I always thought the midlife crisis was just a cliché. But now I’m 41, and I’m finding myself in the midst of an all-too-real midlife phase of questioning myself, my identity, and my place in life, with accompanying feelings of anxiety, dissatisfaction, and disillusionment.
Nearly all these feelings focus on my career situation. I’m ten years into a wonderful second marriage, so that’s not affected. But I sense the crisis spilling over somewhat into my religion/faith. For this post, I thought I would do a bit of self-inventory in the spirit of “I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours.”
To begin, let me tell you two ways in which this midlife crisis is NOT affecting my religion/faith, so you’ll understand more where I’m coming from:
1) Although I’m aware of some aberrations, inconsistencies, and other unresolved areas in Mormon history and doctrine, these areas honestly do not trouble me much. I find that the solid aspects of the faith far outweigh the unresolved areas, and I’m content to wait and see on those areas, which I feel confident will eventually be explained to my satisfaction. Certainly I can’t imagine any other lens through which to understand life and negotiate my way through it than Mormonism.
2) I don’t find myself facing significant doubts or problems related to the temple-recommend questions. Only three questions give me any pause: A) When asked if I affiliate with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church, because I have inactive and nonmember friends and I participate in several alternative LDS forums. B) When asked if I earnestly strive to do my duty in the Church, because I tend to do the minimum. C) When asked if I keep all the covenants that I made in the temple, because I’m sure I could always do MUCH more with sacrifice, consecration, etc. Other than that, I’m totally on board.
So where is my midlife crisis spilling over into my religion/faith? It mainly has to do with what I would term the Mormon lifestyle. Here’s the essence of my midlife Mormon questioning: Must the Mormon lifestyle be quite so programmed, regimented, and one-size-fits-all standardized, or is it OK to do some customizing and setting of one’s own quotas and benchmarks for good works? I’m not talking about rationalizing paying 5% tithing or drinking beer only once a month; I’m talking about those aspects of the Mormon lifestyle that are not explicitly required to maintain a temple recommend, instead functioning as what I would call sub-commandments:
Home teaching: I can see the value of home teaching for socially bonding together a ward and, rarely in my experience, helping families who really need it. However, with my personal and family time under increased pressure and each month passing by so quickly, once a month just feels way too frequent for both visiting and being visited. My midlife self asks, Why can’t it be acceptable for me to set my own quota of quarterly, which I could do willingly and happily? I’m close to making this preference known, but it’s hard because it would offend others.
Daily scripture study: I’m grateful for the scriptures and recognize that they help establish the foundation of our church. However, I personally think they’re a bit overhyped as to how much we can keep getting out of them by rereading them over and over. I’m a passionate reader, and I have tried to do daily scripture study at different times in my life, but it always ends up feeling overall tedious, with the occasional smidgeon of new insight. Rather than not study scriptures at all, I’ve recently given my midlife self permission to read one random chapter from the Book of Mormon each Sunday and call it good.
Temple attendance: The expectation is once a month, but I’ve dwindled to once a year or less, so I’ve set my midlife goal to attend every six months. Again, I personally find the spiritual benefits of temple attendance to be overhyped, and I don’t get what people mean when they say, “I learn something new every time.” Yes, a big component of temple attendance is serving others—so I ask you, do the dead somehow view the movie through our eyes? If not, I hope the church eventually starts offering a streamlined ordinance-only option. Think how much more work would get done! And I’d go more often if the session were an hour-plus shorter.
Dress code: I’ve personally come to reject the Mormon priesthood dress code, disliking it on both the symbolic and practical levels. I think it’s cultural, not doctrinal. So here in my midlife, I don’t always wear a tie to church, never a white shirt, don’t even own a suit, sometimes wear nice leather sandals to church without socks in summer, and often wear a pair of newer black Levi’s to church. I choose to wear a groomed beard and would never shave it off just because some church leader asked. (Frankly, I’ve been a little disappointed that no one’s yet given me the opportunity to stand up for myself on this issue.)
Odds and ends: I’ve found that I’m willing to fast every other month. We hit family home evening every second or third week. I get to skip priesthood and Sunday school once a month. During church, I can read church magazines (Ensign, Sunstone, and Dialogue). I never sing hymns, but I open the hymnal for the sacrament hymn and mentally follow along.
I guess over the years all the religious busywork has just become too much and too often for me, but if I can set my own pace, it helps me feel more in control and more willing to get the most out of what I’m able and willing to do, instead of resenting it or secretly just not doing it at all and feeling guilty. I’ve seen many people fall into all-or-nothing or slippery-slope modes of thinking when it comes to practicing the Mormon religion, but I don’t think it always has to be that way, especially on this sub-commandment level.
Maybe all this is obvious to some of you already, but for me it’s been a midlife awakening to figure out how I can continue enduring to the end without just getting sick of it all and slipping into coasting mode, like I did halfway through my mission. Maybe I come across as a self-indulgent wimp, but at least I’m still holding onto the iron rod.
What about you? Have you had or do you anticipate having a distinctively Mormon midlife crisis? And what’s your take on dealing with the day-to-day benchmarks and quotas on all this sub-commandment stuff?