The Great Unconfession


The wiser you are, the more worries you have; the more you know, the more it hurts.
—Ecclesiastes 1:18

Winter holds sway here in southwestern Ohio, defined by cheek-stinging cold and relentless gray skies that suck all the color out of creation’s palette. January and February lurk.

This time of year in the Midwest is my least favorite by far. It takes a great deal of energy to refrain from going into the garage (doors down, of course), climbing into the family car, rolling down the windows, twisting the key in the ignition, and letting a CD of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” loop repeatedly on the car stereo while the CO billows over you.

Yeah, that bleak.

It’s that set of weeks when people start thinking too much because there’s time to think;  the Christmas madness is over and there’s little else to do when a foot of snow traps you in the house. Everyone goes a bit more inward than they do in mid-June. They start thinking about their lacks. Christians do this more than anyone, I think.

We Evangelicals hear a lot about unconfessed sin. You can blame all manner of ills on that beast. Unconfessed sin is the spiritual antithesis of duct tape:  Everything falls apart when wrapped in it.

Somehow in the English language, a tongue in which I am supposedly familiar, we can have something that is unconfessed but not an unconfession. I find that odd.

But I do not find it odd that, whether the word exists or not, Christians make unconfessions. When I think about what may constitute an unconfession, I consider those confessions that no one would ever declare before an assembled body of believers, even if all are mature and have walked with God for years.

We can probably all imagine what might remain an unconfession: a heinous sexual sin, some awful thing done to a child, possibly even a murder.

In some ways, those are easy.

I think there’s an unconfession even more devastating. It’s the kind of inner disquiet that I’ve never heard spoken out loud in polite Christian company. It’s by no means salacious or repugnant, but it makes so many people uneasy that it goes unconfessed from generation to generation.

What follows, I believe, is the great unconfession of many sincere, earnest Christians in America today:

I gave my life to Jesus, believe in Him with all my heart, serve Him with everything I have, yet life still seems meaningless.

In many churches in this country, if someone respected in the congregation stood up on Sunday and spoke those words, people would be appalled. Yet I believe that a whole host of Christians struggle with that unconfessed angst—and its killing them slowly.

Daily they trudge to a cubicle in a stark glass edifice, punch some characters into a computer keyboard, fight gridlock on the way home, barely stay awake as they wolf down a warmed-over meal, spend some half-hearted moments with their spouse and kids, stare down the list of things they have to do but can never find time to resolve, punch a few more characters into a computer keyboard, trudge to a dark bedroom, sleep six hours, get up, toss off a quick prayer or two asking for yet another unmet need, read a half-baked devotional reading for the day…lather, rinse, repeat until death lays claim to them in an unguarded moment. And they are told by their spiritual elders on Sundays that this is the abundant life.

If they are ultra-spiritual, they may go into the ministry, each day confronting a set of problems in the lives of others, problems that may, in fact, relent, only to be replaced by others, just as the people are themselves replaced by someone else who is hurting.  The great circle of pain. And the meaninglessness increases when all that work comes to naught some day because of one misunderstanding or another, and they move on to whatever the next ministry assignment is. And on Sundays they tell people that this is the abundant life. But there’s a catch in their heart that they hope doesn’t show in their voice—because the meaning of all this still escapes them.

I’ve had people write many times and tell me the reason they read Cerulean Sanctum is that I write from the heart. Truth is, much of what I write here is to myself. I need to hear what I write more than anyone else does.

And so I write this post because I struggle with meaninglessness, too, especially this time of year. I may be alone on this, projecting my own struggle onto the lives of other believers, but I don’t think so. I think many Christians bottle up this unconfession concerning their own battles against meaninglessness in life. To confess that one struggles with meaning post-conversion is about as close as one gets to apostasy in some Christian circles.

It gets worse for many people who struggle with meaninglessness because the truth is that Christ is our sufficiency. If we struggle with meaninglessness, it’s because we are not connected to Christ the way they should be. And that’s not Christ’s fault; it’s ours.

