When life feels meaningless

Yet another dreary day
Walking down the old bricks of Locust
The never-ending mountain of stress on my shoulders
Feeling tired beyond measure
Of this endless striving for something more

The familiar sound of sirens flees by
A constant reminder of the brokenness in Philly
Each face I meet in passing
I find empty, weary, burdened
Such misery in a place of extravagance

I cannot help but despair
Weighed down by expectations I will never fulfill
Feeling unaccomplished and defeated, failing
Always wondering if I belong here
I seek an escape from this world so dull

Questions of meaning often arise in response to the brokenness of life. We question who we really are, uncertain in our own identity. When met with disappointment and pain, we ask “Why?” “Is there meaning in any of this?” 

We repeatedly try to bandage the gaps in our own self-esteem with momentary pleasures. “If I only had more money, a higher status, better accomplishments”—there are endless substitutes. 

I see these feelings commonly shared among Penn students. Another class and another exam failed to meet expectations. Always feeling behind as others pass you by. For so many, admittance to Penn was the ultimate goal, until it was replaced by a degree or a job. What happens when you have that position? Will you truly feel more satisfied, or will you search for more because you don’t feel fulfilled? 

Those who many consider to have reached the pinnacle of success hold these same sentiments. Tom Brady—who had won three Super Bowls at the time—recounts his success while saying, “There’s got to be more than this. This can’t be all it’s cracked up to be.”

Jim Carrey famously said, “I wish people could realize all their dreams and wealth and fame, so that they could see that it’s not where you’re going to find your sense of completion.” Even from those who have reached the top of the mountain, we hear these cries of desperation—the letdown of a lifetime spent searching for success that does not bring fulfillment. 

These same cries can be heard in the pages of Scripture. The book of Ecclesiastes, written by King Solomon of Israel, explores his search for meaning. He, too, is met with defeat.

I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me… I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. 
— Ecclesiastes 2:9-11

Even Solomon—a man of great wealth who could attain any worldly pleasure he wanted—found no satisfaction in all of his pursuits. Every pleasure escapes him, and every glimpse of joy is fleeting. 

All of these individuals seem almost surprised that this life is meaningless. Each one recognizes that there must be something greater, but what they thought would satisfy never does. 

So where do we turn when life feels meaningless? What more can we seek when we long for more?

These feelings of worthlessness and meaninglessness are broken emanations of an innate longing for God. In the words of Augustine, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” 

This defends that our longing for more is not in vain. Rather, our dissatisfaction is evidence of something—Someone—who is greater than ourselves. We thirst for much more because there lives a fountain of endless joy. He is calling you, offering you living water that you may never thirst again (John 4:14). He invites with open arms: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). 

Without God, there is validity in these feelings of worthlessness and insignificance. We will always fall short, entangled in sin and seeking counterfeit gods that cannot satisfy. There is nothing we can offer Him; even our best deeds are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Yet in Him we can rejoice because He has redeemed us as His sons and daughters. Trusting in God allows us to affirm our weakness and worthlessness while beholding our Savior, who gives us His perfect righteousness in place of our filthy rags (2 Corinthians 5:21). 

As we consider the meaning of life, we can be reassured that there is so much more than this deeply fallen and broken life. Believers can hope in the truth that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). It is hard to imagine our deepest pain and suffering appearing light and momentary, but I trust that the glory and joy promised of heaven far surpasses anything on earth. God’s ways are so much higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). It is no wonder that our broken pleasures leave us longing for the perfect joys found only in God.  

As believers, we are blessed to spend a lifetime glorifying and enjoying God as His adopted sons and daughters and an eternity rejoicing in the splendors and blessings of this marvelous truth. If you share in this hope with me, let us bring light to the darkness that surrounds us. And if you have sought what is meaningless only to be redeemed and filled with the love of God, share this bounty. 

To the one feeling hopeless and defeated, know that there is immense freedom in setting aside the cares of the world and looking to Jesus. Anchor yourself to He who is unchanging, an ever-present source of love and hope. When you feel small and insignificant, look to the One who eternally holds you in His hands, who numbers even the stars and knows them by name. He knows even the number of hairs on your head, and you are precious to Him. 

God gives His children identity as members of His family, and there is nothing you need to do—or can do—to earn His approval. His love is unconditional and knows no bounds. 

So flee to him, cling to him, love him, praise him. Rest in Christ, who has won victory over sin and death and will restore all things to perfection. This is what you were made for. 

Another day blessed by the breath of the Almighty
Wandering the old bricks of Locust
My burdens carried by my Savior
Who gives rest for my weary soul
Whose unfailing love satisfies me every morning

The familiar sound of birds chirping
A reminder of God’s creation even in this city
In each face I meet in passing
I see a neighbor longing for greater love
How I must seek to overflow with the love of my Jesus!

My despair is met with eternal joy
As my Savior clothes me in robes of righteousness
I walk in His worthiness
Hopefully awaiting eternal glory
I am filled with strength and hope

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