Sunday, 30 October 2016

Midlife crisis?

In life, you will come to a crossroad, eventually. You will be looking back at where you stand, with marriage, career, family and religion in tow, and ask yourself: "Is that all?"

Some may call this a midlife crisis. Others may call it the wilderness experience. Still others may just want to quietly wallow in it without labeling it. They have essentially resigned to the stalemate as they live their life on autopilot.

I had a few of these moments when I looked back and asked, "Is that all?", "Am I happy?”, "What is life about?" and "To what end?" I then counted my blessings thus far like career, marriage, and children, and I think to myself, "Can I do better?" "Am I satisfied?" and "What's holding me back?"

If anything, I fall under the majority category of the "just getting by" or the "wishing there is more" or the "hoping for a break".

But then, one morning on my way to work, I realized that my crossroad is not a dead-end, not a cul-de-sac. My midlife is not a crisis. It is on the contrary a gentle reminder, a call to celebrate life - not dread it. There is indeed more to life, and my questioning of it is really normal, expected even. In other words, my journey is not done yet as the saying goes, “In the end, it will be okay. If it's not okay, it's not the end.

However, what is not normal is this: I fall into the trap of magical thinking. We are all guilty of it one way or the other. Magical thinking expects magical things to happen in our life. It is easy to spot it.

In a marriage, magical thinking expects that everything will fall into place sooner rather than later. It psyches us up for a relationship that will not disappointment. Once the vows are exchanged, the work is done, the pursuit is over, the relationship will just gather momentum, and we can rest on our laurels.

But that will not happen. Our expectation will be crushed sooner or later. Things don't just fall into place in a marriage. Marriage is hard work. There will be disappointment – some are even heart wrenching. There will be second thoughts just when you thought you have thought it through. And there will be silent tears for freedom lost, a requiem for a youth forgotten, and a soft mourning for dreams that could have been.

And when the children comes, trust me, some of their shit will hit the fan. Your worries are endless, at least it seems that way. You worry about their growth and health, their school and their next hell, and their life and well-being.

Next comes career. The magical thinking here is to expect to score big in your job. Like parting of the red sea, we expect all obstacles will part for us. We expect our bosses to somehow like us. We expect promotion to come like day follows night. We expect not only to make ends meet, but to have enough to run it a few rounds over.

But marriage and career don't bend over backwards for us. They are not fairy tales that comes with a happy-ever-after ending. Just like religion and our faith, going to church, serving a ministry and going for a short mission trip to evangelise in remote villages don't automatically translate into a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

What makes magical thinking a misleading notion is how we busily chase one rabbit hole after another without taking the time to go deep into each venture or engagement. It is essentially a-mile-wide and an-inch-deep mentality.

We rush from one goal to another - be it marriage, career choices and starting a family, even joining a ministry in church - without allowing ourselves to be transformed by them in meaningful ways.

Take a marriage for example. A marital relationship takes a lifetime to nurture, but we get bored after the first few years. At first, everything seems exciting. But subsequently, we are looking for new thrills. Magical thinking will not tolerate repeated disappointments.

But the disappointments are not the result of loving the same person. It is the result of our failing to develop that love, that connection. Indeed, we do not need multiple new relationships to fill our days. We just need to find new ways to enjoy that one relationship in order to deepen the connection.

Likewise at work, wherever we are, know that we are making a difference. We are a witness in the public square. Our words and conduct count. They are like seeds planted in the hearts of our colleagues, clients and bosses, which will bloom in due season. And we grow when we meet challenges with fortitude and resilience.

Of course there will be days when we feel like throwing in the towel. We need to admit that, recalibrate, renew the passion, and persevere forward. Time and tide may wait for no man, but over time, our industry will pay off. Eventually, we will overcome even the strongest of tides. In the end, all will be okay.

This brings me to this so-called midlife crisis. As I have said earlier, it is a call to celebrate life. To celebrate where we have arrived so far, the distance travelled, and to map out where we will be going.  

In the beginning years, we may be looking for a footing in our career. So be it. We will have to burn the midnight oil, stay late, and work hard. That's expected.

But there will come a time, and we owe it to ourselves to identify that crossroad, where the focus will have to change. We will still have to support the family with bills to pay and mouths to feed. But the main draw for living is not in the acquisition of things, title or fame, but in redirecting most of our effort inward. It is in connecting with things beyond this world, that is, a metanarrative that is spiritual, faith-inspired and non-materialistic.

From the tangible to the intangible, from the material to the inspirational, and from the pursuit of things to the seeking of significance or meaning, our journey is a growth process where we let go of one goal to embrace another, where we make choices that expand our estate to making choices that deepen our relationships, character and our search for the meaning of life. 

Let me end with the unassuming life of the priestly leader Samuel. He was born from the earnest travailing of his loving but barren mother, Hannah. God honored her prayers and she in turn dedicated his life to Him.

Samuel lived in quiet submission to God's calling, interceding and standing in the gap for the people.  But his life was earmarked by four major events - three of which would end up to be heartbreaking for him.

As a boy, his mother gave him over to be trained under the prophet Eli. He started with opening doors and sweeping floors. As such, he must have seen the deeds of Eli's two sons at the gates where they abused their power and seduced women assisting at the entrance of the Tabernacle.

One day, God told Samuel to confront his mentor Eli about his two wayward sons. Although Eli rebuked them, they did not change. But Samuel nevertheless respected and deferred to his mentor, and continued to serve faithfully in the place where he was called.

After Eli and his sons passed away, Samuel was the next in line. But his people rejected his leadership and asked for a king to rule over them. One of the reasons for rejecting Samuel was that his own two sons were corrupt and they did not want to come under their subsequent rule. This must be devastating for Samuel. Imagine your own unwavering faithfulness was lost on your sons. This was to be his second heartbreak.

Directed by God, Samuel then chose Saul who was described in 1 Samuel as impressive and a head taller than others. Appearance definitely played a part in the choice. But like Eli's sons and his own, king Saul turned out to be a disappointment. He too disobeyed God and this time, God rejected Saul. Samuel was then told to anoint another king. He was further told to look beyond appearance and into one's heart.

Imagine that the king that you have groomed and loved turning against you like your own sons. This was to be Samuel’s third and final heartbreak.

His last act of faith was to enter Jesse's household to anoint the future king. Out of Jesse’s eight children, God led him to pick a shepherd boy, the youngest and the less promising of the lot.

Alas, Samuel did not live long enough to see the fruits of his labor and faithfulness. But after three major disappointments, King David  turned out to be a king after God's own heart.  He would unite Israel, prosper her and set a lineage path to Calvary to usher in the one whose kingdom is not of this world. It would be a kingship of the heart.

Samuel’s life taught me one thing about the many crossroads of our life. Every one of his was a failure or a betrayal of some sort. Eli’s sons, his own and his handpicked protégée broke his heart repeatedly.

Yet, Samuel kept the faith and hope alive. He neither murmured nor lost heart. He submitted to God, remained faithful, interceded and obeyed to the end. For in the end, I believe Samuel kept this scripture in his heart: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Alas, not every crossroad in our life comes with an explanatory note. Tragedy does not undo a man if his heart is set on eternity. His understanding may be limited, but what makes hope resilient and faith enduring is a life that looks beyond the here and now for the things eternal. Cheerz.

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