Lots of people are expressing gratitude this Thanksgiving month and I too, am thankful for what I have and where I am. We do have it pretty good here in America don’t we? We have it pretty great in fact, especially when you consider that 236 years ago the United States of America didn’t exist! Our land has urban and rural areas, mountains and plains, areas with lots of vegetation and areas with very little shrubbery. We have a network of (relatively) smooth roads, an abundance of food, a system of communication unheard of not long ago and a vast array of entertainment and leisure from which to choose from.
And through all that growth, it seems we’ve had things to unify, galvanize, and propel us forward at key points throughout those 236 years as a nation. From declaring independence, to settling the land, to the industrial revolution and most recently the technological revolution, and though parts of those things are not pretty, they have served to give us meaning and purpose as a nation.
Now I realize I’ve only been a part of it all for the last 34 years, so maybe I’ll have better perspective after another 34, but as I look back through our history and out across the current landscape, I wonder…where do we go from here? Have we tapped all there is in significant innovation? Over those years it seems, the tide of innovations has slowly changed from those that benefit the masses and the nation as a whole to innovations that benefit individuals and small groups. Most everyone has the basic necessities, so now we’ve focused on customizing and gleaning even more luxury for our lives. Though we now lead lives that are filled with much more pleasure and comfort, and many more easy opportunities, it feels like we as a whole are far less satisfied people than we were 200 years ago. It sometimes feels like there may be nothing left out there that would renew our sense of purpose and unity and propel us forward like so many times before.
GK Chesterton wrote and Ravi Zacharias improved on a statement that I think might point us toward the reason for that. They said, “Despair does not lie in being weary of suffering, but in being weary of pleasure.” I think that rings true. Even with the ease of access to everything that is supposed to make our lives easier and more satisfying, we can’t seem to break free from the chains of boredom and depression. We are constantly on the lookout for “more.” But as Zacharias also notes, “The loneliest moment in life is when you have just experienced what you thought would deliver the ultimate, and it has let you down.”
Let’s bring this to a more personal level. That next rush, the next relationship, the next victory, the next purchase, those things all give a momentary buzz, but afterwards we find that even life’s pleasures bring a feeling of pointlessness. It’s like trying to find your way in the dark with a strobe light set to flash once every 10 minutes. It seems like when times were tough, purpose and meaning as a nation and as people came easy. But now that life is “easy,” purpose and meaning slips through our hands like water. I look around and see some of the people with the most difficult lives also experiencing the most purpose while those who have it easy oftentimes lament the helplessness of their situation. Why is that?
I think it’s because meaning and purpose can be found in struggle. It may seem backward to us, but those struggles are God’s gift to us. Ecclesiastes 3:12-14 (NIV) says, “ I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.” We like to ignore or avoid our troubles and the hard things of life at all costs because pleasure looks a whole lot better on the surface. Forget the pursuit of all that pleasure. It’s never brought anything lasting. Embrace the struggles in your life and find meaning and purpose…God’s gift to you.
Be a witness,