“Is My Life Worth Living?”

“The purpose in a man’s mind is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5, RSV).

“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, RSV).

IT IS OBVIOUS THAT purpose can guide life decisions, influence behavior, shape goals, offer a sense of direction, and create meaning. For some, meaning is defined by what they do—doctor, lawyer, construction worker, teacher, welder, chef. Others seek meaning through spirituality or religious beliefs. Unfortunately, some never find meaning for their lives. I cannot think of a more sad state than existing without knowing why you exist, or where you’re going.

A Matter of Worldview

We are talking about worldview. Everyone holds a worldview, which Phillips, Brown and Stonestreet (2008) define as “the framework of our most basic beliefs that shapes our view of and for the world and is the basis of our decisions and actions.” Sire (2015) says a worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or unconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic makeup of our world. [Italics added.]

I agree with Phillips, Brown and Stonestreet (2008) that truth is absolute; if not, then nothing is true. They consider (p. 64), “If a worldview is true, we can expect to find at least some external corroborating evidence to support it. This does not mean that something is true because there is evidence for it, but rather evidence will be available because something is true.” [Italics added.] It is critical to note that evidence is always subject to interpretation, and interpretation also can be subject to bias. As it’s been said many times, worldviews function somewhat like a pair of eyeglasses. When you begin wearing glasses, the rims can be quite distracting. In a short while, however, you lose your awareness of the rims and even the lenses. You forget you’re wearing glasses.

Accordingly, we can lose perspective on our assumptions, presuppositions and biases, especially with the passage of time. Entwistle (2015) warns us that assumptions and biases affect data interpretation. He said, “…what we see depends, to some degree, on what we expect and are predisposed to see.” (p. 93) Our ability to know is both dependent upon and limited by the assumptions of our worldview. In my Christian worldview, I recognize God as the unique source of all truth, and that this truth is absolute. In other words, it is not relative, but it is universal and unchanging. Truth is not absolute on its own merits; rather, it derives ultimately from God. I do not believe, however, that the Bible contains all that we need to know: e.g., we don’t consult the Bible to understand how to change a tire or perform brain surgery. Scripture does contain everything we need to know regarding God, the spiritual life, and morality.

We begin developing our worldview as young children, first through interactions within our family, then in social settings such as school and church, and from our companions and life experiences. Increasingly, our media culture is playing a key role in shaping worldview. We are a culture saturated with powerful media images in movies, television, commercials, music, gaming, and social media. What we watch, listen to, and read, impacts the way we think.

The lack of a sound basis for the meaning of life can cause a gnawing sense of being unfulfilled. This perception underlies everything we do. For example, we can be “busy” with many things, yet wonder if what we’re doing makes any real difference. Life, by its very nature, presents itself one day at a time: a random and unconnected series of activities and events over which we seem to have little or no control. If a sentiment of disconnectedness develops in our everyday existence, boredom sets in deep within our soul. To be “bored” does not mean we have nothing to do; it means that we question the value of the things we are so busy doing. Here is the great paradox of life: Many of us are busy and bored at the same time!

Symptoms of a Lack of Purpose

Interestingly, boredom might be rooted in resentment. If we run around all day like a crazy person, doing this and that, yet wonder if our busyness means anything to anyone, we easily feel used, manipulated, or exploited. Is this not often how a parent feels when he or she is constantly doing for their children, but the children appreciate nothing? In this state of mind, we begin to see ourselves as victims pushed around and made to do things by people who do not acknowledge us or take our contributions seriously. An inner anger starts to well up inside us—an anger that eventually settles into our hearts. Left unresolved, this anger leads to resentment, which has an effect on us much like a poison.

Perhaps the most damaging expression of our looming sense of unfulfillment is depression. When we start to believe our life has little or no effect on those around us, we can easily fall prey to sadness, depression, and regret. This can morph into guilt. It must be our fault that no one appreciates us, right? Perhaps we don’t do enough. Maybe we did the wrong thing. We begin to think it’s all our fault. This guilt is not always connected to just one event; sometimes it is connected with life itself. We feel guilty just for being alive. The realization that the world might be better without us becomes a sort-of “sub plot” to our life. We look in the mirror and, “Is my life worth living?”

