When you hear 'mid-life crisis', what comes to mind? A ridiculously expensive sports car? A spontaneous career change? A random affair or sudden divorce?
What about a mid-life spiritual crisis? Is it a thing? And if so, could it actually be a positive thing, more opportunity than threat?
A spiritual mid-life crisis is described by some as a gnawing sense of discrepancy between the vision of who we felt called to be and the reality of who we have become. It can come from taking stock of our spiritual life and experiencing feelings of failure, dissatisfaction, lost opportunities or diminished options.
For some it's simply a nagging feeling that we are just going through the motions, or a niggling sense that, as the songs says 'there must be more than this'. Let's face it, if you have experienced this, it sucks. These emotions can feel debilitating and when we compare ourselves to our world changing spiritual heroes we may want to hide under the metaphorical duvet and never come out.
But the reality is, spiritual complacency is much more dangerous than spiritual crisis. Let me explain.
One of my heroes is Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy's every move is propelled by her all-consuming desire to reach the Wizard of Oz so he can work his magic and get her back home.
She infectiously shares her vision and sense of purpose with her motley crew of needy travelling companions, which transforms their despondency into delight and their sighing into singing.
Dorothy's passion propels them to 'follow the yellow brick road' to reach the Emerald City, through evil forests, under flying monkeys and threats from the Wicked Witch of the West. Interestingly the threat they are most afraid of is being attacked by 'Lions, and Tigers and Bears. OH MY!' As a little girl, I was terrified too, hiding behind a cushion watching them gingerly tip-toeing through the shadowy forest, arm in arm.
As an adult I now find it chilling that their most potent threat comes not in the deep dark shadows, but in the bright, warm sunshine of the enchanted poppy field, where the sweet fragrance lulls them into a lethal state of listlessness.
I think it's deeply disturbing because it really resonates with seasons of my life where I know I've been in a state of spiritual slumber, having lost my focus, forgetting what path I was following, and happy to settle for whatever was right in front of me. Even if that was ever so softly and sweetly suffocating my soul.
Are we mid-life Christians (who feel less than inspired by our own resemblance to Jesus's radical lifestyle) blissfully unaware of how the most potent threat to our spiritual vitality sometimes lies in life's sunshine rather than its shadows? Have the competing priorities, demands, expectations and desires of the 'Good Life' versus the Kingdom Life left us in a tailspin?
Is our attempt to avoid risk or discomfort or challenge leading us into a far more dangerous spiritual state? Has the hunger for missional adventure and radical risk been traded for listening to others speak about their adventures at Christian festivals or reading about their risky ventures in the latest autobiography release?
Is the sense of mid-life spiritual crisis actually triggered by the intoxicating field-of-poppies season of life we are in?
Poppy field spiritual complacency is lethal. A sense of crisis could be just what we need.
Complacency says, 'I'm alright Jack, and I have arrived. Nothing more to learn, and not much more to aim for'. Crisis says, this is not enough. I am yearning for more and I'm hungry to make real changes so that I can experience that life in all its fullness which I know Jesus offers.
As JFK said 'In the Chinese language, the word "crisis" is composed of two characters,
one representing danger and the other, opportunity."'
How can we turn this seeming 'crisis' into an opportunity for spiritual growth and life transformation?
Here are four steps we can take to wake us up from the poppy field spiritual slumber.
1. Take time to stop and reflect on where we are. Invite God, the 'lifter of our heads' to re-envision us with his plans and purposes for our lives. Go on a guided day/weekend retreat. Many places help us reflect prayerfully back over our journey, and pray into our future.
2. Read Belonging and Becoming by Mark and Lisa Scandrette. This book provides an excellent framework for shifting horizons and reimagining family life as radical disciples of Jesus.
3. Consider stepping out of our poppy field comfort zone, and getting active in serving our local or global community. From food banks, to youth clubs, inner city to overseas holistic mission – there are a myriad ways in which we can defiantly say no to mid-life inertia, roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty and start to feel purposeful and energised spiritually again.
4. Follow the Dorothy model and don't try to go it alone. When spiritual crisis hits, it is essential to have others to journey with – to jolt us awake out of our comfort zones. Journeying with others through the Bible, prayer, worship and honest open grappling gives us fresh eyes to see how our choices can be steering us way off course from who God longs for us to be and the 'life in all its fullness' we yearn to live.
Esther Stansfield is a freelance writer and blogger who has worked for Tearfund and Scripture Union.