Monday, 25 April 2016

Book Review: Nick Page, The Dark Night of the Shed: Men, the Midlife Crisis, Spirituality—and Sheds

Anyone who has been following my blog over the last year or so (or who knows me in the abundance of my flesh) will know that I’ve been struggling with life recently—specifically, knowing my place in the world, and dealing with what is probably best described as my emotional instability or immaturity. The occasion for many of my recent and current struggles is surely the fact that I am a fortysomething experiencing a midlife crisis. On the surface level, the term ‘midlife crisis’ connotes middle-aged men running off with the secretary (I don’t have a secretary, and my wife would object (I think)), buying a Lamborghini Aventador (my son would be pleased if I did; I’d rather have this), or taking up decathlons (which is never gonna happen). But stereotypes aside, it seems that the ‘midlife crisis’ is a genuine phenomenon arising from a potent brew of mixing past regrets with future anxieties about one’s worth. At least, this is what it seems to be for me.

I have just finished reading Nick Page’s The Dark Night of the Shed: Men, the Midlife Crisis, Spirituality—and Sheds (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2015). If I remember correctly, I first came across Nick Page’s writing when I was a teenager. I don’t remember much about what I read, other than it was a serialised story set in the future (the story may actually be set now, given that I read the story in the late 80s/early 90s!) that featured a beautiful girl with two noses and a grating voice, and where one instalment began with Margaret Thatcher’s brain talking to her bedroom furniture. I’ve also read Page’s And Now Let’s Move into a Time of Nonsense: Why Worship Songs are Failing the Church, which is worth a look. If you have read Nonsense and recall the story about the two-nosed girl (printed either in 21CC or its successor, Alpha—not the course), then you’ll know that pretty much everything Page writes is laced with humour that usually helps to drive home his points. Here’s an example from chapter four, ‘The Gods who Failed’, which looks at the various ‘gods’ that have failed men in particular:

God #6: Prudence, god of security

Sub-deities: Stasis, god of reassurance; Ukip, god of nationalism; Retro, god of nostalgia.
The worshippers of Prudence are an anxious group of people. They spend a lot of time worrying about the future and praying to their god to protect them. They talk a lot about tradition, about the old way of doing things, and take joy in reminiscing. They put a traditional telephone ring on their smartphone—those who have a smartphone. Some worshippers believe that their faith applies only for their own nationality or race. Doctrinal statements often begin with the line, ‘I’m not racist, but . . .’ Their temples are tea shops, traditional pubs and anywhere owned by the National Trust. (p. 61, italics original)

The Dark Night of the Shed takes the male midlife crisis and examines it in the light of Scripture—and especially the story of Jacob—Jungian individuation, and the spiritual disciplines. Essentially, Page argues that the midlife crisis for men can be an opportunity for new growth, and that the spiritual disciplines will foster this growth. The book’s shed conceit highlights the need for a person to have some kind of space in which to reflect and connect to God. In many respects, the focus on disciplines such as silence and solitude, prayer and contemplation, and self-control is nothing unusual. But I appreciated Page’s elucidation of these as to why they specifically help to address the male midlife crisis; his reading of Jacob’s life is particularly helpful in this respect. I recommend this book for anyone in their late thirties and beyond who, like me, is struggling to find his (or even her) place in the world.


  1. I really do get where you're coming from. I don't want a place in the world. I don't not want a place in the world. My wanting or not wanting doesn't seem to make much difference so I try not to spend time thinking about it. At Celebrate Recovery I learned the mantra 'one day at a time', which I use a lot nowadays. For me, back then, it was 'five minutes at a time'. I also learned to say 'just for today I can...' or 'just for today I will...'

    Have you read Richard Rohr's 'Falling Upwards: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life'? It might be helpful. I have been bowled over by Rohr lately. I haven't read Falling Upwards yet, but from the blurb it sounds as though it might be useful. I too often feel on the edge of something but I don't know what. I worry that it might just be my pride. On the other hand I know I have gifts and abilities that God gave me that never get used. And sometimes life is incredibly boring. I get the sense you think these sorts of things?

    1. In my experience, 'pride' is a stick that some use to beat others in order to cover over their own pride. It seems to me that those who feel they have unused or untapped potential, gifts, and skills are more prone to these kinds of feelings of unfulfilment precisely because they are unused and untapped. (I hope that makes sense!)

      I've come across Falling Upwards in various contexts over the past few weeks, so perhaps Someone's trying to tell me something. But I'm awaiting a new book by James Smith called You Are What You Love, which I'm hoping will be helpful as I try to sort out my headspace.

    2. In the first paragraph, I meant that second sentence to read:

      '. . . are more prone to these kind of feelings of unfulfilment and accusations of pride . . .'

    3. I really want to read that Richard Rohr book... I heard a Greenbelt talk by him based on it and I found it very helpful.

      I love Nick Page's writing - I too read the one that started with Margaret Thatcher talking to her bedroom furniture, along with his Tabloid Bible which is pretty amusing in places. ('Camel with the Wind' as a tribute song to King David was a highlight.)

      I think I've been going through a low-key slow-burn midlife crisis for about the past 5 years. It's nothing very dramatic, and much of it just picks from the adolescent crisis which I never fully finished. 'Who am I really? What's my life for? What have I achieved? Am I worth anything beyond my work, family and church commitments?' etc etc etc... very tedious and just a bit whiney at times! :)

    4. Yes, it is tedious and does sound whiney . . . but it seems that quite a few people struggle with this kind of thing. In my experience, churches focus a lot on children and youth work, and sometimes on the elderly. But I wonder if there should also be a ministry to the thirty- and fortysomethings who are discovering their lives aren't all they hoped for. What Good News does the gospel have for them?

      I wish I could remember what the name of the Margaret Thatcher story was called.

    5. I wasn't meaning that you were sounding whiney by the way, just to clarify! I'm just aware that my own prayers and internal monologue can get a bit like that. I bore myself sometimes.

      Which is not to say that these aren't legitimate questions and concerns - actually, I think they are, unattractive though they may appear.

      And yes, I think there probably should be a ministry to the mid-lifers. Maybe you could set one up......

      I used to have that Nick Page book but no idea what happened to it. I had a vague memory that the word 'Armageddon' might have featured somewhere in the title but probably not...

    6. I've googled it, but to no avail. Surprisingly, searching for 'Margaret Thatcher girl with two noses Nick Page' doesn't bring up many specific results.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. The more voices saying this kind of thing, the more helpful it is for the whole church to serve one another effectively.
    Elsa Lewis
    (Lioness Writing Ltd, The Listening Book publisher)