Boredom, resentment, and depression are all symptoms of our sense of being disconnected. We cannot help but see life as a broken connectedness. We feel as though we don’t belong. Not surprisingly, this often leads to loneliness. This is what is meant by being in a room full of people at a gathering but feeling all alone. We experience this  because we don’t really feel like we’re part of the community. And it is this paralyzing sense of separation from others that establishes the core of much suffering in the world. When in this state of feeling cut off from the community, we quickly lose heart. Ultimately, if we don’t address this sentiment, we see ourselves as passive bystanders. We tend to live life “on the bench.”

Americans Increasingly Turn to Suicide

There is now a potential for us to believe our past, even our present, no longer carries us to the future. Instead, we go through life worried, cut off, without any promise that things will improve. Perhaps this is at the crux of one’s decision to commit suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide was the tenth-largest cause of death in America in 2017, claiming the lives of more than 47,000 people. Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54. There were more than twice as many suicides (47,173) in the United States in 2017 as there were homicides (19,510).

No Sense of Roots

Henri Nouwen wrote, “Most of us have an address but cannot be found there. We know where we belong, but we keep being pulled away in many directions, as if we were still homeless.” I had a t-shirt years ago that had a rather interesting quip written on it: I Have Gone to Find Myself; If I Return Before I Get Back Keep Me Here. Does this not address the very struggle we all face when attempting to define the meaning of our existence. This “rudderless” life leads to our being tossed to and fro on the ocean in search of a port—any port—in the storm. For me, this pervasive sense of meaninglessness and loneliness led to some rather damaging behavior—infidelity, job hopping, geographic changes, and addiction. I learned that when we feel an inescapable sense of disconnectedness we will being to lie to ourselves. Not only about what the meaning of life is (or should be), but about the serious damage our addictive behaviors and activities of distraction are causing—both to us and to those around us.

What is the Answer?

If you are familiar with Scripture, you will likely remember that Jesus does not respond to our worry-filled way of living by saying that we should not be busy with everyday activities. Instead, His response is quite different. He asks us to shift the point of our focus—to essentially relocate the “center” of our attention, to change our priorities. Jesus wants us to stop focusing on “many things,” and instead focus on the “one necessary thing.” He does not preach of a change in activities as a means of finding a meaningful life. That would be akin to putting a temporary bandage on a bleeding wound. When we ignore critical wounds in the flesh, we risk developing a puss-filled infection that can spread to our bloodstream, thereby causing a “systemic” infection.

Instead, Jesus speaks of a change of heart. This change is what’s needed to make everything different even while everything appears to remain the way it was. Let me be clear: Many of us are living lives that are in need of drastic change. That’s a given. When we focus on the one necessary thing, we begin to tap into the resources needed to realize an effective change in our direction. This is what Jesus meant by His comment to the disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? …do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matthew 6:25, 31, 33, RSV).

I believe it is only when we understand the importance of Jesus’s urgent instructions to make God the center of our lives that we can better see what is at stake. We will understand who we are, why we are here, and why things happen the way we do. This cannot be achieve through our human wisdom or understanding. We can’t grasp the things of the Spirit while focusing on the flesh. A heart set first on the Father’s kingdom is also a heart that is properly oriented toward the spiritual life. Thankfully, Jesus provided an exemplar for us to follow when refocusing our attention in this manner.

We see that Jesus was not merely a zealot who ran around the Holy Land espousing some “new wave” approach to life. He was not interested in seeking a “self-fulfilled” life. Rather, everything we know from Scripture is that Jesus was concerned with only one thing: To do the will of the Father. From His very first public utterance in the Temple, He made this abundantly clear. “‘Why were you searching for me?’” he asked. “’Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?'” (Luke 2:49, NIV). The footnote provided for this verse at blueletterbible.org says, “be about my Father’s business.” Jesus was quick to tell his disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19, RSV). In other words, Jesus wants us to understand that without God nothing is possible. Moreover, with God nothing is impossible.

