Existential angst hit hard today. It’s so cliché. It always makes me think of punk rock bands from the 80’s, but unless you have personally struggled with the intensity of it you cannot know how serious it is. I remember being in middle school and trying to sort it out. Asking my mom how she can be so fine with…mediocrity. Boy that went over well. Now that I’m an adult and have dealt with these feelings over and over again, I am starting to find answers, and what I hope are better ways to ask the questions. (My poor mother!) And also, I want to share with you an epiphany I had today that feels like a door of revelation and understanding finally creaking open.
Tell me if you can identify: It starts as boredom. It merges lanes over to discontentment, it hangs out for a long time at “what the heck am I really doing with my life?” Then it likes to park at “Panic because I am (insert whatever age I am) old.” Then you spend the entire day, or week rethinking what your purpose is and asking hard questions about what you want out of life and if you’re fulfilling your role as a human being well enough. It can be very selfish; sounding something like: “I haven’t been on vacation for so long. Some people travel for a living. Why can’t I have that life?” Or it can be very selfless: “There are so many people dying from lack of clean water, what am I doing right now to help? Should I just get on a plane with suitcases filled with bottled water?” In either case, it is a feeling that persists and insists on making you uncomfortable. It reminds you continuously there is only ONE life to live and it better be good. Pressure.
I really do wonder how many people deal with these thoughts. I know certain personality types struggle with it more than others, and there are several other factors that can easily make it worse, but I think more people are faced with these thoughts than they let on. I’m afraid a large number of people bury it by any means possible. Why do they silence it? I would imagine most of the time they are too busy to really let their souls be heard. Or perhaps they are too afraid. I’m a feeler. I sense and feel things in myself and others. It’s harder for me to ignore feelings. Where others might have these inklings, I have a megaphone going off in my mind.
Over the past month I have been learning the importance of facing and dealing with negative emotions. I force myself to look whatever makes me uncomfortable in the eye. Instead of getting pushed aside, difficult feelings get confronted, labeled, and dealt with. It’s amazing freedom. So today when this hit, I let it hang out and assessed it from a few different angles. I wondered for the first time, if I would feel the same way if I had all the successes I wanted out of life already. I wondered if these emotions of self-doubt and dissatisfaction with my life as a “normal” human being raising children, living in a nice neighborhood, having coffee with friends, would still be plaguing me if I was also traveling the world raising awareness for children living in poverty or any of the other hundred things my heart hurts for and my mind demands I do something about. I wondered if very successful people who are farther along in life than me ever feel this way. From what I have heard, they do. Only it’s worse because they, like all of us, thought they wouldn’t. That is the very reason why they are successful in most instances, because they felt pressure from the universe and within to contribute and achieve. “Standing on the shoulders of giants” today made me realize that this is a feeling that does not go away by succumbing to it. Letting it master me might produce great results, but it will never be satisfied. It will never release its grip on me as long as I bow to it. My submission to it will not purchase my freedom.
So I made daisy chains. Really. I took the kids to play in a field dotted with beautiful old trees. The grass was soft and green and there were thousands of flowers. They made forts in the trees with sticks and I sat on the grass and made crowns. I watched them play so imaginatively and noticed how busy they were in their enjoyment. The only busy acceptable to God. No striving. No pressure. Just enjoyment.
I am constantly thinking of what I am doing or should be doing. Or I am pondering ways to do things better. This is how I am. It’s not just busy. I am always pursuing. I pursue the things I want. With tenacity. So much so, that my life is completely my life. My show. I ask God to help me, lead me, strengthen me…and it’s all ME. I do all the pursuing when it comes to living this life.
To an extent this is healthy. God loves when we take charge of this glorious life He has given us. He wants us to enjoy the world. He has given us dominion (Psalm 8:6). Some people need to step up more. This is not for you! I’m talking to those of us who do too much. Strive too hard. Wear ourselves out. It is when the pursuit of purpose overtakes the natural balance between Creator and created being that the feelings of existentialism creep in. The “what am I really doing here?” thoughts.
God has created us dangerously close to gods ourselves. It’s true. You will also notice in Psalm 8 David says, “You have made him a little lower than heavenly beings.” The Jews in Alexandria who translated the Hebrew Scriptures to Greek were being somewhat modest when they used the variation of the Hebrew word אֱלֹהִים- “Elohim”. Thus in the Septuagint we read “a little lower than the angels.” But the Hebrew word is Elohim—God. David says God created us a little lower than God Himself. This kind of magnificent spirituality is sometimes difficult for our mortal minds to comprehend. We were not originally made to live in the confines of a fallen world and our spirits instinctively know this. It is a heavy concept for our human minds to wrestle with, especially when we don’t quite realize the scope of the battle.
And so we strive. We pursue. We struggle for purpose and meaning. When things don’t measure up we mourn in our spirits that something is not right. But still we take full responsibility and continue, knowing there is nothing else we can do. But here we need to recognize the lie. The lie tells us there is nothing we can do to accomplish all we should. No matter how far you’ve come or what you have managed to accomplish, you are stuck wherever you happen to be. And do you notice it also assumes we are responsible for it all? Everything we should be achieving, doing, being. The lie says it’s all on us to be successful. Yes, we are given much responsibility, but not all responsibility. I have started to realize that when I feel these existential “life is meaningless” “what is the point?” kind of thoughts it’s because I’m flying solo. I am taking over the role of pursuer and pursued. I am forgetting that there is a Creator and it’s not me. There is a loving God who also has a part in this life and in His world. He longs to play His role and pursue you. The adventure of life was meant to be a team effort. A glorious, beautiful song of creation that continues with each new generation. Each new person. We pair ourselves with the Holy Spirit and continue to create. When we ignore the Pursuer, we take on more than we need and the results are devastating.
When I went to the field today to smell the flowers, see the trees, and feel the grass, I was connecting with the Pursuer. I was letting Him speak to me. I was making room for His part. I purposely slowed down and recognized the Pursuer. I accepted that I don’t need to work so hard to find purpose and value and meaning. I remembered that this life is not a solo act. He and I are supposed to dance together. When I notice how He pursues me and guides me, it takes pressure off me. I can hear His voice and sense His heart. It leads me into the things He has for me. The things that matter. I can stop striving. I can accomplish so much more with him while dancing in step. Not only do we cover much more ground, we have more fun.
Today it was achieved by simply noticing the beauty in nature. Another day or a different person will manifest other ways of reminding oneself that we are co-creators. Take the time to take a break from striving and just be. Do whatever brings you joy. Whatever resonates with your soul. It’s ok. Really. The key is remembering, recognizing, and relinquishing control of the side of the dance floor that isn’t yours. Instead of pursuing life goals at break-neck speed, take a step back and be the pursued for a while as well. Larger and much more relevant contributions to the world take place when you start with peace in your heart. We were not meant to carry it all. We were meant to enjoy, create, and respond to His love.
“You make known to me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11
He is faithful. Enjoy the path of life—in His presence.