their families, divorce their wives, change their jobs, and try in various ways to escape the overwhelming, paralyzing feelings with which they are confronted. I refer to men because it seems that this crisis is not faced so much by women, even though they go through a physical menopause which is fraught with pain and emotional changes, they seem to have a capacity to live on a daily basis and to accept the realities of the changes that are occurring in them. I am only speculating but perhaps the reason for this is that historically women in Western cultures generally have lived longer than men, therefore they may have had the opportunity to learn to cope with this midlife crisis while it is generally a new experience for men.
I must admit to you that I have faced this midlife crisis on two occasions in my life. The first time, when I reached the age of forty, the crisis was brought on by major surgery and post-surgical reactions. Most recently it was brought on by a heart attack at age 55. Sometimes this crisis is precipitated by a physical trauma. More often than not it isn’t. It is always hard to understand. For this reason most men are frustrated and experience much anguish when faced with this change in their lives. They realize that their skin is sagging, their muscle tone is going, their memories aren’t as sharp as they were, the chest is falling to the midsection, their flesh is generally loose, they no longer have the stamina that they once had, their sexual drives are curbed. So many things are happening to them that are mystifying.
Probably the most startling of all is the realization of the inevitability of one’s own death. In youthful years it is easy to put off the idea of death. Death is something that doesn’t happen to us, it happens to other people. When we are young we feel we are immortal, indestructible, but as we get older and begin to see the evidence of our own eyes, the deterioration of our flesh and of our minds we begin to realize that the day will come when we will close our eyes for the last time. It is probably then, more than at any other time, that we need something to cling to that will give us the hope that is promised to us by our faith. I truly feel sorry for those who live in a state of hopelessness because they have nothing to cling to and it becomes necessary for them to seek vain escapes from the forbidding spector of their own finality.
Portions of Scripture take on different proportions for us. Verses which had very little meaning for men when I was young now begin to stand out clearly as testimony of fears and depressions, of anxieties at the realization that mortal life is coming to an end. This is especially true as we read the Psalms. Psalms that used to sound to me as vain cries of anguish now reflect for me the natural despair, the depression and the anxiety of their authors. An example of this is in the opening verses of the 77th Psalm. I am using the text of The Living Bible.
“I cry to the Lord; I call and call to Him. Oh that He would listen. I am in deep trouble and I need His help so badly. All night long I pray, lifting my hands to heaven, pleading. There can be no joy for me until He acts. I think of God and moan, overwhelmed with longing for His help. I cannot sleep until You act. I am too distressed even to pray.”
If you were to discuss this phenomenon with a man of faith going through midlife crisis he might admit to you that he often feels that God is very far off, that it is extremely difficult for him to offer up prayers because of that distance, that sense of abandonment that he feels in his relationship to God. But the Psalmist goes on to say: “I keep thinking of the good old days of the past, long since ended. Then my nights were filled with joyous songs. I search my soul and meditate upon the difference now. Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will He never again be favorable? Is His loving kindness gone forever? Has His promise failed? Has He forgotten to be kind to one so undeserving? Has He slammed the door in anger on His love? And I said: This is my Fate, that the blessings of God have changed to hate. I recall the many miracles he did for me so long ago. Those wonderful deeds are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about them.”
Oh, how this Psalmist bemoans the past glories of his youth. Oh, how he yearns that the blessings of God, the inspiration that he once felt he might feel again. But I wonder if God, in His infinite wisdom, is not saying to us who reach midlife and who feel this estrangement from Him, “When you were young and needed to be inspired by my direct or indirect intervention, I was there, but now you have reached the age where wisdom and experience should prevail, where your faith should be of substance, where you should be living in hope. It should not be necessary for me to intervene. It should no longer be necessary for me to do for you as an adult what I had to do for you as a child and as a youth.”
And then the Psalmist sings out his song of hope; “Oh God, your ways are holy. Where is there any other as mighty as You? You are the God of miracles and wonders! You still demonstrate your awesome power.”
My remedy has been to stop looking backward or forward and to live today as though it were a cathedral of eternity, to try to get out of today all that I can by putting into it every good thing that I have, to try to make today truly the beginning of the rest of my life. When we look back we dwell upon those things that we consider to be the failures of our past. We fail to see our successes, or the good we have done, and we dwell on those things which we consider to have been our failures. We weren’t good enough as students or good enough children to our parents or good enough parents to our children or good enough husbands to our wives. And if we look forward, all we can see is the threat of failing again. But if we concentrate on living today to its uttermost, striving to give today the best that we have, knowing that even though our best does not measure up to the least standards of God, yet God will accept it if it is truly our best, and accepting all the things that the day has to offer to us then we will not be overwhelmed. The Psalmist says in the 92nd Psalm: “It is good to say, ‘Thank you’ to the Lord, to sing praises to the God who is above all gods. Every morning tell Him, ‘Thank you’ for Your kindness; and every evening rejoice in all His faithfulness. Sing His praises, accompanied by music from the harp and lute and lyre. You have done so much for me, O Lord. No wonder I am glad, I sing for joy.” The Psalmist is saying, “Count your blessings and be thankful because those blessings are myriad and they surround you on all sides if you will but see them, and when you see them, thank the Lord and praise Him for them.”
Many men reaching this midlife crisis choose the way of sin to strive to escape. They may take up with younger women or become alcoholics or drug addicts. Some change their whole mode of dress and do all sorts of outrageous things, and how outrageous it is to see a middle-aged man with paunchy midsection and the gray hairs on his chest sticking out from a shirt unbuttoned to the waist trying to dress like a nineteen year old, combing his hair to hide the bald spot (if he has any hair left), wearing trousers that are much too tight for him and trying to do the boogaloo. The Psalmist in Psalm 119 says, “I have refused to walk the paths of evil for I will remain obedient to Your Word. No, I haven’t turned away from what You taught me; Your words are sweeter than honey. And since only Your rules can give me wisdom and understanding, no wonder I hate every false teaching. Your words are a (lantern) to light the path ahead of me, and keep me from stumbling. I have said it once and I’ll say it again and again: I will obey those wonderful laws of Yours. I am close to death. . . Oh give me back my life again just as You promised me,” (vvl0l-106).
When Jesus, the Son of God, and the Son of man had to face the reality of His mortal death, a reality of which He was keenly aware all of His life, He knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane and the Evangelist tells us His sweat fell like great droplets of blood as He called upon His Father saying, “Oh Father, remove this cup from me if it be Thy will. Nonetheless, not my will but Thine be done,” (St. Luke, 22:41-45). And that is the key to our staving off the fear that gushes up within us when we think of our last moment of life. Calling upon God to give us back our life as He promised in the Psalms and as He confirmed in His Son, Jesus Christ, to give us that salvation and that immortality which He holds out to all those who follow after Him in faith, who trust in Him to keep His promise but above all who keep faith with Him as the Psalmist says, who obey His laws, who live according to His Commandments each day, one day at a time, neither looking backward, nor forward.