Eric Youngblood: When Nothing Tastes

Tuesday, June 26, 2018 - by Eric Youngblood

As a youngster, I would sometimes get confused, not exactly mangle a syll-able as our former president was wont to do, but at least get disoriented with the swirl of available parts of speech. One apparent mishap went like this:

As I couldn’t find anything to do, I attempted to utter my pediatric angst like millions of children before and after with the despairing declaration:

“Mo-oomm, “I’m boring.”

My mother, sensing an opportunity to capitalize in good-hearted jest on my unwitting error, would respond:

“I know you are honey, you can’t help it.”

I’d make the claim, because I didn’t know what to do with myself, and wound up indicting myself! Of course, anyone who claims to be bored (as I meant to) could rightly be accused, as some astute thinkers have done, of having a soul-problem. Boredom, as Walker Percy once opined, is the “self stuffed with the self.”

What’s the Point?

Nothing matters. Nothing is worth doing. It’s a major inward inertia that has swallowed up all one’s interest in things. Nothing moves you. Nothing delights you. Nothing seems good to you. The walls press in. The future seems bleak. And you are simply eaten up with you.

H.L. Mencken saw this as one of the most maddening features of our existence, this soul-condition, which is fed by the springs of our own inner maladies and bred in the environs of our often confusing world where we are called upon to do a lot of waiting and a lot of not being sure what is going on:

“The basic fact about human existence is not that it is a tragedy, but that it is a bore. It is not so much a war as an endless standing in line. The objection to it is not that it is predominantly painful, but that it is lacking in sense.”

I suspect he is on to something. He may be overstating the case, and those of you wracked with suffocating trauma and drowning sorrow right now might wish to box him in the ear for his over-simplification. But for most people, most the time, there is a lingering question that hovers like a cartoon’s conversation bubble over our heads, “Does it matter to do this?” “Is this worth it?” Why am I doing this? Is this really all life is?”

Am I really on earth merely to drive small demanding people from event to event? I’m here to sit in a cubicle and try not to upset my middle manager? Am I merely on this planet to wash dishes and do the laundry, again? Is it the case that I exist merely to rise early, hustle for bucks all day long, come home, tend to kids until bedtime, and then rise to do it all again tomorrow?

And of course, all this assumes that we ever pause long enough or feel desperate enough to ponder these frightening imponderables. Not easily answered, these questions of meaning stand canopied over our increasingly magnificent gadgetry and technological opportunities. If we ever look up from our devices or from our allegiance to the Vols whom we hope will one day resurrect, or from our ire about recent “news”, we might discover these questions of why gazing a bit too uncomfortably at us, staring just a tad too long.

But we should permit the discomfort. We should accept the incoming calls of these lurking queries of “what am I for?” or “why am I here?” or “is it supposed to be like this?” 

“No Dissatisfaction Like That of the Rich”

Otherwise, we’ll increasingly find ourselves racing to the therapist’s office in a Lexus with leather seats, with organic, locally grown supper from the Whole Food’s hot bar afterwards, and the ability to book a flight to London while standing in line, all the while having a neurotic terror gnawing at our insides that only acts up when we catastrophize the future late at night when the house is quiet and still.

In 1963, German Pastor Helmut Thielicke suggested that our preoccupation with increasing standards of living while ignoring the “what for” of living, was leading us to “wander aimlessly over a smooth and level plane.”

The ancients called this acedia. Or sloth. We might call it despair.

Steinbeck captured the aura of this struggle:

Samuel said. “You know, Lee, I think of my life as a kind of music, not always good music but still having form and melody. And my life has not been a full orchestra for a long time now. A single note only—and that note unchanging sorrow.

I’m not alone in my attitude, Lee. It seems to me that too many of us conceive of a life as ending in defeat.”

Lee said, “Maybe everyone is too rich. I have noticed that there is no dissatisfaction like that of the rich. Feed a man, clothe him, put him in a good house, and he will die of despair.”      

Anti-dote to Boredom

But Christianity has long held that our Master’s resurrection from the dead guarantees that life doesn’t end in defeat. And in fact, it reveals that even the deepest despair or the “mehs” can be treated with a Round Up for the soul that can choke it out like an unwanted weed as we come to see our life in relation to Christ’s establishment of a world-wide administration that will eventually yield the joy of millennia’s worth of political promises and relational dreams that never manage to be met by our elected officials.

That said, riffing off the Apostle Paul, I’d like to propose an anti-dote to our boredom (or even our boringness!) and the “nothing tastes” life underneath it:

How’s about we labor to believe again that God has happy intentions on the earth, and that by his own declaration, NOTHING we do for him is in vain, and that EVERYTHING we do can be done for him. (cf. 1 Cor.15:58, Col. 3:23-24)

If one were concocting a recipe for making a stew of meaning in one’s life, surely, a primary ingredient would be knowing an answer to the question, “What are people for?”

It’s striking to consider that God gives his people a satisfying and propelling sort of answer to that perennially posed query. He says to ancient apostles and modern-day Jesus-followers alike, “I’m going to move into the neighborhood of your life and then you are going to be a living depiction of my reality and earth-renovating intentions every place you go.” (Acts 1:8)

Mission Makes our Lives Matter

In other words, he says, “join me in my comprehensive world-renovation undertaking.” And having a worthwhile mission like that, gives meaning.

We’ve been charged to roll out the welcome of God to folks in every town. We’ve been tasked with a delegated, job-sharing role with the heavens. God says, “Be sermons in shoes.” “Be a community that pictures the affections and warmth of God in technicolor.” “Be folks whose lives would not make any sense whatsoever if God weren’t smack dab in the middle of them.” “Be folks who publish the the glad tidings that caused you to come running to God to all sorts of folks busy running away from him.”

See, this mission makes our lives matter. Like exuberant little boys getting to help their dad mow the lawn for the first time, God has dignified us by permitting us to work alongside him, to go to work with him as he sets about rehabbing folks and families, cities and countries, governments and economies to reflect his divine administration’s brilliant and replenishing policies as they should’ve been in the first place.

God has intentions at schools and hospitals, on baseball diamonds and soccer fields, in nurseries and living rooms, and in businesses and boardrooms. And he has sent us out to all those places, furnished with Himself to emit a life in all those places among the bored, the confused, and the self-assured that says, “this is what it’s like when God comes to our town, our work, and our lives.”

Perhaps God wants to employ you today to help restore the melody of a full orchestra in the lives of those for whom life has been reduced to one somber or intolerably dull note? Perhaps his reverberations in your life will cause a  fuller melody of purpose in your co-workers, your customers, or your students? It’s good work Christ has entrusted to his people who anticipate a forever with no more gloomy dirges.

And there’s nothing at all boring about collaboration like that!

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Contact Eric Youngblood, pastor of Rock Creek Fellowship on Lookout Mountain, at eric@rockcreekfellowship.org




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