Tag Archives: Sorrow

Six Practical Steps to Put Our Faith, Spirituality, and Relationships Back On Track— Why Do People Feel So Lonely? Part 3

The first two parts of this series have dug into the source of separation we experience in our lives. We looked at how God designed people for community and how sin has created barriers to our basic connections with God and others.

Life has a way of wearing us down and isolating us. How do we get back to our created design?

This series is a short side trip on a larger exploration of overwork in our lives. You may be asking yourself why loneliness and the fall are a part of that discussion. I believe the answer to this can be found in the writing of a French Philosopher named Blaise Pascal.

Pascal was a child prodigy, mathematician, physicist, inventor, philosopher, writer, and Catholic theologian. He formulated a number of interesting arguments regarding the existence of God that are still debated hotly today. One idea, in particular, applies to our discussion of work and how it tends to get out of whack.

“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made know through Jesus Christ.”

Pascal

That hole is a product of our design being frustrated as a result of the fall. We are made for connection to God. We can try to fill that vacuum in our hearts with all sorts of things.

Work, in particular, is a popular choice. We were designed to work and create. It scratches part of our itch. The problem is that work scratches the itch for a moment, but it comes back worse later. The more we put work in the place of God to make ourselves feel fulfilled, the emptier we are. It’s a little like scratching a mosquito bite. The more you scratch, the worse it itches. Eventually you end up raw and bleeding, but it is still itchy.

The only real solution is to fill the void with relationship with God. That relationship should impact every other part of our lives. Our family, friendships, work, and neighbor relationships will all be impacted by walking with Jesus in our lives. In addition, our work lives cannot help but be impacted by learning to follow Jesus’ teachings and his Spirit’s work reshaping our hearts/minds.

This is the reason Jesus came and died on the cross. He took punishment for our sins and revealed God to us through himself. We are made new through him. Those who walk with Jesus are slowly remade into what we were meant to be. We learn from him and he works in us to reshape our hearts.

These are easy ideas to present, but what does it mean in practical terms?

Follow Jesus.

When a student followed a rabbi in the ancient world it sharing their lives. Disciples would spend all of their time with rabbis. They would share their life. They would observe them in every aspect of life, whether it involved serving the poor or teaching. Watching led to imitating their teachers.

This is the idea behind following Jesus. We learn to be like him by reflecting on how he dealt with life. One aspect of his life was work. He frequently rested. He often stepped away to spend time in prayer. Sometimes he disappeared and avoided crowds so he could regroup.

Pay attention to your “warning lights.”

Every modern car is overloaded with warning lights in the dashboard. They tell you when the car is overheating or when something has gone wrong that needs repairing. You ignore those warning lights at your own risk.

We have similar “lights” that flash to get our attention. I first clued into this idea when I found myself getting cranky and irritable constantly in my early years of ministry and marriage. I spoke with my pastor about it and he explained to me that anger rises out of other feelings, like hurt or frustration. It is not the problem in and of itself.

The trick is to figure out where it was coming from. If we start getting cranky constantly, something is wrong. We may need to rest or spend time with out loved ones or talk about our problems. Whatever it is, those warning lights let us know something is out of whack in our emotional state, relationships, or spiritual life.

Set your priorities and objectives based on his priorities.

When Jesus saves us from our sins, we come under his lordship. He is the boss in our lives, which seems fair because he is God and he bought our redemption by dying for us. Taking time in the morning, midday, and evening to stop and talk/listen to him. We should review his word and listen to him. Our daily goals and schedule should be set based on his direction.

This isn’t a one time thing. We tend to forget, so we need to come back to it daily. It’s sort of like navigating with a map and compass. It is valuable to stop and get your bearings regularly so you know where you are. That way if you drift off course, frequently checking your bearings keeps you from getting too far off course.

Take Sabbath regularly.

God intended for us to take time off to enjoy life. This means resting, spending time with God, spending time with family, and enjoying life. It isn’t some boring restriction from doing anything, even enjoyable things.

