Nick Page, Christian and author of over 70 books, has been going through a mid-life crisis. And he has written a book about it.
The Dark Night of the Shed (Hodder) is a vulnerable, honest and amusing exploration of why many men have so much and yet feel like failures. Why are our cities full of middle aged men in lycra? Why do so many men reach the top of the mountain only to realise there is nothing there?
Page draws from his own experience as well as lessons from the story of Jacob and the wisdom of the psychologist Carl Jung. As someone who is some way off mid-life (I hope), I was interested to know what Page's most recent book could tell me.
Harry Farley: I'm 23. What can the book say to me?
Nick Page: I don't think mid-life crises are necessarily age-related. Typically it's later on because it's at that point you look at your life and think, "Is that it?"
For younger people I would want you to go in with your eyes open. One of the things I talk about in the book is worshipping the wrong gods and that we can suckered into believing in these gods are going to deliver the goods for us. Gods of youth and money; gods about your status and your work. Actually those can only take you so far. They're not bad in and of themselves. They just won't deliver the fulfilled life you are looking for.
That is a lesson everyone can know at any stage.
HF: So mid-life crises aren't just a myth that men use an excuse to buy a motorbike?
NP: Well, not everyone goes through them. Some people sail serenely on. Some people do however find it a difficult period to navigate because it forces you to question what your purpose is. We are built for meaning. Human beings are intended to mean something; to have a purpose. I think it just comes into focus in mid-life because suddenly you find your life doesn't have the meaning you thought it did. But everyone has to ask those questions.
There are a lot of arguments about mid-life crises and whether they exist or not. But there is no doubt about the statistics. Men's level of happiness and life satisfaction declines in your 40s and 50s. Forty-five is the most common age for depression in men. Male suicides are – I don't want to say sky-rocketing but they are growing among men. The most at-risk age group is between 45 and 59.
The founding fathers of America, who said that life is about the pursuit of happiness, have got a lot to answer for. That is very unhelpful because it suggests happiness is this thing you hunt and chase down and put as a trophy on your wall, but happiness is the result of a fulfilled life – of a life that means something.
HF: In the book you use the themes of death and resurrection to describe passing through a crisis and emerging on the other side as a more fulfilled, more complete person. Does everyone pass through a 'death'?
NP: Well, some people sail it a little smoother. Some people don't ever experience the natural progression. And some people never get to a full knowledge of themselves. They never individuate, as Jung would say.
As a Christian, the key questions are – what does it mean to follow Jesus; what does it mean to live a resurrection life? Resurrection is crucial to Christianity.
Historically Christianity has been about death and not life. It has been about sin management. That seems to be a waste of time. It is about life here. Jesus said, "I have come to give life to the full."
A lot of men's issues are about status. You meet someone and you're trying to decide where you are on the pecking order. I don't think women are like that as much. We get obsessed with status and one of the ways to die is to realise 'I don't matter.' You have to learn to die, to put yourself second and think of what other people want.
HF: Your book centres mostly around men. Do women go through mid-life crises?
NP: For men a lot of the way we validate ourselves is through our work and that gets questioned in mid life. I wrote this book for men but a lot of women would find it interesting if only to understand a bit more about how the man they live with thinks.
HF: Can you tell me more about your own 'dark night of the shed?'
NP: It was a relatively minor thing but it shattered me. It was a sign I had been pushing myself far too hard and there were some things I needed to get sorted. I view it as a really grace-filled moment that actually I was very fortunate to have something so trivial. It showed me that I was burnt out and that I had feelings of failure. It forced me to look at myself and where I wanted to go and what I was doing and that's been quite a long process.
These moments of dislocation are profoundly important. You have to learn to manage it. Anxiety is a fog; it's shapeless and you can't fight a fog. You have to turn it into a thing you can fight and give it a name. So you recognise what it is and you can fight it.
I think the way I try to manage it is to recognise it – whatever it is, that is part of who I am for this stage in my life and I draw strength from that. It's not necessarily a bad thing. People get strength from knowing they are not alone.
HF: Over the past week we have all sorts of terrible things come to light surrounding the Ashley Madison hacking. Do affairs result from mid-life crises?
NP: The Ashley Madison advertising says affairs are something you should indulge in. That is an absolutely classic example of a false god. We're men and most men have issues with lust. But the idea that sex is enough to make you happy and is something you should indulge in and tick off on your life list is very disturbing.
HF: In your experience, does the Church deal with mid-life crises well?
NP: A lot of churches do not recognise mental distress. Its not just mid-life crises. A lot of pastors spend a lot of time dealing with it but as a [whole] Church we're not good at dealing with it.
As men we need purpose and so we need to look at how we give men purpose in the Church. Obviously my desire is that the book draws people into conscious authentic discipleship of Jesus; trying to be life Jesus. That is what I think churches should be about. Churches are not about teaching me loads of stuff about Christ but about teaching me to be Christ like. That is what they should be.
HF: So should the church be tougher in its teaching?
NP: We are obsessed with numbers. Because we used to have a load of people coming to church we think we used to be a Christian nation. This is nonsense. You only have to look at British history to see just how unChristian we were. Stop obsessing about numbers! The true Church has never been that big.
Because we're so obsessed with numbers, we're so grateful when people turn up that we don't challenge them. Churches should about discipleship and we need to focus on that.
HF: So as someone who is in their 20s and, as far as I am aware, yet to go through a mid-life crisis, do I need to go through a crisis to find fulfilment in my relationship with Christ?
NP: What you do have to do is to listen to Jesus' call. Jesus calls all of us into discipleship and that requires movement; it requires doing stuff not just thinking stuff. If you can obey that call to discipleship, you are much less likely to experience these anxieties. Its only because we put our faith in the wrong gods that we experience these things. The happiest and most well rounded people I've known are people who've obeyed that call early on.
The big call on our lives is to be the person god intended us to be. I am sure he would rather that happens sooner rather than later.
HF: You say you are more anxious than used to be. Are you still in your mid-life crisis?
NP: I don't think I will ever quite come out of it. But I am learning not to worry about it.
My experience is that God speaks very powerfully through wounded people. The wounded can become 'wounded healers' and that is a very powerful thing. What we need in society is vulnerability, honestly and openness and not a false persona. 'Never making mistakes' is an impossible ideal.
People need to know there are people going through the same thing as them and if God puts me in that situation then that is where I am. I am not beating myself up about things. It's quite important to be honest about our vulnerability and our failings because that gives other people strength and if that is where I am, I am fine with that.
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