Reformed theologian John Piper says 30 years ago he went through an unexpected crisis that left him in a state of "inexplicable depression."
Speaking about midlife crises on his desiringGod.org podcast Monday, Piper revealed that he was around 40 years old when he and his wife, Noël, were vacationing in California.
"Ben Patterson, who was at that time the pastor of a Presbyterian Church in Irvine, asked me to preach for him and offered me his house for some days of vacation while they were away. And so, we took him up on it. Two things happened which were remarkable and probably a wake-up call — a warning for me in midlife to hold fast to Jesus," he recalled.
"One was that I felt inexplicably depressed while I was there. One morning I was sitting on the stairway to the second level of their house, crying. My wife found me and was startled because that's not typical. She asked me, 'What's wrong?' And I simply said, 'I don't have any idea.'"
Piper noted that after he preached at Patterson's church, he was approached by Jim Conway, the author of Men in Midlife Crisis, who counseled the theologian on what he might be going through.
"He (Conway) said, 'How old are you?' I said, 'Forty.' He smiled and said, 'You got a year and a half.' He meant the average age (I think I've got my details right) for men to pass through midlife crisis. The age is 41-and-a-half — at least, that's the way I remember it. I had never even thought about the issue of midlife crisis. I tend not to put a lot of stock in generalizations like that."
Piper admitted now that there seems to be a "good bit of evidence" that midlife crises do affect people.
He suggested there are five big things that can bring it about, including physical factors; peaking in one's career; body image issues; troubles in marriage; and the pressures of raising teen children.
"Looking back now from age 71, I am overflowing with thankfulness to the mercy and the power of God to hold on to me during those years. There are some depressing parts of John Piper's journal. I hope the world doesn't ever get to look at them," he reflected.
"When I look at them, I have to say, 'Thank you, Father. If you had not been massively true to your promises to complete the good work that you began, I wouldn't have made it. I sure didn't have the fingers to grip this cliff.'"
Piper said that men can search for encouragement in the words of Paul in Philippians 3:12 in the Bible, who says: "Lay hold of Him (Jesus) precisely because He has laid hold of you."
"Get up in the morning before your children. I know that's a challenge if they have to be at school at 7:30. But I did it for years, and I know it's crucial. Get up before your children, go to your private place, get down on your knees before God Almighty and beg him for strength for another day," the theologian advised.
"Ask that He would fulfill His promise never to leave you, never to forsake you. Ask that he would help you and strengthen you and uphold you by His Word. Tell him every morning that He is your only hope as you instruct these children in His Word."
Other Christians who have mused on midlife crises include Nathanael Yates, a neuroscience researcher from Perth, Western Australia.
Yates wrote in an op-ed published in The Christian Post in December 2017 that one issue is that when people get older, their identity becomes increasingly tied to their family, their employment, and possessions.
"However, if this sense of identity was stable and valid we would not see the commonly encountered 'midlife crisis.' I believe many people come to a point in life where they recognize what their identity is based upon is so changed that they no longer know who they are," the researcher wrote.
"Their accomplishments, family, and possessions aren't as fulfilling as they thought they would be. As a result, very much like teenagers they start purchasing and trying new things to find a face that will fit."
Yates insisted that people are "children of God," and should seek to base their sense of self on the eternal.
"Unlike our earthly parents the character of God does not change, and neither does our relationship with Him. We are naturally drawn into defining ourselves in relationships with others," he added.
"But unlike our relationship with others, our relationship with God is eternal and need not change with age, feelings, wealth, friendship or time. Thus, we never need to be in doubt of who we are: we are eternally loved children of God."