Sabbath is taking a day a week to enjoy life. There will be times when you must skip a sabbath. When the Jews were fighting for independence from the Persians, a small army was slaughtered because it was attacked on the Sabbath. They did not fight back because it was the Sabbath. Afterwards the religious scholars agreed that they could ignore sabbath to save their own lives.

The trick is, the easier you make it to skip the Sabbath, the more often you will skip it. The commandment says that we are to keep it holy. That means we set it apart and preserve it as different and belonging to God. Please note: Sabbath is the day you take it. It is not necessarily Saturday or Sunday.

Surround yourself with people who have mastered working in a way that reflects God’s design for life.

The best strategy I can offer is to find people who do this well and spend time with them. The more people like that influence you, the more you will learn new habits. Ask them questions. Find people to keep you accountable and ask you pointed questions about your priorities and time use. There are a few good reasons for this.

First, you will naturally start to look like the people you associate with regularly. It is a strange truth about people that we tend to imitate those we surround ourselves with. This is one reason the scriptures tell us to gather as the church more often. We change each other.

Second, in those circles you will be able to get an outside perspective that is (hopefully) seasoned with real wisdom. You cannot see every angle. Finding wise men to give you perspective and input is vital.

Finally, without accountability it is difficult to maintain high standards in life. You need people who know you well enough and know enough about life to call you out when you drift.

Model a life you want your kids or those around you to live.

We all grow up to imitate our parents in one way or another. We will wind up with their mannerisms, methods of arguing, work philosophies, ways of coping with problems, etc.

Not everything will transfer to your kids, but workaholism has a habit of passing from one generation to the next. If you want your kids to cheat on their spouse with their job or orphan their own kids in the name of long work hours, then model that. I recommend imitating Christ in your work strategies.

There are a million other little things you can do to manage your work life better. These are only a few and they center around the ideas I presented in the first two installments: We are designed to be in relationship with God and others; and sin has thrown up barriers.

By following Jesus in these areas of life, praying and seeking his direction, prioritizing based on his teachings/direction, and surrounding yourself with people whose community will shape you in positive ways you are leaning on the core of who we are created to be.

In addition, by walking with Jesus in these aspects of life, he fills your heart and changes you. This means you are returning to your created design and God is working in you to bring that change about.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

You’ve built a good life. So why does it feel like something’s missing?

Why does it seem like no matter what you add to your life, it is just never enough to make you feel satisfied? Why does it seem like there’s something better in the distance, hiding in the fog where you can only see its outline? Solomon answers that question in Ecclesiastes 3.

Have you ever felt like there should be something more? You built a life complete with the job, home, family, and car. You have everything you’re supposed to gather up in life, but there’s still something missing. I’m talking about a void that prompts you to ask “Is that it? Why do I still feel like something’s missing?”

Kierkegaard called that feeling of disconnect ‘angst’ and devoted page after page to considering what it is and how to fix it. Television commercials constantly tell you that the problem is that you need a new cell phone, or car, or some other shiny new toy to make the void feel full for a while. The problem is that the newness wears off.

Don’t worry. You aren’t alone in this struggle. The there’s-got-to-be-something-more void isn’t even a new thing. Kierkegaard wrote about it in the 1800s, but the wrestling matches in our souls go back much farther. Roman emperors wrote books about it. Socrates was put to death for challenging his fellow Athenians to face it head on. Nearly 3,000 years ago King Solomon wrote a book considering the problem.

This essay will look at what he came up with. My goal will be to examine the question: “Why do we long for something more even when we have found everything we thought we wanted?” and “What do we do about it?”

These questions are at the heart of Chapter 3 of the Bible book: Ecclesiastes. Don’t let the name intimidate you. It just means “teacher.” The goal is to teach the reader of the reality of life in our broken world. This Sunday (8/28/22) I’ll be preaching on the next chapter, which digs deeper into why the answer in chapter 3 seems hollow in our practical experience.

