About six months prior to writing this article, I celebrated my 40th birthday. I had heard of a midlife crisis but never really understood what it was or how it manifested itself. From the little I had gathered from television—America’s main source of education—I came to believe that a midlife crisis was when men or women in midlife (ages 40-60) attempted to relive their younger years by—in the case of men—purchasing expensive sports cars, styling large gold chains around their necks, and wearing their shirts unbuttoned to just below their nipple line—in the case of women—piling on the makeup, hitting the gym, and wearing miniskirts too short even for Angelina Jolie.
What I did not realize is that a midlife crisis can be internal and hidden from the watching world. Merriam-Webster defines a midlife crisis as “a period of emotional turmoil in middle age characterized especially by a strong desire for change.” By definition, the psalmist may have been experiencing this when he wrote: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” (Psalm 13:1-2 ESV). But even if he wasn’t struggling through a midlife crisis or battling depression, it is comforting to know that the saints before us have wrangled with emotional turmoil, that we are not alone in our grappling to escape the bog of despair. In other words, to go through a “period of emotional turmoil characterized by a strong desire for change” does not mean you are not saved or that you lack faith--it means you’re human.
After leaving the military at age 23, I embarked on a pursuit of my heart’s desire and what I believed to be God’s calling. Nine years later I earned a master’s degree in biblical and theological studies. Ten years after graduation I am a full-time high school teacher—something I never imagined myself doing. And recently the Lord revealed to my wife and me that it was time to leave the church we had loved for 21 years as a result of a series of unfortunate circumstances. Thus writing this article is as much an exercise in self-therapy as it is an exposition of biblical truth.
So what is one to do when life does not go our way? How do we face the hurricane of unpleasant circumstances that pummel us to and fro like a buoy at sea? I once heard it said that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it. Although this is probably true and a very catchy adage, it leaves one asking the question: What do we do with the 10%? How do we respond to life’s ever changing events?
A comforting and oft quoted verse from scripture is Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” I have gone to this verse many times in the past and it has brought me much comfort. It is helpful to know no matter what I am going through, God is using my circumstance for my good, to transform my character into the character of Christ, and ultimately to trust him more.
When our daughter was one years-old, my wife took her to the doctor’s to draw blood in order to run some much needed tests. When I saw my wife afterward, she described to me a scene in such horrific terms that to this day makes me glad I was not present to witness it. She recounted to me that the clinical staff had trouble finding our daughter’s tiny veins to draw blood, which resulted in them making several attempts, digging around a bit, and trying both of her little arms. My wife recounted that as she held our daughter down, she screamed in blood-curdling tones continuously, tears streaming down her little flushed cheeks, staring at her mama with eyes that pleaded the question: ‘Why are you doing this to me?!’ My wife relayed to me that she was bawling as well, praying that the agony would soon end. Little did our baby girl know that mama was doing this for her good. We were trying to help her. We were trying to make her better. It was mama’s love that was putting her through this.
Ezekiel 33:11 says, “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” God does not take pleasure in putting people through difficult circumstances, particularly those who are his children by faith. Yet, we know that God is in sovereign control of all things. We are told that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11 ESV). When life throws us multiple curve balls, fast balls, and sliders, this is no accident. God is—metaphorically speaking—holding us down while we endure the pain. Grieving and crying with us, to be sure, as we squirm and thrash and cry out to him, “Abba! Why are you doing this to me?!”
Like my one-year-old daughter, our feeble little minds do not understand what God is doing to us. It doesn’t make any sense to us. It seems cruel and unloving. Yet little do we realize that God is doing this for our good. He is trying to help us. He is trying to make us better. He is making us like Christ. Ultimately, it is his love and loving arms that hold us down and put us through this. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom 11:33 ESV).
We now have the answer to the 10% question. We find the strength to get out of bed every morning, to go to our not-dream job, to stay in a difficult marriage—in short—to cling to Christ and press on in the midst of life’s most difficult physical and emotional hurricanes knowing it is because God cares for us and because he deems all of this to be for our good and his glory. We can trust and find comfort in the fact that although life can be confusing—and sometimes painful—he grieves with us and is bringing all of this upon us because he loves us.
Hexon J. Maldonado is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and minister of preaching at Tapestry Community Church in Belton, TX.