Meaninglessness lurks in my life, and looms up huge every once in a while.
Not only will what I’m currently doing seem meaningless — being alone, passing the time until another day can be over, tuning, spending too much time online, watching TV, whatever — but everything else seems meaningless too — being with friends, worshiping God, serving someone, writing a letter, whatever.
The Westminster Catechism tells us the chief end of humankind is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Sometimes even that seems meaningless. And that makes me wonder what exactly I mean by meaning and meaninglessness — what exactly I am looking for.
It’s not so much that I’m searching for happiness. I think more often I’m afraid of happiness than desiring it. I don’t want happiness at the expense of truth and reality, and I think I’d rather have significance with misery than happiness with insignificance.
I think I want to know that it all matters. That it matters that I am who I am and that I do what I do. That it matters that there is a God and a universe and other people. Matters? To whom? It seems the first part is that I want to know I matter to God, and perhaps the second part is that I want to know that God matters to me. That seems a little weird.
The more I think about it, usually the less sure I am that I mean anything by meaninglessness or meaning. I think it’s really just an expression of loneliness, frustration, fear, and depression.
I’m usually tempted to do something about it. Often that takes the form of becoming busy. There’s some truth to the adage that idle hands are the devil’s tools — it’s when we have the most leisure that we seem most likely to be depressed or worried or to get into other kinds of trouble, and getting busy takes our attention away from trouble. On the other hand, keeping out of trouble is not the same thing as solving the problem; avoiding or distracting ourselves from depression is not the same thing as healing.
Becoming busy takes so many forms. Doing something physical — going for a walk, exercising, working in the garden. Doing something spiritual — praying, reading, meditating, journaling. Doing something relational — going out with friends, doing some kind of service, writing letters or emails or calling someone. None of these things are bad in themselves, but all of them can become mere busy-ness when we use them to avoid time and space.
Time and space. These things I’m afraid of. A whole day looms up empty before me, and I am anxious for the husband to get home so I’ll know the day is almost over and I can relax and rest until the next one looms up. If I try for perspective, thinking about the big picture, time and space get even larger — weeks, months, years, eternity, the whole universe and God’s whole life and purposes. It’s terrifying.
Sometimes I think the best response to meaninglessness — emptiness — is to face it squarely. Go sit in my broken cistern with eyes wide open, feel the weight of all the emptiness I’ve hoarded, feel the oppression of its stuffiness (I forgot to mention yesterday that sitting in a tent is awful — even with screens at the top and in the door, there’s just not enough air movement, and the tent traps body heat… probably good in the fall and spring but not nice in the summer).
Thus says the LORD, “What injustice did your fathers find in Me, that they went far from Me and walked after emptiness and became empty (Jeremiah 2:5)?
How wayward I am! Chasing after emptiness, trying to hunt down meaningless, as if I could catch it and kill it, and win meaning, fullness, significance. You can’t catch emptiness any more than you can dig up a hole. You can’t achieve meaning by aiming at it.
Hunting for meaning via the big picture leads only to empty and vast time and space. Hunting for meaning via the little picture of self alone also leads to emptiness, in infinite smallness and shortness. Somehow it has to be both: the dignity of the self with God, the self that matters in the vastness of the universe and God’s great glory, but not the self alone on the pinnacle.
Meaninglessness lurks in my life, and looms up huge once in a while, and it’s yet another sign of my overactive will, and of my waywardness, and of my great fear. Lord, lift me up out of my broken cistern, out of the miry clay, and set my feet on the rock. Set my eyes on Jesus, and not on Meaning, and comfort (and sanctify) my fearful, willful, wayward heart.
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for thy courts above.
“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” by Robert Robinson