The term midlife crisis may be something of a misnomer. If eighty years typifies the average American's life span, midlife would commence on one's fortieth birthday, however, those who seem to be experts tell us that a midlife crisis, if such a crisis is to occur, will most likely strike five, ten, fifteen, or even twenty or more years later. For those smitten by this past one’s prime psychological phenomenon, it is presumed that the realization of one's mortality, disappointments in life, unfulfilled dreams, and the whole series of wrinkles, sagging body parts, and receding hairlines play a role in all of this.
Please do not tell me those midlife crises are not real. I know better. I lived through a midlife crisis of my own.
I cannot speak for women, who are probably more sensible, but I have known men who, on reaching life's middle years, turn their interests to younger women or sleek, low slung sports cars. As I was content with both my wife and our trusty minivan, I enrolled in seminary.
I finished my studies at an age when many are anticipating retirement. Retirement, I believe, is probably overrated, but that's another topic. After spending a lifetime in sales, I accepted the chaplaincy at an urban homeless shelter. Between the homeless shelter and the men's prison where I taught addiction recovery and life skills, I experienced a world unlike the one I had previously known.
One afternoon, a resident client, plagued by troubles, asked to speak with me. From the moment she took a seat, she launched into a most confusing rhapsody of frustration and woe. I am an effective listener--I have been trained to listen--but, for the life of me, I could not understand what was ailing her. Try as I might, I could make no sense of her words.
So I did what any well-trained chaplain would do. I kept my mouth shut. I stroked my chin. I kept my eyes focused on her. I maintained a solemn expression. Oh, I also nodded sympathetically from time to time.
She thanked me for my time and left. I spent much of the afternoon wondering what had brought about the young woman's annoyance.
Two days later, she popped into my office and said, "Chaplain Mike, that was the best advice you gave me! Everything worked out fine. Thanks for helping me! You're the best!"
Advice? What advice? Throughout the interview, I had not uttered a single word of advice. And then it came to me--all she had wanted was someone who would sit quietly and listen.
Do not miss this point: when we patiently listen to others without interrupting their words, we validate their value and worth as fellow human beings. Listening says, "You are important. You are worth my time. I respect what you have to say. Your thoughts and ideas are deserving of my attention and consideration. You matter."
Listening works wonders.