Living in ‘Today’s World’
Someone has once quipped that understanding meaning and possessing the wisdom and character to execute on our vision of meaning is no small feat. It’s a lot like starting a campfire in the pouring rain; it can be done, but it takes no little amount of skill and experience.
And, it seems that those who have made it to the top, as it were, continue daily to teach the rest of us that while the distance to the top is relatively long and hard; the plummet from the top to the bottom, well, that’s incredibly quick and devastating. The bottom comes up at us much quicker than our momentary sightings of the top. The bottom has gravity to help it. Uphill is all on us. The bottom can be reached in the twinkle of an eye. Not all that glitters is gold, and what does glitter may not glitter for long. Some people are even waking up this very day to the revelation that they got to the top, only to realize they’d climbed the wrong mountain. Marketers sell mountain climbing expeditions every day.
But, I’m not sure that relative goods such as wealth, relationships, status, health, claims to freedom, etc. can deliver on their own. Maybe on their own, they’re broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Maybe the trick in life is not to be too easily satisfied by these “goods.” Maybe the longings of our hearts are far too great to be satiated by things. Perhaps we’re far too hungry for what’s on the cultural menu.
In the fall of 1980, Columbia records released an album, titled The River. It was a double album of 20 songs and went number one on the Billboard 200. On that album was a hit song called, Hungry Heart. I think Bruce Springsteen writes and sings for all those who have realized a deep and profound hunger in their hearts, a permanent longing for more.
Everybody’s got a hungry heart
Everybody’s got a hungry heart
Lay down your money and you play your part
Everybody’s got a hungry heart.
Our Longings Are Not Being Fulfilled
I think Springsteen is on target. But, what exactly does it mean to have a hungry, a thirsty heart? What does it mean and what will we do with the incessant longings? What will we do when our hearts cry out for more, day after day?
44,000 times a day, with a total in excess of 2.7 million passengers, we will point and aim flights to destinations 1000’s of miles away to land at a relatively tiny runway, but it seems that the affections of our hearts rarely hit that for which they aim. We can successfully hit a moving target 384K km’s away, return safely through thousands of kilometers, thousands of miles of space, but there’s no ready-made calculus for successfully navigating the space in our own hearts. We often get lost, it seems.
Psychology Today reports that 3/5 people suffer from loneliness – that personal and social disorder that springs from persistent lack of meaningful connection with others. We’re not talking about being alone – when strategically chosen, being alone can be very good – we’re talking about ongoing, relational dislocation, even in the midst of a crowds.
But, how can this be? I thought we lived in the most connected generation ever! Every minute of every day we send 16M texts; that’s 23B a day, now over 8.5 trillion a year. A staggering landslide of sound-bites, feelings, one-off’s, but not always a lot of meaning; a good deal of contact, not always a lot of connection.
We can map aspects of the entire human genome, some 20-25,000 genes, but have we really mapped the true longings of our hungry hearts? Do we know our way around inside? There are signs that tell us that we don’t.
Our Longings Will Not Be Denied
There are signs in our experience that tell the true story. I wonder if we see them; I wonder if we want to see them. It could be that if we were willing to listen for a moment or two that we might come away with a different, more hopeful way of understanding what these signs point to. The sign is not the place itself; it only points to the destination.
There are signs in our midst that tell us that our fixation with the good life – the realization of status, wealth, power, and security – the good life marketers tell us about everyday – however good these things may be in and of themselves (e.g., healthy and flourishing children, some measure of meaningfulness in relationships and work, a measure of wealth, stable family life, stable government) is not enough to satiate Springsteen’s Hungry heart.
We can see the signs everywhere – signs that proclaim the truth if we’re listening. One in 10 people suffer from depression in our culture. The numbers may even be higher among children and adolescents. That means that there are scores of people living daily with low mood, feelings of excessive guilt, various levels of anger, and all the social/physical implications that go along with that. Many well-known people have opened up about their struggles at one time or another with major depression, including, Dwayne Johnson, Terry Bradshaw, Sheryl Crow. Studies show that women are twice as likely to suffer from depression at some point in their lives as their male counterparts. According to the WHO, close to 800,000 people die of suicide every year – for a variety of reasons -that’s one every 40 seconds.
A report in the The National Centre for Health Statistics in the US revealed an alarming jump in antidepressant use among Americans from 2005-08, up above 400%.1 It is reported that more than 250 million people worldwide struggle with an anxiety disorder and that over 30% of adults will experience some form of an anxiety disorder during their lifetime, affecting their quality of life, relationships, work, physical health – even impacting mortality rates.
We live in the most technologically advanced culture in the history of the planet. We invented gas-powered cars and 70 years later, we weren’t just driving down country roads, we were driving on the moon. We’ve invested medications to deal with pain, emotional and physical. We’re developing 3D printing to create prosthetics and textiles; researching neuroplasticity, brain chemistry and rewiring to bring healing where there’s been disease, damage, and trauma. But, for all this – and there are many things here for which we can give thanks – it seems that our hearts left out in the cold, freezing and at times numb.
It seems also that addictions are increasing among the population. Addictions of bewildering and varying numbers. In 2018, fightthenewdrug.org reports that one of the number one porn sites in the world recorded record visits at over 33.5B. They’re now at 100M visitors per day who watch over 15.2M hours of videos. And we will not talk about the sadistic nature of much of this material and its connection to the vile and heinous practice of human sex trafficking.
Addictions to food, drugs, consumerism, health and beauty, are on the increase as well. According to BusinessInsider.com “the beauty industry” is reported in 2019 to be a 532B industry and retail analytics only shows it trending “sharply” upward.
We have hungry hearts and given all that we know, it is not likely that anything in this world – either already there when you show up on the planet, or created since you’ve arrived, will ever satiate those desires.
Perhaps the 17th century French philosopher, Blaise Pascal is right. In his Pensees, section 7 he says:
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”2
Perhaps, as he says, the heart and what it craves, that for which it longs and that for which it believes it aims, but falls short, is God-shaped and trying to fill it with anything less is vain, the abyss is infinite. As some have said, “there is a God-shaped vacuum within each of us, and only God can fill it.”
What if our depression is the slow and painful realization that nothing in this world ultimately satisfies and that we should look beyond this world? What if it means that our hearts are alive, not dead, and the Pathway to life lies just ahead?
What if our anxieties are rooted in the fearful realization that I am separated from the One who made me, the One who knows the future and loves me? What if I was designed to depend on a relationship with Him and that such a relationship itself makes sense of my deepest longings and the excessive fear I experience in this world without Him?
What if loneliness means that I was meant for an eternal friendship and that all friendships, as good as they are in this life, only point to the One in whom all my longings for friendship, significance and meaning are to be found?
What if everything in this world – everything good thing – is merely an echo issuing forth from our Creator? What if these are signs that point us to God. Maybe He is present with us, but is seeking to be present to us, if we would stop and listen.
Or, better still, what if both the good things and the challenging things about life are clues – signs actually – that we were made for another world.
In chapter 10 of his little book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis, that great Oxford educator, taught us: “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.”
So come join us in the rest of the course as we explore how these challenges and the sometimes painful realities of living in today’s world can be the very experiences through which we enter into a new way of life. Perhaps they really are clues from God and signs that He is present with us.
- Reported by Peter Wehrwein in Harvard Health Publishing (Oct, 2011; updated Mar, 2020): https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/astounding-increase-in-antidepressant-use-by-americans-201110203624.
- Blaise Pascal, Pensées, VII(425)