Lives of quiet desperation
Henry David Thoreau, the American novelist, once wrote that “the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.” We live in a world where people are so focused on earning a living that they are forgetting how to live. Life has increasingly become more about accumulating things and rushing from one activity to another than anything else. We spend the best part of our lives in pursuit of some dream or ambition and then, when we get there, we wonder whether it was really worth the price. At the end of the day, the nagging question – what’s it all about? – remains.
Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need… NIV
I remember the lyrics from an old Simon and Garfunkel song that went:
“From the moment of my birth
To the instant of my death
There are patterns I must follow
Just as I must breathe each breath
Like a rat in a maze
The path before me lies
And the pattern never alters
Until the rat dies…”
And really that is the pattern of all too many lives. There is this constant searching, this incessant quest for some meaning, for some purpose. There is such a restlessness in the heart of man to discover some purpose for his being here. Without that sense of purpose, there is always “a quiet desperation” that haunts the heart.
This search for purpose and meaning is something that marks every age, every generation. Solomon, a man of great wisdom and a mighty ruler no less, also struggled with this. He looked at all the things he had, all the things he had accomplished and he said, “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). At the end of his inquiry, this man of wisdom came to the conclusion that the most important thing is to “remember your Creator” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).
Augustine of Hippo spent years searching for some meaning to life, something that would still the quiet desperation he felt within. Each time he was drawn to a particular philosophy or teaching or group, he ended up disillusioned and disappointed. Finally he found Christ and at last he found the meaning and purpose that he had been searching for. Out of the depths of his fulfillment, he wrote, “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), the great French mathematical genius, concluded on his deathbed that “there is a God-shaped vacuum in every heart” that only Christ can fill.
We were created for a relationship with God. We were designed to have meaning and purpose in Him; there’ll always be that restlessness until we rest in Him.
Take time to gaze inward at the state of the soul: Is there still a restlessness within? Is there still a sense of quiet desperation that gnaws within? It’s the siren call of God upon the heart to press deeper into Christ and allow Him to completely fill that God-shaped vacuum within to overflowing.