Doesn’t make the struggle any easier, does it?

I think this plague of meaninglessness has been a problem with mankind since the fall. Ecclesiastes captures this better than any book in the Bible. A sampling:

These are the words of the Philosopher, David’s son, who was king in Jerusalem. It is useless, useless, said the Philosopher. Life is useless, all useless. You spend your life working, laboring, and what do you have to show for it? Generations come and generations go, but the world stays just the same. The sun still rises, and it still goes down, going wearily back to where it must start all over again. The wind blows south, the wind blows north—round and round and back again. Every river flows into the sea, but the sea is not yet full. The water returns to where the rivers began, and starts all over again. Everything leads to weariness—a weariness too great for words. Our eyes can never see enough to be satisfied; our ears can never hear enough. What has happened before will happen again. What has been done before will be done again. There is nothing new in the whole world. “Look,” they say, “here is something new!” But no, it has all happened before, long before we were born. No one remembers what has happened in the past, and no one in days to come will remember what happens between now and then.
—Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

Despite the fact that there is nothing new under the sun, I think we humans of 2009 struggle with meaning more than our ancestors did. Under a charcoal sky...Most of our communities have shattered. We roam far from our birthplaces in search of what does not ultimately satisfy, fracturing family and robbing us of connection. We have little time for each other, for that once-tribe that helped root in meaning those who preceded us. Even the imprisoned apostle Paul had his faithful companions who cheered him with their presence. Without them, would the writings of that great apostle have taken an even more somber tone? There’s a reason why God intended the Church to be a communion: He himself is a communion.

But we have lost the idea of communion/community. For this reason, I believe we have magnified our struggle against meaninglessness.

Meaning also goes wanting when a society’s end goals cheapen, when beauty is replaced with cynicism, accomplishment comes down to material accumulation, and youth trumps age and its community-building wisdom. All of this detracts from our sole source of meaning, God.

We are all caught up in this race to the bottomless pit of meaninglessness. Some handle it better than others. I know that I do not handle it well at all.

Maybe that’s because I believe life can be better than it is. Maybe we don’t have to settle for less. Maybe in the midst of all that meaninglessness something better arises: hope.

Or maybe I’m just fooling myself. Ask me again come March.

39 thoughts on “The Great Unconfession

  1. Hey man, thanks for this awesome post. I’ve been battling massive depression for a couple weeks over the same thing! And ultimately came to the same conclusion: a lot of it has to do with our loss of community as a value. We live in a country so rich (for the moment) that just to maintain an acceptable standard of living, we’re too busy to focus on anything of value. For what it’s worth, I think God’s planning on fixing this for us shortly.

    Anyway sir, thanks for letting me know I’m not alone in sensing these things, and take this comment for similar comfort for yourself. God bless.

    • Chris,

      I don’t honestly understand how the majority of people in this country function. When do they have time for any meaningful interaction? Any meaningful volunteer work? And even then, how much meaning is found in the “meaningful” events of life?

      I think a lot of people, even Christians, look at their lives and ask, “Is this it? Is this as good as it can be?” I think Christians in particular suffer in this regard because they know that life should be more abundant, so they’re confused when it’s not. They end up going through the motions because they don’t know what else to do. It’s a disgrace for them to think that they’ve met Jesus, yet somehow they are still empty on the inside much of the time. That leads to despair because they don’t know what else to do, and if they try to discuss what they are experiencing, they’ll be rebuked or receive a bunch of “encouragements” that are ultimately empty Hallmark greeting card platitudes.

  2. Peter P

    Thank you for sharing this with us Dan.

    I was just saying to my wife yesterday that I feel like I haven’t yet achieved anything in my life.

    She started to list achievements of mine and I realised that my issue was not that I hadn’t achieved anything but that I didn’t recognise my achievements.

