The Gospel Coalition

I listened as a Christian friend exchanged the usual pleasantries with a friend he hadn't seen in several years and probably wouldn't for several more. They offered updates on family, pets, jobs, churches, and health. Then the first friend decided to get real.

"I've always believed in life after death," he said. "But I'm wondering about life before death. Is this all there is?"

The second friend promised to pray for him and asked for details, which spilled out like rice from a leaky sack. He was dissatisfied with his job---and, like many others, worried about whether it would continue. He was also depressed and taking medication. His marriage seemed to be going all right. Their church was solid. Still, the question rang in the second friend's ears: "Is this all there is?"

When the Waves Crash

Midlife restlessness is common, even for Christians. Having recently turned 40, I think about restlessness more these days. Sometimes we express this restlessness in trips to the counselor or to the Walgreens pharmacy counter. Other times we'll see a middle-aged (or older) man respond to his ennui with a new red convertible.

Sometimes this restlessness takes a nasty turn. A pillar of his church, respected both in the sanctuary and in the local business community, leaves his wife and forsakes his membership in the local church. It is a distressingly old story, but its familiarity doesn't lessen the shock or pain. This man, who certainly should know better, has resisted all entreaties of church leaders to be reconciled to his family. Their efforts have bounced off his hardened heart like the futile crashing of waves against the thick stone foundation of a seaside fortress. Why has he jettisoned his old values and relationships like so much excess baggage? What is he seeking that they couldn't satisfy?

At the risk of rushing in like a fool where angels fear to tread, the recent tragic suicide of football legend Junior Seau speaks of our inability to be satisfied, even when we accomplish everything we want. Seau, who played in the National Football League for two decades, seemingly had it all: adoring fans, great reputation, loving family, beautiful home overlooking the Pacific, and more money than most people could spend in a lifetime. He even went to church! Only 43 years old, Seau had retired and was living the American Dream.

Yet something was wrong. He didn't leave a suicide note, and we don't know whether any brain injuries from football may have contributed to his death. But we do know that for many players, the transition from stardom to "everyday life"---even if "set for life"---can be jarring.

Miles McPherson played with Seau. Now he pastors the Rock Church in San Diego. McPherson says:
By the time you get to play 20 years in the NFL, in 12 consecutive Pro Bowls, and all that comes with that, you're living in fantasyland. All that one day stops. But your body, mind, and heart are conditioned to such a high level of excitement, adrenaline rush, challenge, and then you're like taken off the drug, cold turkey. A lot of guys, women as well, celebrities, who live in a bubble, have a hard time living with normal life. Unless they can emotionally and spiritually handle the letdown and transition to something that will satisfy them, even though it will never bring the adrenaline rush their career did, they're somewhat at a loss.

Christian Experience

Being a Christian is no bulwark against spiritual restlessness. Even those of us who keep up our "quiet times," engage in witness, and go to church sometimes struggle. Times of boredom, dryness, unanswered prayer, and searching can and will come.

Still, restlessness is not the norm in the Christian life. The Lord Jesus promised abundant life (John 10:10)---not just in the sweet bye and bye, but in the here and now. That makes sense, because eternal life is all about knowing him (John 17:3), and this relationship starts as soon as we receive him as Savior and Lord. Remember the testimony of the apostle Paul, who, despite all his persecutions, could say without irony, "For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ" (2 Cor. 1:5). There's that word again . . . abundance.

So if you are feeling down, depressed, or dry in your spiritual life, don't give up, and don't despair. There is hope. How could there not be, with Christ risen from the dead?

Here's a gentle suggestion: Throw yourself into the work of the gospel, knowing that you do not labor in vain (1 Cor 15:58). Find God's calling and pursue it at all costs. Nothing is more exciting. I can't guarantee that your problems will vanish. Just the opposite may happen (2 Tim 3:12). But I can promise you one thing:

You won't be bored.



May 31, 2012 at 11:30 PM

Perhaps the reason many Christians are feeling restless and unsatisfied, especially around their 30s or 40s, is because they have not been living for the glory of God, but rather for the american dream. Dying to self, taking up your cross, and following Jesus is much, much harder and more painful, yet it will lead to eternal fruit. Pursuing anything else will result in dissatisfaction and emptiness.

Of course, dissatisfaction and emptiness can also be temptations and trials from Satan, but in America this is hardly ever the case.