The two chapters were meant to be read together, so one leads to the next. My hope is to connect you with the beginning of the answer you are longing for in the quiet moments and to prepare you for this Sunday’s examination of the next chapter.

A quick note: I am not going to include the whole text. Please consider reading along in your Bible on a good Bible website like Biblegateway. I would suggest the NIV New International Version). Also, you might find the wording in the text a little intimidating and/or confusing. Part of that is because it was written 3,000ish years ago in a whole other language. It’s also written in a poetic/philosophical style. I’ll help explain it as we go.

To Everything There is a SeasonTurn Turn Turn

The words in the beginning (verses 1-8) of the chapter are probably familiar. Feel free to sing the lines as you read them. The Byrds’ adaptation of this passage has branded them in our brains making this poem is most famous part of the book.

King Solomon, who at the time of writing the book is old and gray, is making the point that we are all creatures stuck in time. We live experiencing the passing of days and seasons. Until Doc Brown invents a time machine to move us about within time, we can only go forward at the pace we are going now. Within that passing of time there are seasons for everything.

The poem here is particularly appropriate for the culture of the original audience (farmers and ranchers), whose lives were heavily oriented around seasons. The point is simple: You are going to move through the seasons of your life. Some will be good, others not. They will go by as you move forward on your journey from cradle to grave.

If you’re in asking yourselves the “is-this-really-it” questions, then the poem (and melancholy hippy song) probably resonates at least a little. There’s no saving time in a bottle for later. Like sand slipping through an hourglass, so are the days of our lives… Got it? You’re not getting younger and will probably die eventually.

The Problem of Time Passing By

Verses 9 to 14 take the problem of the void head on, but because you are not an ancient Jewish reader (I assume) I am going to skip ahead to verses 18-21. You see, one of the great paradoxes of the ancient Hebrew worldview involves dust.

If you’re a rural Montanan like me, you know that dust is everywhere. It coats every surface of our cars. It kicks up on the farm roads and reduces visibility to nothing. A friend of mine sells premium collectible harvest dust to folks in numbered, limited edition bottles. It is everywhere and to most folks it is a nuisance. However, in the book of Genesis it is what God used to make man.

The creator of everything gathered up dust, molded it into man in his own image, and breathed into it to give it life. In fact, his name (Adam) essentially means “dirt.” The key bit in the Genesis account is that he made man in “His own image.” The phrase is loaded with tons of meaning and implications. For our purposes we will only consider two aspects:

First: In all of the ancient accounts of where man came from, Genesis is the only one where man was not an accident or an inconvenient byproduct of of something else the gods were doing. The Jews believed that man was special and even resembled God by design. When they asked “Is this all there is,” they did so with the assumption that there really ought to be more.

Second: In our basic qualities we are like God. We create stuff. We write poems and create art. We were designed to have a strong ethical sense. Also, we were meant to live forever. Death is a result of the fall and the sin that has corrupted the world and messed everything up. That is where the paradox happens.

We are dust with God’s image stamped into us, designed for eternity, and to dust we will return. Solomon basically says that just like the animals we will die, returning to the dust.

That’s the tension every Jewish reader would’ve spotted immediately. He talks about returning to the dust, conjuring the image of beings created from dust, to resemble something eternal, which will eventually return to the dust. Seasons pass and we pass away.

Lois Tverberg wrote on this topic: One eighteenth-century rabbi put it this way: “A person should always carry two slips of paper, one in each pocket. On one it should be written ‘The world was created for my sake,’ and on the other it should say ‘I am but dust and ashes.’” On days when we feel discouraged and worthless, we should read the first one. On days when we’re consumed with pride and our own self-importance, we should read the other.

Why do I feel like something is missing?

Armed with the understanding of our precarious paradoxical situation, let’s jump back to verses 9 to 14. Solomon asks “What do we even get for the work we put in?” It’s a good question. Earlier in the book he explored the hard truth that no matter what we build, create, write, invent, or decree it is temporary.

