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.

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