The Midlife Satisfaction Slump

I’m reading Jonathan Rauch’s latest work The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50.

Rauch writes about the dip of midlife, known popularly as a kind of “crisis,” but more often experienced as a sense of deep satisfaction, a feeling that life hasn’t measured up to what was expected. In youth, we expect to achieve, and most work hard, earn status, maybe start a family. We hit some rocks, experience some disappointments, change jobs or jump careers. And then suddenly we find that we have the stuff, we have friends, we have status, and we think, “Is this it?”

If you’ve thought that, that’s normal. And if you haven’t thought that, you will. The midlife slump, or the feelings of dissatisfaction, are natural. They are part of life.

Rauch writes:

To an extent, the evidence confirms what we all know: the middle years of adult life are often the most restless, stressed, and unhappy. Of course, midlife stress can come from the burdens of demanding jobs and jammed schedules and teenaged kids and aging parents. But here is where the evidence and the conventional wisdom part ways: the midlife dip in happiness shows up even after factoring out the stresses and strains and ups and down of life. In fact, it shows up especially after factoring out the stresses and strains and ups and downs of life.

It turns out these feelings are part of a natural transition, a movement from the drive to achieve to the desire to connect. Rauch writes that “the post-midlife upturn is no mere transient change in mood: it is a change in our values and sources of satisfaction, a change in who we are.”

How do we change? We see that life is fleeting and our stuff isn’t forever. That even if we’ve achieved great things, we’ve also been tossed against rocky shoals and survived. Many of us learn, and learn well, that our social ties are what count the most, our families and friends and communities. And we’ve gained enough wisdom and perspective to offer guidance and help to those who are younger, who are still on the way.

As a Christian, I know that life is a gift and old age is a blessing. This is a countercultural message, especially considering that I live in the modern West, where the goal of many is to get out of life alive. Rauch may be right in that the social science demonstrates conclusively that we do change as we age, and that the midlife slump and successive uptick is a natural transition. If this is true, this knowledge can help us to navigate this period more successfully. Complemented by Christian virtue and formation, this knowledge can also help young adults within congregations transition well as they age in terms of their role within communities of faith, offering social support and hard won wisdom to those of emerging generations.

At a previous ministry stop I had a friend named Bob Wright. He was in his eighties. He befriended me. He didn’t have to. But he did. He took me to lunch, and made sure I had cookies to take home to my kids. He was an old cattleman. And even though we didn’t see eye to eye on everything, we were brothers in Christ. He offered wisdom and historical perspective, and he said that I helped him to see the church, and our times, from a different point of view. Every moment I spent with Bob was a gift.

Churches are beginning to recognize that age-group affinity groups have their shortcomings. They’ve responded by trying to connect generations, by setting up mentoring relationships between young and old. Usually, the impetus is placed on the older generations. But in healthy communities, this kind of seeking should go both ways. These kinds of relationships are vessels for wisdom, available to both older and younger congregants. Older members have gifts to offer to younger generations, and vice-versa, accessible through the ties of friendship.

I don’t know if I will find life better after 50. In twelve years, I guess I’ll see. But it is preferable to think there is more to look forward to, riches that only come with the accrual of age, and the opportunity to assess those riches, to make connections, and to serve.

Goodbye for Now, Instagram

I made a decision seven days ago to delete the Instagram app from my iPhone.

Why?

The newsfeed algorithm.

For every one image that I see from a friend or family member, I see one advertisement, three posts from news outlets or businesses or Instagram personalities that I follow, suggested follows, and other junk. I’ve also found that the Discover feature has been bad for my browsing habits, turning Instagram into a black hole.

The next decision I’m mulling over: collecting my images, deleting my account, and spending more time with a point and shoot and imaging software.

I made a conscious decision to delete Facebook from my phone and I never installed Facebook Messenger. I deleted Twitter from my phone, though I access it on my tablet. I limit my Facebook exposure to five minutes a day on my home computer. I’m not only worried about my attention span and the effects social media can have on my anxiety levels. I’m also worried about my privacy.

I suppose that Instagram’s non sequential algorithm (and that of other social media services) is designed to show me more of what I like to see based on my scrolling habits, likes, comments, etc. But it turns out I don’t like what I see. Which has led me to use these services less.

The only service I still enjoy, and only for specific purposes, is Twitter. I’ve been totally disinterested in Facebook for three or four years, hanging on to it because I peddle in words, and I’ve been beaten over the head with the message that being active on social media is essential for getting people to read your stuff.

