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Friday, February 26, 2021

Quiet Desperation...

 Poet, philosopher, naturalists, etc., Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." I think his observation is both brilliant and woefully short-sighted. He might have an escape clause, if by "men" he meant the "mankind" all-of-humanity kind of men. I would argue we all live lives of quiet desperation. We can only deaden the ache so much, for no matter how much food, alcohol, and pleasurable company we may procure, the ache still remains.

CS Lewis calls it the "inconsolable longing" for something we've smelled, heard, tasted, or felt from an agonizing distance. We find some comfort in structure, in routine, in "what I ought to be doing," but we can't help but feel that, in the end, we know we're in "The Matrix." We know that something isn't right. We know that we're incomplete. We know that we're missing out...on something.

Most of us succumb to the idea that...if I could just get, become, achieve, or acquire "the next thing," then, all will be well. I think somewhere deep down, we all at least suspect that, even if we do get the greatest thing, find the most loving person, or reach the highest heights...we'll still be left with that nagging ache. Movie stars, rock stars, lottery winners, super bowl winning teams, and billionaires have shown us over the years that whatever earthly height we can imagine will never be quite high enough.

I'm an English and Reading teacher, but somehow, over the last several years, I've been teaching middle school students about careers. In that study, we take an in-depth look at careers over the years, how historical events, technology, and culture influence careers. Studying history can be very revealing. One of the aspects of history that I've noticed is this: as affluence and privilege increase, so does immorality. Don't get me wrong. I am not shaking a judgmental finger, as if I somehow know better than all of humanity. I'm likely just as immoral as any other person on the planet. Honestly, the older I get, the more I feel like we human beings really ought to be cutting each other a little bit more slack.

Honestly, beyond lives of quiet desperation, I'd argue that we're all just stubborn, needy, desperate souls throwing shit at the walls and hoping...praying that something sticks. Why are we pushing up against any and every cultural norm? Why are we searching for alternate identities? Why are we starting to try to identify as things we are not? Why are we aggrandizing sexuality to the point that it is all we identify with? I believe it's because we're all hoping beyond hope that we'll find "something to make sense of it all," whatever "it all" is.

It's at about this time that you expect me to start preaching, right? Batson is one of those born again Christian folk. Of course, he's going to say, turn to Jesus, right?

To be quite honest, Jesus is my ultimate conclusion, but I wouldn't dare to presume upon your lives. I will urge you, however, to be more purposeful searchers. This is no joke. Life, this day-after-day thing that adds up to a lifetime is the most vital thing we have. Invest it in the "finding out." I've done my homework. I've researched science. I've researched world religions. I've investigated claims. I explored my own psyche. In the end, I can't get past God. I can't fathom a world of ten trillion trillion intricacies...that didn't have a lucid cause. Of all the world religions, only one speaks of grace. Only one offers a Christ who would go through all the hell on earth that we're all going through and then cap it all by being tortured and murdered...for me. Only one rose from the dead. But...that's my conclusion. I've done my homework. I am satisfied.

And yet...the ache remains.

I once believed and, for a long, long time, stubbornly held on to the idea that once I became a Christian, my life would all come together. The ache would be so satiated by Jesus that I would never long for more. Here I tread dangerous ground because I'm sure there are many believers who would say unequivocally that Jesus fulfills their each and every need. With all due respect, I salute those contented beings and...I say, "well, that is not my experience." My experience is much more of what the bible describes. "In this world, you will have trouble." Yes, I have Jesus, but I'm living in decay. Yes, I have Jesus, but it still hurts when my children are sick. It still makes me weep when I watch the news. It still feels like everything has gone terribly, horribly wrong. I'm just being honest about my experience. Sue me.

Jesus once said to the woman at the well, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." In my experience, the thirst comes back. Some might argue that I never really "drank the water that Jesus gives." Maybe I never really believed. Maybe I lost my salvation. Maybe...or maybe not. Maybe what is shortsighted is the popular understanding of the type of thirst Jesus was talking about here. There's physical thirst when our bodies actually need physical water or...we'll dehydrate and die. And then, there's felt thirst. We might not be on the verge of death, or even remotely close to dehydration, but we still want something to drink. In my experience, in whatever version of Christianity I've lived into, Jesus has satiated the physical-need thirst. I have an anchor in my soul that is steadfast, ironclad, trustworthy, and loving. But this isn't heaven. I still want things to drink.

And here, to me, is the difference that Jesus makes. I am hard-pressed, but not crushed; I am perplexed, but not in despair; I am persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed. My thirst has been quenched, but I am still thirsty. The wound that causes the ache has been ultimately healed, but like the phantom pain of an amputee, I still feel the ache. But, for the last time, these are my conclusions after almost 50 years of searching. I've done my homework. I am content to live with the ache.