    I do see that some people’s lives appear to all intents and purposes to be utterly meaningless but most of our lives have a lot of meaning and we don’t even recognise it.

    Being a witness at work by your attitude and speech. That’s meaningful. Tithing so that the work in your local church can go on. That’s meaningful. Giving some of the money that you earn at that boring job to some missionaries to enable them to do what they are called to do. That’s meaningful. Raising your kids to know and love God is incredibly meaningful. Taking your place in the body of Christ, doing your part no matter how small it seems is meaningful. Writing a blog which encourages and teaches others like a certain Dan Edelen does. That’s meaningful.

    I’m not saying that everyone should look at theri lives and say ‘this is as good as it’s going to get’ but we do need to learn contentment and the ability to see the meaning in what we do.

    My favorite quote is one which I so not know the author of but it goes:

    “Success if the ability to hear God’s voice and obey it.”

    No matter who you are or what you do for a living, your day can always be successful if you just listen to God’s voice and obey!

    God bless you Dan.

    • Peter,

      The kinds of meanings you lay out here seem awfully small when compared with the “greater things than this” that Jesus says His people will do. I know I keep looking for those greater things and have a hard time seeing them (especially on a personal basis), especially when the Book of Acts is loaded with them.

      What is to be done when most Christians live lives that border on zero consequence? I don’t think that’s the way the Lord intended it to be.

      And what happens when your dreams of consequence far outstrip your reality? I am always baffled by my encounters with people who dream big dreams for the Kingdom, yet those dreams never come about. Surely God would make those come to pass in time.

      The promising person who dies young. The gifted person always weighed down by one disaster after another. The talentless hack who enjoys every success known to man. The poor man who struggles constantly while another guy zooms through life, living well. The person with a God-ordained longing that never seems to come to fruition. You see these kinds of people and occurrences, and the meaning seems lost. When you see the authors of the Bible struggling with the same issues, you begin to wonder if it will ever make any sense, especially when some people seem to never consider these issues at all, yet others are burdened by them.

      • Peter P

        Hi Dan,

        Good response.

        We have been considering this lately.

        I think the important thing is listening to God for what your calling is and then abandoning everything else to do what he asks you to do.

        For some that may be working sixty hours a week in a widget factory.

        For others it may be something like running a soup kitchen or being a missionary to deepest, darkest Africa.

        Is the problem not that our lives don’t have meaning but that we don’t put our lives aside to do the meaningful things that God is calling us to?

        I hear what you are saying about the people who have big dreams or a God-ordained longing and nothing comes of it. I’m not going to be dumb enough to make one all-encompassing statement about why they don’t see what they expect. It has to be taken on a case by case basis. My question though would be “Is the Church doing everything it can to help them pursue their calling or is it holding them back?”

  3. If we are honest with ourselves I think we all have these struggles to one degree or another. Life can ceratinly be mundane and unexciting.

    We struggle, we sometimes win, we often lose. But He is thre with us through all of it. Thick and thin.

    His life (Jesus’) wasn’t always a bed of roses either.

    This world will have it’s way with us in the end. But no grave will be able to hold us. Our Savior has promised us that, and that is our great and sure hope.


  4. David

    Now we know why places like Florida, Arizona and California have huge numbers of people wanting to move there: Life is still pointless, but at least it’s sunny.

    The rich man walked away from Christ despondent because he had a lot of money. I wonder how Western Christians would react to the same message? We live spinning lives of desperation, not because we don’t have a purpose, but because we have a hard time with the purpose we are given. “Die to oneself”? “Give all you have away”? “Love your enemy”?

    The prescription for fulfillment is so anti-thetical to all we have been taught, all we have seen, all we desire. But we must also have this spirit that was in Jesus, who, even though He was God, emptied himself and became a man, and being found in that form, became a servant.

    To rise to the top, it seems we must dive for the bottom.