I’m beginning to think that the clearest path to greater creativity, deeper human connection, increased privacy, and increased quality of life is to shut down social media. If I don’t delete accounts entirely, I may choose to update them by proxy through a service like Buffer. I’m also thinking of relegating everything to this space, to my website, which I set up, maintain, and manage. Pictures, quick missives, essays, etc.

I’ve intuited that social media is bad for my well being. Couple that with the fact that social media platforms make use of me as the product, collecting my data (no service is free), it may be high time to let go of my fear of missing out, download my information, and abandon ship.

I mentioned above that one of the reasons I’ve remained on social media is so that I have an outlet to publish links to stuff so that you, dear reader, might scroll, spot, stop, and click. I’d like to bypass all that stuff, and I’d like to give you the chance to remain one of my readers without having to turn a data point over to a corporate giant. In the right hand column, subscribe and receive my posts via email. Add my blog to your reader service, if you keep one. And let’s stay in touch.

A Meaningful Life?

The key to a meaningful life is to know God and enjoy fellowship with God, the source of all joy, now and forever.

But that is not so easy. Why? Because we are acclimated to another climate, a different set of ideas, a frame that is foreign, so oppositional to that God, that while we might long for that kind of fellowship and companionship and constant joy, and even though we may even taste it fleetingly, momentarily, we will find ourselves feeling pulled, by an orbital force, away from that God. We will attempt to center our universe elsewhere, because until we meet that God, our universe is centered elsewhere, centered on another reign, another rule, a different set of priorities and objectives.

Some call this “the world.” Until we see otherwise, the world is all we know.  It is tangible, visceral. Its impulses and key stories are our impulses and key stories, no matter how good-natured and kind we may be, or think we may be. For the forces of this world, the powers and principalities, are subtle and complex, not to mention seductive. They exert influence not only in the domain of our choices, but on our motivations. They not only warp our vision of what is ultimately good, but our character, which is vital for our ability, in the end, to choose and to do what is good. These “powers and principalities,” if I may call them such (for the Bible does), are manifold and multi-form, visible and invisible.

This is why the Christian message of salvation, or good news, is so startling. It moves us from one realm to another, from darkness to light, from one way of seeing to another, from one set of rules to a new understanding of rules altogether. A meaningful life, one that rings out in eternity, is one that is part of eternity now, one that lives by a dissonant sets of principles and commitments from that which is familiar.

When Jesus entered the world, he did so as true light, as God. Jesus came preaching, yes, but he also enacted and embodied an alternative reality. He called this the kingdom of God. Some theologians today speak of this as the reign of God, or God’s family, or God’s eternal kinship. Whatever you call it, this reality was his message. And as he preached, enacted, demonstrated and embodied this message, Jesus was, in a sense, displaying the fullness of meaning. His life demonstrates, in a deeply profound way, what it means to live a life of purpose, vocation, harmony, and blessing, a life that lasts. Nothing Jesus did was in vain, for all was done for the glory of God and for the good of this world, according to the plans and purposes that had been appointed specifically for him.

This is why Jesus was rejected. His life was in dissonance with everything else that had ever been in this world. But his life was, in actual fact, the true song, the song everlasting. His words and his deeds, they still ring out. For while they were done and said within time, they transcend time. In his life, he accomplished the most meaningful thing that has ever been done.

And because of this, we may find meaning by no longer living for ourselves, but by dying and being made alive in Christ.

The Principle Agent

Let spiritual directors of this kind remember that the Holy Ghost is the principal agent here, and the real guide of souls; that he never ceases to take care of them and never neglects any means by which they may profit and draw near unto God as quickly as possible, and in the best way. Let them remember that they are not the agents, but instruments only to guide souls by the rule of faith and the law of God, according to the spirit which God gives to everyone. Their aim therefore should be not to guide souls by a way of their own suitable to themselves, but to ascertain, if they can, the way by which God himself is guiding them. If they cannot ascertain it, let them leave these souls alone and not disquiet them. Let them adapt their instruction to the direction of God, and endeavor to lead their penitents into greater solitude, liberty and tranquility, and not fetter them when God is leading them on.
– John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love (1585)

God has called us to shepherd and care for others,
But God remains the principle and primary shepherd,
The one to whom those who mind flocks and fields must ultimately give account.

Therefore, remember to always point others to God and to listen with a discerning ear, Paying mind to ways God may be leading the other,
Redirecting attention hither and yon to the coming kingdom,
Setting aside preferences suitable to yourself,
And instead seeking the calling and guidance of the Holy Spirit,
Who knows the hearts of women and men and works out God’s ways
Which are higher than our own.