Consider this thought: Jesus is not our Savior simply because of what He said to us or did for us of His own accord. He is our Savior because what He said and did was said and done in obedience to the Father. Paul expressed this in Romans 5:19: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19, RSV). This speaks of an all-embracing love—for the Father and for us. We cannot understand the impact of the richness of Jesus’s ministry until we see how everything He did was rooted in one thing: Listening to the Father and obeying out of the power of a perfect and unconditional love.

When Jesus said He is the way, the truth and the life, He was not merely stating that everything He said was true. It was, of course, but He meant something much deeper. He was not speaking of an idea, concept, or doctrine, but He was talking about true relationship. I believe that’s why we cannot quash the nagging sense of meaningless alone; rather, it must be understood through relationship with Jesus and with the Father. It is only by first loving God, then loving our neighbor as ourselves, that we can hope to find the connectedness many of us are desperately searching for day after day. When our lives become a continuation of Jesus’s life and ministry, we begin to see the paramount importance of being connected with Him and the Father in order to experience connectedness to our “selves” and others.

Concluding Remarks

It is in and through the Father’s kingdom that we find the Holy Spirit, who will guide us, heal us, challenge us, and convict us. This is the very mechanism for renewal. Moreover, this is not merely hitting the “heavenly lottery.” The words, “all other things will be given you as well” express that God’s love and care extends to our whole being. When we set our sights on Him. we come to understand how God keeps us in the palm of His hand. We learn not to worry, project, or become hopeless. We avoid the trap of emotional upset, including anxiety and depression. We become lifted up into God’s unconditional love and care. A change in our hearts leads to a change in our perspective, and this is the very meaning of developing a Christian worldview.

References

Entwistle, D. (2015). Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity, 3rd Ed. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books

Phillips, W., Brown, W., and Stonestreet, J. (2008) Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview, 2nd Ed. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing.

Sire, J. (2015) Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept, 2nd Ed. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press.

Loneliness and God

IT WAS THE SIXTH DAY. God had just finished creating all the living creatures that move along the ground. As He had at each stage of creation, God paused and evaluated His work. Genesis 1:25b says, “And God saw that it was good.” Only one more task remained. “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7, NIV). Here was God’s only creation that would not live its earthly life in total ignorance of its Creator. Rather, made in God’s image, Adam would fulfill a role no other creature could—he would walk in fellowship with God as the object of His love.

After placing Adam in the garden, God realized there was still something missing. “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him'” (Genesis 2:18, NIV). God recognized Adam’s need for human companionship—a need He built into Adam. More than just a fellow inhabitant of Eden, Eve would be the object of Adam’s love and would love him in return. She and Adam would share the wonders of creation and the responsibilities of stewardship. When God created Eve, Adam’s intimate relationship with God was actually enhanced by communion and companionship with someone like himself.

By design, we are social animals. God wanted it this way. Society is not something merely “added on” to our overall existence; rather, it stems from an important dimension intrinsic to human nature itself. In fact, we can only grow and attain our calling in union with others. We are called to exist for each other, but this is more than “co-existing.” It involves serving and loving one another. Jesus provided the ultimate example. He said, “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26b, 27, 28, NIV).

Struggling With Loneliness

If you are struggling with loneliness, you are not alone. Everyone experiences seasons of isolation for one reason or another. Usually, we are able to overcome our loneliness by meeting new friends, expanding our social circle, or making changes that help us re-engage with society. But a multitude of personal and other factors can sometimes short circuit our ability to connect with others. For example, it can be rather uncomfortable sometimes to meet new people. Relocating to a new area can cause a tremendous sense of homesickness.