    The dark tea-time is revealing, I think. Jesus went through it, I don’t see why we shouldn’t too. I think we need a regular time of contemplation, ponder the mortal reality vs. the sunny desires of this life. Perhaps that’s what grey skies are for?

  5. Marie

    I believe my struggle with meaninglessness is caused by the fact that my flesh is still very much alive. My calling is to death. If I am dead and He is alive in me it is impossible to feel meaningless. Oh, how I long for that kind of death/LIFE.

    • Marie,

      Dying to self doesn’t mean the obliteration of the person. That’s the tension in all this.

      Suppose you had a job that moved a widget from Post A to Post B. You do this for 60 hours a week. Is it a revolt against dying to self to ask the meaningful question, “Isn’t there something better that I could be doing?” I don’t believe it is. A person fully dead in Christ must still be able to aspire. Remember, burying the talent in the ground didn’t sit well with the master.

      I think many Christians struggle with those kinds of questions. Those are questions of purpose and meaning. And many of those questions don’t distill down to simply dying to self.

      Some people think it’s a false question to ask how people would live differently if they knew Christ would return in a month. I mean, why marry and have children? An education? Forget it. Quit your job and do something else. Goodbye long-term plans. Some would say people can’t really live like that and carry on any kind of genuine life. Yet that is the question that lurks at the heart of much of this quest for meaning.

      • Marie

        Funny that you should mention the monotonous job thing and wondering if there is something better. I was in the same job for over 18 years. A job that most would think was a dream job, but for me, was a burden. The last 5 years of those 18 I was desperately crying out to God to set me free of it. My husband was not willing that I quit and we really didn’t think we could make it without my salary.

        Last year, my boss set me free. When he hesitatingly told me that the company could no longer afford to employ me, I shouted “HALLELUJAH!!!!”. My boss was dumbfounded, but I truly was praising God for answering my prayer. I waited on God (forcibly :)), but I did, nonetheless. And He answered when the time was right.

        And now my husband and I are learning how to live on a lot less every month. But I know God is faithful and I trust Him to take care of us. If we lose everything, so what. I mean it. I am not a citizen of earth. I am an Ambassador for my King. I don’t always live like it. I don’t always remember it. But, somewhere down deep, I know it with all my heart and I have chosen to cast my cares upon Him for He cares for me.

        Also, I do attend a LIFEgroup (or two) every week and always leave feeling much better. The sharing of Christ’s life in this way has become a necessity for me. It is more than community, it is encountering the Spirit of the living God in others that lifts me up.

        Many blessings to you and your family!


  6. Marie,

    You have it, Marie.

    Just knowing that you must die (and we do…daily…in so many ways) is the beggining of life. Death brings repentance and repentance brings forgiveness and forgiveness brings life.

    You have it!

    It may not always be a bed of roses…but it is the life we now live,

    “In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.” – Jesus

  7. diana

    Thanks for the post. I understand. I too live in the dreariness of a midwestern winter. How it drags on and on and I really almost begin to feel hopeless come mid March, cause it is still cold and spring is trying to get here but it just isn’t yet.
    I try not to think too much on the meaninglessness of things. I do have those times when I jsut want to lay down and not get up because I feel there really is no point to it all. But, thankfully, the Lord has not allowed that spark of hope to ever leave me. I planted some tulip bulbs for the first time this fall so I would have a visual of the hope that lies in me when those tulips begin to come out of the ground. I am eagerly waiting to see those tulips just as we are eagerly waiting for our long, dark winter to be over when Jesus returns. I don’t know how it will be then but I cling to the promise of how the old things will pass away and all things will be made new. Perhaps we will not escape that nawing feeling of meaninglessness until then, perhaps we were not meant to. After all, we see through the glass dimly but then it will be perfectly clear.
    In Christ’s Love,

      • Peter P

        No child of God has to worry about how they would be supported if they follow God’s leading.

        It shouldn’t even be a consideration!