Solomon built cities and monuments, that would one day crumble. His stuff would be passed around by family, sold off at garage sales, or donated to Salvation Army. All of his work is temporary and nothing will last long. What is the point of doing great things when those great things will fade quickly like the flash of brilliance that accompanies a lightning strike? The ancient Jewish reader would’ve known that we and all our accomplishments will return to the dust.

Then Solomon points out that God has “He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” We are temporary, but at the core of our being we want to be eternal. We feel like there should be something more because we were made for something more. We long for eternity.

That longing will stay with us for as long as we live because we live in a perfect world that has been broken. We (and it) were designed to know God and be connected to him all the time. However, rebellion made Him a stranger to us. As a result we are constantly longing for something to fill the God shaped hole in ourselves.

The tragedy is that nothing in this world can fill it and the more we use the world to try to fill it, the worse the hunger becomes.

The gnawing hunger we experience for “something more” is part of our design. We were meant for more than this life.

Solomon’s Solution

Solomon’s solution to the emptiness is to acknowledge the gift God has given us and orient life around it. That gift is today: “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.” (Verses 12-13)

Basically, we are to realize we are meant for more, then enjoy today based on that truth. Be happy with what you have. Live as God called you to live. Enjoy the fruit of your work. Enjoy your work.

This probably feels like an empty solution on the face of it. The trick is to recognize that it’s a gift from a loving Father meant for our good. It is part of knowing Him. We can pray thanks for our family. We can find the good things in our work. We can enjoy a good meal. We can find meaning in following him in our actions. If it feels like there is a piece missing here, it’s because there is. You see, Solomon wrote this in the 900s BC. He could not see where the plan was headed.

Wait, What?!? That’s it? That doesn’t help!

You may have read Solomon’s solution and thought: “Work sucks and I’m already doing the other stuff but something is still missing.” That is a fair observation. There’s three parts to what’s going on here.

First: the trick is looking at your life in a new light.

It’s a little like the “Antiques Road Show” on PBS. I always find it interesting when a guy comes in with an old iron that their great grandmother left them, which they had been using as a doorstop in the garage for years. The appraiser looks it over, then explains that it was used to press Napoleon’s uniform at the battle of Waterloo and is worth $500,000,000 at auction. Suddenly, that rusty piece of junk has new value.

Your life, family, work, meals, and everything are there for you to enjoy now. They are a precious gift from God. Don’t let the ever present longing for eternity wreck your enjoyment of now.

C.S. Lewis argued that the stuff we enjoy now is designed to awaken a hunger for eternity. They are there to remind you that there is something more.

I’d compare it to a movie theater preview of the best movie ever made. No one watched the trailer to the next summer blockbuster and complains that it isn’t enough. Trailers get you hyped up for opening weekend when you get to enjoy the whole thing.

Good meals are the aroma wafting from the kitchen as the Feast of the Lamb described in Revelation is being prepared. Your wedding day gives you a sliver of the joy that will be experienced at wedding of Christ to his bride, the church. Your friendships are a snapshot of the fellowship we’ll enjoy with God’s family in eternity. Enjoy it like you would a little sample spoon at Baskin Robins, because the full triple scoop, chocolate dipped, waffle cone is coming faster than you expect. This life is not all there is.

Second: God’s Addition to Solomon’s Solution

Enjoying today doesn’t solve the “missing part of ourselves” problem. If the things of today awaken a hunger for eternity, how do we satiate that hunger?

The trick is that the story doesn’t end with Solomon. The answer is bigger than he knew. That solution shows up when God himself shows up.

The New Testament tells us of how the infinite God became a creature of dust, just like you and me. He chose to be stuck in time with us and experience the passing of seasons. He lived perfectly and showed us perfectly who God is. Then he stepped into our spot and took punishment for our sins. When Jesus was crucified, God saw all of our sins in Him and poured his wrath out on him.

In exchange, when God looks at those who follow Jesus he sees Jesus’ perfection. Even the most awful things we have done are wiped away. This established a reconnection to him. It connects us with him in a way that fills the void.