My New Jobs

2018 is no longer new, but a great deal has happened since the calendar rolled over January 1, bringing a flurry of opportunity. It is time to write about it.

If you’ve seen me at First Methodist or have spoken with me, the following will not be new. But for my own sake and for friends who have wondered, this is the press release, coming your way via the World Wide Web.

First Methodist Waco: Interim Director of College Ministries

First and most significantly, since February I have served as the Interim Director of College Ministries at First Methodist Waco. It has been wonderful to be with students and to be preaching, teaching, and equipping others for life in Christ.

How did this happen? First Methodist has seen significant changes in the past twelve months. Reverend Steve Ramsdell, who was absolutely wonderful and has blessed our family, retired this past summer. Other wonderful members of the church staff stepped away from leadership or found new roles. Reverend Ryan Barnett was appointed as Lead Pastor. Change is challenging, but the church has done well, welcomed new visitors, faced new challenges, and made several wise decisions.

Last fall Reverend Brandon Frenzel shifted from his position as Associate Pastor of Student Ministries, where he worked directly with youth and college students, to a position of greater responsibility. He now oversees all of First’s ministry to families and works with an excellent team of people who coordinate ministry to children, middle school, high school, college students, and their families. Pastor Hayley House, who now works with high school students, previously helped Pastor Brandon in college ministry. These moves happened in succession.

Pastor Brandon and Pastor Hayley continued to work with college students, but because of their changing responsibilities there was a need for an interim person to come and share the load. Brandon spoke to me about the position in early January, and I was glad to help the church.

I’ve been on duty since the beginning of February and it has been a joy to get to know the students and serve them as they grow in faith.

Truett Seminary: Covenant Group Mentor // Spiritual Director

Truett Seminary launched a program for training in spiritual direction last fall, and I have had the privilege of meeting with those students one on one for discipleship, listening, and conversation concerning the spiritual life. Dr. Angela Reed directs the program, and she is absolutely wonderful. I met her students during one of their class sessions last fall. That work has continued this spring.

At the the invitation of Professor Bill Walker I was given a second opportunity to serve the seminary community in January. I now serve as a Covenant Group Mentor. The Covenant Group is an important facet of the seminary’s approach to spiritual formation, or how Christian character is developed.

These groups consist of a small number of seminarians who meet together weekly for prayer, directed conversation, discipleship, the practice of spiritual disciplines, accountability, and for guidance in growing more like Jesus. It is my responsibility to care pastorally for the students, offer wisdom and guidance, keep our sessions on track, and encourage the students as they pursue their education.

The work has been delightful. It is truly one of my favorite things I do each week. It is a privilege to serve in higher education and to serve Baylor.

Central District – Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church: Speaker

Another surprise came my way when Reverend Leah Hidde-Gregory, the District Superintendent of the Central District of our Annual Conference, invited me to speak to the United Methodist clergy in our area on the topic of spiritual formation on several occasions this year. As you can imagine, pastoral ministry can be challenging and taxing on the soul. It is my hope that my time with clergy will help them experience renewal for the task of ministry, to be encouraged in their work, and to discover new avenues for growth in their spiritual life so that they might remain strong and steadfast as they do their work “unto the Lord.”

I met with the clergy in January and again in March. In our first meeting we discussed the Wesleyan Class Meeting with help from a resource by Kevin Watson. In our second we prayed the Scriptures and then discussed the Triumphal Entry in preparation for Good Friday. I also presented a few truths I wish someone would have shared with me prior to beginning pastoral ministry on how to abide in Christ, grow in faith, and serve others.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the year. As part of this commitment I have resolved to remember all sixty-six area United Methodist Churches and their pastors in prayer each day. I pray God would bless our region through them.

Coaching Youth Sports

Of all the new gigs I’ve had this spring this one pays the best. They keep doubling my pay, too! This spring I’ve coached youth basketball, soccer, and t-ball. It’s been a blast and a great way to be part of the community.

Wait, Weren’t You Planning to Go Back to School?

That’s right. I was. And up until last fall was still considering it. But after a few conversations and plenty of prayer, I discerned that an advanced degree was not my calling at this time. So I turned the matter over to God in prayer and have experienced peace ever since.

Are You Still Writing?

I am still writing. I continue to contribute to Burlap. I received some kind feedback from congregants at First Mansfield following my work with their congregation on Mark.

I have a couple of other projects that are in the works. There are plenty of possibilities, and among them is a book, an extended treatise on the spiritual life. An idea has been with me for some time. We will see where that leads.

So, What’s Next?

Reading, family, teaching, serving, and playing basketball about once a week.