        • Yeah…I often catch myself when I go into the “if I had enough money” presuppositions. I do have all the money (or material support) I need, because I own all things in Christ. I just do not know (yet) how to appropriate what I need to make a living in a way that does not impede my spiritual life.

  8. Marie, Dan,

    Good comments.

    Someone asked Martin Luther what He would do if He knew that Christ was going to return the next day (or that the world as we knew it would end).

    He said, “I’d plant a tree, for that is what I was going to do anyway.”

    I think he was saying that we ought live and be as good a steward of what God has given us, no matter the circumstances.

    And you talk about doubts and depression…Luther had it all.

  9. Julana

    It helps to enjoy and be thankful for the small and simple things.
    We have had some very cold days.

    The commercial news (in between weather reports) seems to be continuously sad, with hardship in store for many people in the country in general, and the Midwest in particular. that doesn’t help one’s outlook.

    We can expect to know people, or have people in our families, who lose their jobs, in the near future. We need to think about how we are going to support those in need.

    Get ready to garden, to cushion against raising food prices. Improve soil. Think about starting seeds. Get a few chickens. Study canning techniques.

  10. Normandie

    For years different “BIg-Deal Preachers/Prophets” said I’d be speaking in front of huge crowds, ministering to many. Years later, I share the gospel one-on-one. My agent was certain my books would sell. Several manuscripts later, they haven’t, and she doesn’t know why.

    The up-front-crowded-auditorium thing never felt like me, so I figured if it happened it would have to be a God positioning. If it didn’t happen, I’d be just fine, thank you very much. But I wonder how many folk have wanted to pattern their lives after an up-front ministry, thinking they needed the “big” stuff to fulfill them instead of realizing that a word to one person, changing that one person’s life, might be just the domino that would topple many hearts into the kingdom. Someone had to share the gospel with Billy Graham, didn’t he? Often our choices affect the circumstances of ministry. It’s possible that God had one thing in mind for me and I had another. Or my choices may have led to a different road. Should I feel that I’ve failed because of that variation? Perhaps. I haven’t always chosen wisely or behaved the way I wished. I stand with those who would like to see more signs and wonders follow their words. I’ve certainly witnessed miracles, but I’ve never seen 3000 added to the church in one day. If only each of us could figure out what Jesus meant by the greater signs and how to appropriate them for daily use so that all those who pooh-pooh our testimony might sit up and consider more closely. He must think we’re not ready or worthy, or perhaps we simply don’t have a clue about the kind of faith required to move that mountain. How big, really, is a mustard seed in the scheme of things?

    I confess to moments of confusion about the writing thing. I’ve won awards, been told I write fiction well, and yet I haven’t sold a single fiction manuscript. (I don’t count the non-fiction/technical stuff of earlier years.) Now, I know that God’s big enough. If He wants it to sell, it will–in spite of my agent. But am I failing to hear clearly? Am I not supposed to be doing this? (Should I retreat to the art world as my mother suggested, where I found some success?) Or am I supposed to continue and trust and assume that this is merely a time of growth? Good questions for which I don’t have an answer. (My agent said one editor who really wanted the second manuscript had it turned down by the money men because it had too much sailing in it. Too much sailing? She couldn’t figure it out, nor could I. They said the first manuscript dealt with an uncomfortable sin issue. Okay. Which sin would work? Which isn’t uncomfortable? The third is in the works and I’m faced with pussy-footing around real life or facing more rejections. Maybe I should just write romance!) My husband jokes (sort of) that we certainly could use the income–but the Lord provides and we have enough, at least to lives down here.

    I try, when things start to look as if one foot in front of the other is merely slogging through life instead of accomplishing anything for the Lord — or anyone else — to grab hold of the meaningful things I’ve accomplished in my almost 60 years, the lives I’ve affected for good. This doesn’t always work because the enemy swiftly slips in reminders of my failures. But he’s not the winner, is he? We can shush him through Jesus. We can look into the face of the One who will whisper the encouragement we need.