When Solomon says in verse 14 that God and all his work are eternal, he is saying that we want that but cannot get it. We have to reconcile ourselves with the fact that we are meant for more, but that God embodies that truth.

In Jesus, we are reconnected to that and given the promise of joining into eternity. Now, our work is part of something eternal, whether we like it or not.

C.S. Lewis once wrote that everything we do in regards to those around us will push them toward an eternity in God’s presence or an eternity separated from him.

Our work will bring him glory or bring us shame. In light of the gospel, everything we do is eternal. It will all last forever. That is why Paul tells us to do everything in life like we are doing it for Jesus himself. Live your life like the results are eternal, because they are.

Third: Chapter 4 (And This Week’s Sermon)

We will address the third part of why the answer can feel little flat in this Sunday’s sermon.

You might have read Solomon’s idea that work is part of the solution and thought: “Work is awful (especially Mondays!). What kind of solution is that???”

Solomon addresses that objection in the next chapter, which is all about how work gets screwed up in our world. The problem is that our sinful world has lost perspective on what work is for and what place it should hold in our lives.

This Sunday we will look at the various ways we deal with work wrong that results in a feeling that it is “not enough.” Solomon goes through and looks at several different bits of brokenness that make our world feel empty.

TLDR Summary:

In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis sums the preceding points up better than I could hope to. The reason we experience a longing for more and an unquenchable hunger for more is because:

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others do the same.”

Solomon acknowledges that hunger and advises us to enjoy our work, the fruit of our work, and our lives while doing good. Walk with God and enjoy the gifts he has given you.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dealing With Depression Part 1: Taking the First Steps

depression part 1Earlier this summer, I was out running. A few miles into my run, my right hip started to bother me. A little research provided me with a several stretches, which alleviated my discomfort. Further investigation has led me to understand that I need to do core exercises and more stretches, or I can expect further trouble down the line. Pain, like the “check engine” light on a car, lets us know that something is wrong. In this way, pain is a good thing. Without pain we would not know when we sustain injuries that need our attention. Depression is one way our brain lets us know that something is not right. We experience this discomfort and it reveals to us that we are not operating the way we were made to operate, as such, something needs to be attended to. Simply ignoring the problem won’t serve as a consistent, long-term solution, but many people choose to respond to warning signs with attempts to ignore the problem. I knew a young woman who put a piece of electrical tape over the maintenance lights in her car, so that she couldn’t see them and wouldn’t worry about what might be wrong. This is essentially what we are doing when we find ways to ignore what ourbrains are telling us through our emotions.

Unlike automotive problems, which are often much simpler to diagnose and repair, depression can be a more daunting task to take on because it is less cut-and-dry. Emotions tend to be harder to figure out and deal with.  The other challenge in finding the root of persistent depression is the malaise that accompany depression. Symptoms of depression also tend to perpetuate the problem, particularly low energy and difficulty concentrating. These tendencies make it difficult to take the steps necessary to begin climbing out of the hole that depressed people often find themselves in. Because of these difficulties, the first concrete step that must be taken by an individual suffering from depression is acknowledging the problem to themselves and, if possible, another person. Following closely at the heels of this first step is making a decision to deal with the problem. This involves recognizing that there is hope for a better tomorrow and that living with depression doesn’t have to be the norm. God designed us for better and promises comfort for those who hurt. Recognizing that God will help us is valuable because He is the great physician, who is capable of healing us of these hurts. None of these steps is easy. It is difficult, particularly for men, to acknowledge depression because there is a stigma associated with emotional struggles.  Unfortunately, this first obstacle is daunting enough that many suffer in silence, sometimes for years, until they reach the point that their emotional discomfort outweighs the dread of being labeled as personally weak or defective in some way. These labels are unfair and inaccurate, but the stigma remains.

Once the decision to work toward overcoming has been made, the groundwork has been laid for the work toward freedom from anguish to commence.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,