Loneliness does not develop overnight. It can, in fact, be the result of a lifetime of influences that impact our personality. Happiness depends on intimate bonds. We need to be able to trust, confide, feel like we belong. Loneliness, as you might expect, comes in a variety of types. There is “new situation” loneliness, “I’m different” loneliness, “I have no sweetheart” loneliness, “I don’t have a pet” loneliness, “no time for me” loneliness,” “untrustworthy friends” loneliness, and “quiet-presence” loneliness.” Identifying the source of our loneliness goes a long way to figuring out how to address it. Introvert versus extrovert, sensing versus intuitive, thinking versus feeling, perceiving versus judging—each orientation presents its own unique approach to (or causes of) loneliness.

Jesus and Loneliness

Have you ever thought of Jesus as being lonely? Certainly his moments in Gethsemane and on Calvary were uniquely and terribly lonely, but what about the rest of his life? In some sense, he may have been the loneliest human in history. Loneliness is what we feel when we’re isolated from others. Loneliness often has less to do with the physical presence or absence of others, and more to do with feeling disconnected or alienated from them. It is possible to feel lonely in a room full of people.

Being misunderstood by others can cause us to feel lonely, as can being despised or rejected. This is precisely how Isaiah prophetically described Jesus in Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hid their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (NIV). Given who Jesus was, this experience would have begun decades before his public ministry even started. Jesus is able to sympathize with our loneliness far more than we might have previously thought (see Hebrews 4:15).

Being without sin, Jesus had to live among those who were full of sin: his parents, siblings, other relatives, neighbors, countrymen, foreigners, disciples, not to mention the sinful spiritual entities he encountered on a nearly daily basis. No one on earth could identify totally with Him. No one could put an arm around Him as he sat in tears and say, “I know exactly what you’re going through.”

What is Loneliness? How Can We Deal With It?

Loneliness is a complex and generally unpleasant emotional response to isolation. It stems from unmet social needs. Interestingly, the isolation can be self-imposed. This often occurs when we feel we cannot relate to others. Loneliness can have a negative impact on our emotional and physical health. The existentialist is quick to point out that when it comes down to it, we’re all alone at the end of the day.

Loneliness has an inner dimension. It is a thirst of the spirit, and the roots of loneliness are within each of us. But when we are in Christ, we have Him as our Lord and companion. As a follower of Jesus, we are part of God’s Kingdom and have a role to play. When we’re sad and lonely, or feel so alone, we need to remember that we are called to connect people with God. Intentionally living into our calling will help us overcome chronic loneliness. Being part of the Body of Christ means that each of us is connected to God and with fellow believers.

Concluding Remarks

At its root, loneliness is a spiritual issue. We don’t need to get more friends. We don’t need to write poetry or learn to paint. We need help with what makes us feel incomplete. We need a Savior. An Advocate. We need Jesus. Our emotional cry should not merely be, “I do bad things because I’m lonely, so someone come keep me company and make me feel better.” We need to understand we’re lonely because we’re sinners in a dark and fallen world and in need of God’s help. Sometimes what we call loneliness is actually what Scripture refers to as longing for unhindered intimacy with God. We start thinking other people can provide what only God can provide.

Everyone experiences loneliness in life. No one is exempt. We were created for togetherness, which is why, even before the Fall, God declared that man being alone was not good (see Genesis 2:18). Loneliness is an indicator that something is missing; something that is found only in Jesus Christ. He completes what’s missing, that thing we identify as “loneliness,” beginning from the moment we are joined to Him in faith and brought to completion in glory. In other words, the primary reason we are lonely is that we aren’t home yet. God created us for communion with Him, and therefore loneliness will be fully eradicated only when we get to heaven. That’s why everyone—young or old, single or married—experiences loneliness. Relief comes only as we acknowledge our loneliness and turn to God and his Word for the help and understanding we need.

In Scripture, we discover that God is present in our loneliness. He is there in times of grief and in times of discouragement. He is there when others forsake us, and when our hopes are disappointed. He never leaves us, not even when our loneliness springs from our sin and bad choices. Ultimately, those who belong to God through Christ Jesus are never really alone, and because that’s true, loneliness does not have to characterize us. Isn’t that a relief?