    Grey days are grey days. It’s a whole lot easier to smile at the world down here in Mazatlan, MX, than it ever was in the middle of an East Coast winter, much less in Ohio. I hope you have a fireplace and lots of good music.


  11. Mark Clayton

    If God has put you somewhere to do something then it’s not meaningless. Not to say the meaning is made clear always. And who are we to questions God anyhow? Were we there when God laid the foundation of the earth? Jesus called us to make disciples, not tents, or camel whips. A job is just a job, a means to an end. Find or start a 1st century church, live a life integrated with brothers and sisters, devoting yourselves “to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer…praising God.” And the Lord will add to your number every day those who were being saved. Now that’s meaningful if you ask me.

    • Mark,

      I struggle immensely with the idea that every single aspect of our lives is preordained by God. I am more inline with A. W. Tozer’s idea that we have embarked on a ship bound for a distant shore. The ship’s destination is assured, but we are allowed some semblance of freedom to move about the ship as we please.

      I say that because I’ve had some pretty meaningless jobs in my life. Truly…meaningless. They marked time and that was it.

      I agree that we should not question God, ever. Job tried that and failed. I have always been against the “it’s okay to get mad at God” thing that some Christians employ. I think that is rebellion, the pot saying to the potter, “What are you doing?”

      I disagree strongly that a job is just a job. Your work should employ your God-given talents and abilities or else you are wasting them. God doesn’t take kindly to that. I’ve known many people who have wasted their abilities in less-than-suitable work.

      • Moses tended sheep for forty years. I think there were two, maybe three, main reasons for that: (1) to prepare him to herd Israel from place to place in the desert; (2) to humble him after he came out of Pharoah’s house; (3) to bring him to a place of contentment in the desert, because he would be stuck there for another forty years with the people of Israel.

        Joseph suffered many years in slave labor and prison. I think he also needed to be humbled, because, although Scripture does not say this directly, I think he had a chip on his shoulder, being the favorite son and also the prophetic dreamer. Plus he would have learned the ways of criminals while in prison, which would have been useful when he became overseer of the grain stores. He needed to know the ways of burglars, robbers, embezzlers, bribers, prostitutes, etc., to keep the grain from being stolen and bribed out of the store.

  12. Anonymous in VA


    This is my first comment. I’ve been reading your blog for several months. I so appreciate the thought you put into your posts.

    Thanks for putting into words just the feeling I have been struggling with for quite some time — “is this all there is?”

    I don’t have the answer, I only pray that God shows me how to sort it out.

    • Anonymous,

      You and many others are struggling with the issue of meaning. Ironically, I just saw that Ravi Zacharias is teaching on meaning this month on Let My People Think. You can get the podcasts for his program on iTunes. I think I will listen and see what he has to say. I have great respect for Zacharias.

  13. Dan, I wonder if this is related to a previous post about evangelism. Could God be making us dissatisfied with the status quo so we’re hungry to go save souls?

    BTW, if misery loves company, in upstate New York we have about two and a half feet of snow on the ground, with another big storm coming tomorrow night.

  14. diana

    you said…


    Let me ask you this: If you didn’t have to worry about how you would be supported, what do you feel God would have you do with the life He has given you?

    And that is a very good question. I will ponder it while I lay awake thinking tonight. Thank you. “Fear God and obey His commands” comes to mind.


  15. Dan,

    I suspected that this post would get a ton of response. As you probably know, I’m a relatively new subscriber but I’m glad I found your site. This post is why. You, indeed, tell it like it is, and I suspect put into words what most of us are feeling.

    “Stepping out in faith….” How often have we been told that, but what does it truly mean? It’s not a New Year resolution, but I’m vowing that 2009 will be a much better year for me and my family than 2008 was. So far, nothing has really changed. My wife and I are still struggling financially while I am the sole breadwinner and she has been staying home for the past few years after being laid off. It’s fine with me–her staying home. We have a 1 year old and I wouldn’t send him to day care for all the money in the world. Am I irritated that we have more month than money each month? Yes. Has God been taking care of the bills? Yes. But is there a financial abundance? No.

