The Cold Sins of Midlife

In medieval Catholic teaching on morality, a distinction was made between "hot" and "cold" sins. According to one helpful blog post:

"The 'hot' sins are sins of the moment, the sins of passion. They are often obvious to others, and easily make us feel ashamed. The 'cold' sins are more calculated. They are often overlooked, or even admired and encouraged, by others. Whether hot or cold, these sins lead us away from God."

Hot sins are the sins that get the most attention, things like anger, gluttony, and lust. Hot sins spring from the furnace of the flesh. They are the spawn of unbridled passion. Cold sins, by comparison, are the quiet, subtler ones: envy, resentment, bitterness, or a critical spirit. Hot sins are typical of younger people; cold sins often set in later in life. Cold sins are particularly prevalent among those who've been around the block a bit; they metastasize quietly in midlife and later. For these more mature adults, the bloom is off life's rose; the fresh wonder of the world has wilted. Kids have left home. Parents are aging or are in need of care or have died. The career is stalled, boring, or unsatisfying. One's mate (and, if we're honest) one's self is past their prime. Cold sins grow in the bleak tundra of life's second half.

Of course this is the classic crucible for the midlife crisis. It's what drives middle-aged people to rush out in desperate pursuit of the hot sins--the sports car, an affair, or some adventure that promises to put the spring back in our step. It's a desperate attempt to assuage the accidie and ennui so typical of this stage. I like the way Christian writer and pastor Gordon MacDonald once described midlife: it's the season of the "sames". Same job, same house, same spouse.

It would be easy, especially on a bad day in midlife, to draw attention only to the difficulties of this season. It would be even easier to do this when feeling the effects of pervasive popular culture, which focuses almost solely on younger adults. As one middle-aged friend said, "I feel invisible."

This is a challenging stage and it can sneak up subtly or suddenly.

What I'd like to do in subsequent posts is unpack the challenges and opportunities of midlife. I'd especially like to reflect on the spiritual retooling this stage calls for in the maturing disciple of Jesus Christ. Do stay tuned.

Lance's "Confession"?!

As I write this, I've just heard a news report on NPR (based on a recent New York Times article) that ex-cycling champion Lance Armstrong is weighing whether or not to confess to doping in order that he might be permitted to continue competing as a triathlete. This involves serious legal maneuvers to avoid prosecution in civil court for a variety of allegations (the most serious, that he and the U.S. Postal Service pro cycling team used federal funds to finance their systematic doping program).

That "thud" is my jaw hitting the floor. Where I come from "confession" is serious business. It's not something you cynically manipulate for your desired purposes. At least it shouldn't be. To me, this reveals the world Lance has been living in all along: "Lance's World"--a win-at-all-costs world where rules are bent to insure your victories, where you crush your competition and obliterate those who get in your way. It's a world where the ends always justify the means, where the public is taken for fools. Give me Marion Jones any day: she at least showed some visible remorse with her tears and did some time in prison for her offenses. One hopes her character has grown and benefited and that she's a better person for all of this.

Confession literally means "to agree." It's to agree that what we've done is reprehensible and wrong and to sincerely admit that we're sorry for it. Confession involves humble recognition that we've missed the mark, that we've transgressed a serious standard, that we are sorry and now seek to make amends and live differently. Confession can lead to liberation and personal renewal. Above all, confession is not just another way to "lawyer-up" and come out victorious. If you're the praying type, pray for Lance's genuine, heartfelt confession and the necessary contrition to go with it. There's so much more at stake here than sports. And apparently he's just not getting it.