June 4, 2012 at 07:39 AM

This seems reductionisti to me. I think that the problem lies more in the misconception, or mishandling of a healthy view of vocation and he Christian life. The gospel says that Jesus is Lord of everything and not merely my heart (yes there are many facets). The whole of life is spiritual and any act within creation that is fulfilling out purpose as human beings as set out in Genesis needs to be viewed as such. The church can do better at holding to a view of life that sees glory being given to God in all unsinful acts. Pastors, teachers, and Christian bloggers tend to suggest their main fulfillment as the means of everyone's fulfillment rather than as one vocational call and gifting. We are all called to present the gospel, but it is not everyone's regular occupation to do so as a pastor does so. Demonstrating and articulating the gospel of Jesus as Lord in any work place or life situation is equally fulfilling and full of life in abundance. Pursuing this with the support of the church is key, I think.


June 3, 2012 at 08:35 AM

I think that's zoozoc's point - kids, job/career, body, etc.. are all the American dream. It's so subtle, but even these 'good things' over the years become our 'everything'. The end result is what the author lays out.


June 3, 2012 at 07:13 PM

This article offers some great insight. I can relate to this as I approach my 50's. I can't help but think that so much satisfaction that we seek in this life cannot be found here...but will only be experienced in the life to come. When/if we begin to entertain the idea that disatisfaction in this world is unacceptable, we set ourselves up for a fall. We ought to feel like exiles, strangers, pilgrims in a strange land, longing for the ultimate fulfillment of our home in heaven.

[...] Life Before Death: The Antidote to Spiritual Restlessness The … [...]


June 3, 2012 at 05:25 PM

you are correct, I am only 22 and am speaking as someone who hasen't yet experienced these things. However, many many people are experiencing the "mid life crisis" at a time much earlier than usually happens. I believe someone has coined the phrase "quarter life crisis." There may be many reasons that these crises occur, but ultimately they occur so that we make Christ are all in all.

But as a youngster, I see many of my peers begin to pursue the american dream. And don't think that the american dream is not compatible with being a Christian. There are many Christians I know who seem to believe in the gospel, yet I see little dying to self in their lives. Following Jesus costs us everything. But by giving up everything, we gain Christ, which is everything. "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose." -Jim Elliot

June 3, 2012 at 03:39 PM

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June 1, 2012 at 12:31 PM

This is excellent.

shameless plug, I wrote about this very thing (though not as eloquently!) on my own blog regarding the appeal of Ann Voskamp's book to Christian women:

Truth Unites... and Divides

June 1, 2012 at 12:01 PM

Considering how big the harvest is, I'm thankful that the Lord gives us a rest day.


June 1, 2012 at 10:09 AM

At 53 I could hardly call it midlife. A co-worker who is a practicing Jehovah's Witness flatly stated she had left the Baptist/Christian perspective behind because Jehovah Witnesses are "always happy". That statement stayed with me making me aware that I had kept God neatly in my back pocket until I discovered you could live a spirit filled life. Then all hell broke lose. Literally and figuratively. Guess what. "He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us." So my job is to live in that power. He promised. Period. End of sentence.


June 1, 2012 at 09:09 PM

You speak as one that hasn't experienced the vast wasteland of mid-life. Major life changes that leave responsibility behind instead of increasing it are vastly harder to cope with. When the kids leave, is much harder then when they came. Your career is set or declining, your body is wasting instead of growing. In a very real way this is as good as it's gonna get and it aint that grand.

I'm not saying you shouldn't be active in fulfilling the Great Commision or seek joy in God, but the transition as you go into the backside of life are much harder and lonelier and maybe non-obvious to outsiders.

Ken Prater

June 1, 2012 at 08:31 AM

The article hits home for me and actually addresses a problem that disciples struggle with - "how do we live?" Books like "Don't Waste Your Life" or "Radical" or "Rebelution" all are helpful and very useful but also set up a false premise that could lead people to think that significance is found in not wasting or being radical or becoming a rebelutionary. The gospel tells us that because our significance is found in Jesus Christ. It is on this foundation then that we LIVE with the understanding that most of the Christ life is lived in the mundane, somewhat boring, unrecognizable and unnoticed work of our lives. This is the call to faithfulness - loving, serving and meaningful work that God has His eye on, the Spirit will use and within in which Christ will be eternally exalted.

[...] If you’re still struggling with restlessness, as I often am, you might find this article interesting. Rate this:Share this:PrintFacebookTwitterStumbleUponLike this:LikeBe the first to like [...]


June 1, 2012 at 05:15 PM

I Samuel16:14 evil spirit terroized Saul
Job 1:1' 1:6-12

Our great God has suspended the earth from absolutely nothing but the power of His spoken word. I have found that confessing to the Lord my feelings of restlessness helps. He knows my heart and loves nothing more than my openness to Him.