    Perhaps it’s because we have too much short-sightedness. In other words, we don’t take the long view of our lives and we get so wrapped up in our present circumstance instead of “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” (Phil 3:13). But I guess I’m just focusing on finances right now.

    Solomon boiled down Ecclesiastes in 5:18-20: “Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun {during} the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward. Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God. For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart.”

    God has given each of us a set of talents, skills, abilities, etc., to do what we will with them. God is sovereign so it’s up to Him to bless us and others through those gifts. Only He knows why he’ll seemingly bless someone who will have nothing to do with God and then not bless the Christian. We have to remember, our reward isn’t here. We’re simply traveling through this human experience to store up treasures in heaven.

    Then–it is my hope–we will see the meaning of the meaningless times in our life when we felt abandoned or rejected of God. We just need to stay in the race and the battle. Sometimes that’s all I can do to get through some days.


  16. Brian

    I think the great unconfession is that we have no real idea what a relationship with God is or what it looks like. We are all pretty much guessing and making it up as we go along. Sure we are told ad infinitum about a personal relationship with him, but realy REALLY think about all the times you’ve been told that. The means to it are often generic, vague, rote or unfulfilling. We really don’t understand.

    • Brian,

      I agree with you to a point. Each generation seems to lose a little of that connection, so that our human examples are always a little less close than the generation before them.

  17. “I gave my life to Jesus, believe in Him with all my heart, serve Him with everything I have, yet life still seems meaningless.”

    Thanks for talking about this. I think you’re right on with your thoughts.

    I often wonder how people can claim to be Christians and say grace at lunch, and then turn around at 1:00 and stab a coworker in the back. Maybe it has more to do with the distance between Jesus and the way we all live our lives, and the meaningless we can feel, than what I thought.

    • e. barrett,

      I think that some Christians who struggle with meaning are little more than cultural Christians. Even so, many committed believers struggle with meaning as well, people who do have a personal relationship with Christ and are doing most everything right. Still, many roadblocks exist, some that we may not see as they are societal constructs held up for esteem even though they are damaging to the soul.

      If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I believe the way we have structured our work lives and forced our home lives to conform to that flawed result brings an enormous amount of loss to our communities, our homes, our churches, and our very souls. The industrial revolution has not been kind to us Christians, yet we simply don’t acknowledge what that little dance with the devil has done to us.

  18. Mother Teresa’s “Come Be My Light” would highlight this issue from a Catholic viewpoint. She dedicated her life to serving the poor. Her very name represents self-sacrifice in altruistic pursuits. But (from what I have read about the book), she never crossed over into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that Teresa of Avila, her namesake, had, or that Brother Lawrence, St. Francis, and other mystics and saints had (or may have had). “Personal” in the sense, to feel His presence in a way most of us never do when we talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus.

    We need a personal relationship with Jesus. When you consider Old Testament prophets, consider Elijah. Publicly, he did not do too much that we have recorded on the scorecard. The rest of the time would have been spent in communion with God. I suppose. I do not think he spent so much time at the brook Cedron just twiddling his thumbs. The same goes for Moses. Read between the lines, and he spent a lot of time in the desert NOT doing miracles and such. He spent that time with God.

    • Michael,

      Elijah is an interesting case. If ever there was a “depressed” prophet, it’s Elijah. He seemed to complain a lot, suffer from neurotic and paranoid tendencies, constantly repeated negative “self talk,” and manifested a litany of what we would deem psychological troubles. And this despite his closeness to God and the miracles God wrought through his ministry. In fact, Paul and Elijah seem to be remarkably dissimilar in their outlooks, yet God used them both mightily.

  19. I’m reading The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle, after a customer at my bookstore recommended it. I have found the synposis of history interesting…Christian history understood in five-hundred year, cyclical upheavals, from Pentecost to Gregory the “Great” to the Great Schism to the Great Reformation to today. Tickle does make a compelling case, historically, that we are at that five-hundred-year point. However, when she came to Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth and effusively praised him, I stopped momentarily and considered. I believe the other periods were God-ordained for His purposes, despite how messy they were. But God ordains the view of Christianity as myth? I don’t think so.

    Still, what if…? What if this is the time when we need to go beyond sola scriptura and so forth to having true, personal relationships with Jesus Christ? when we hear His voice as a matter of course, as an everyday occurence for the every believer, and not just at significant times of special revelation that occur only once in a while, if at all?

    Sure, the Christian Right (to stereotype) can tell the flock to read their Bibles, pray every day, and evangelize. The Christian Left can tell the flock to get out there and serve the poor and underprivileged. But without a personal, daily relationship with Him, what are we doing except reading words, praying words, and mingling with people we don’t really care about? Even if we do develop an affinity for the people, is it His love flowing through us? Or is it a works gospel after all, reading so much of the Bible, praying so much of the day, and doing this and that kind of ministry?

    I may “know” more of the Bible (that is, being able to find things in it, know when it is being misquoted, and beating everyone at Bible trivia) than my pastor. But he has something I don’t have. He hears the voice of God on a routine basis, for matters large and small. At least he claims to. Do I? I’m sure He tells me things all the time, although I don’t recognize His voice as His voice.

    I need that kind of relationship. Otherwise, although I may affirm the doctrines of the faith, and I may pray now and again and see answers to my prayer (which, in times of doubt, can be written off as just mere coincidence), and I may do acts of service towards others, without that personal relationship…a real one…with Jesus Christ, what else do I have but a bunch of stories, proverbs, and theology to follow? How do I know if I am serving my neighbor the way I need to serve him or her? How do I know?

    • Michael,

      I hear you. Many in the Church (and often those with the most brash voices) want to keep us mired in the 16th century, as if nothing good has come about in Church history since then, as if every Christian born since then is an also-ran. I just don’t get that.

  20. Mark


    I love your honesty, as I believe the Body of Christ is lacking it in general. I think your own statement is key:

    “But we have lost the idea of communion/community. For this reason, I believe we have magnified our struggle against meaninglessness.”

    I once lived life in deep depression, and would say that my life at that time felt meaningless. I tried doing the right things: playing drums in the praise band, helping with the youth, tithing 10% pre-tax, all those things. Nothing helped. I finally found relationship with God outside the trappings of “church”, lived in the desert for 5 years while I learned to rely solely on Him, and now in the last year have begun being knit by Him with fellow believers in my home town. I now have meaning in my life.

    I believe that we have to start with a basis of true community, outside the trappings of modern church, where there is mutual edification, mutual support, bearing of burdens, and unfailing honesty like Dan has shown in this post. I believe we have to put on hold the things that we feel in our heart we “should be doing”, like evangelizing more, giving more, etc. etc. Once we get an established community of believers, and our mutual support for one another grows, and we continue to grow, then we can allow the Spirit to lead us into what he would have us do. Maybe initially it is moving widgets. Once we’ve proven we can find joy in the “small things”, he may move us on to something “bigger”. The key, I believe, is in trusting in His plan, doing the last thing he told us to do until he tells us something else (and sometimes that seems to take forever), and then being willing to hear a direction that is different than what we expected.

    To sum it up, maybe this could be said: Life seems meaningless because we have lost the sense of community that mankind was created to have, and therefore go unfulfilled in this basic aspect of our beings. Attending church and bible studies doesn’t necessarily count as community, as community will bring about a profound “knitting”, a building block of different, individual parts into one beautiful tapestry or building. There is no sense of meaninglessness when we catch site of the beauty of Him, His body, built together with US!! There is no meaninglessness when we see beyond our little world, to see that what He is doing is so much greater than we could ever realize, in full.

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