A couple of days ago I woke up a little anxious, as if there was a decision or problem looming. I laid there a few minutes, allowing my brain to wake up and scan my memory. No problems came to mind. I got up, started the coffee and spent my usual time in prayer and study. I prayed about the way I was feeling and asked God to draw near. I can’t imagine living with that unsettled feeling day in and day out.
I’ve just begun reading J.P. Moreland’s book The God Question (2009). In the first chapters he explores the reason for the rise in anxiety and depression among baby boomers. He shares what psychologist Edmund Bourne, in a book on anxiety and depression coauthored by Lorna Garano, identifies “three causes for the epidemic: (1) the pace of modern life, (2) the loss of a sense of community and deep connectedness with others beyond the superficial, and (3) the emergence of moral relativism.”
Can we say Facebook, emails, fast food, Twitter, rush hour, cell phones, and Instagram???
I paused writing this blog to go to work. As I was driving I was pondering some of J.P. Moreland’s comments and what I’d written so far in response. I decided to listen to an encouraging daily devotion sent out by my church, which I’d received earlier by text (http://bit.ly/1V4YhGd). In it, Curt Harlow, our teaching pastor, spoke of the multitasking myth. He noted that scientists at Carnegie Mellon University ‘s Center of Cognitive Learning knew as early as 2001 that, “the area of your brain that decides where and when you focus gets overwhelmed and actually shrinks by half” when multitasking. A shrunken brain, I thought – that surely contributed to my vague anxiety earlier this week!
In The God Question, Moreland refers to Bourne and Garono’s findings regarding another contributor to the rise in anxiety and depression – “moral relativism”. They explain it this way:
There is no shared, consistent, socially-agreed-upon set of values and standards for people to live by…In the vacuum left, most of us attempt to fend for ourselves, and the resultant uncertainty about how to conduct our lives leaves ample room for anxiety. Faced with a barrage of inconsistent worldviews and standards presented by the media, we are left with the responsibility of having to create our own meaning and moral order. When we are unable to find that meaning, many of us are prone to fill the gap that’s left with various forms of escapism and addiction. We tend to live out of tune with ourselves and thus find ourselves anxious.
He goes on to talk about the new, politically correct type of tolerance that compounds the lack of a “socially-agreed-upon set of values and standards for people to live by.” Moreland reminds us that the classic principle of tolerance (which is no longer socially acceptable), is that if “we take another group’s views to be wrong and harmful, we will treat the (alleged) errant people with respect, will defend their right to promote their views, and will engage in respective, civil debate in attempting to persuade them and others to reject their viewpoint.” By comparison, under today’s contemporary tolerance, “we are not to say others’ views or behavior is wrong.” He goes on to point out that this is immoral because “it allows for genuine evil” because we are to be tolerant. Bourne and Garano call it cold and heartless: “If you think another is engaged in a lifestyle that is deeply immoral and flawed, the most loving thing to do is to help that person face and get out of that lifestyle. Even if you are wrong in your assessment, at least you cared enough to try to help. By contrast, contemporary tolerance creates indifferent people who don’t have the moral vision or courage to intervene in the lives of others and try to help.”
The book points to the growing neurosis in our times, which by definition is, “a functional disorder in which feelings of anxiety, obsessional thoughts, compulsive acts, and physical complaints without objective evidence of disease, in various degrees and patters, dominate the personality” (Dictionary.com).
Moreland explains that in absence of living daily for something bigger than us, such as God, we begin living for our own happiness.
Their findings make such sense when I consider the joy of knowing that all is well when I am living a purposeful life with a focus on eternity. How empty it must feel without a relationship with Jesus. After meeting with a friend for lunch and spending quality time celebrating our Lord, the earlier feelings had dissolved. We talked about God, how he is working in our lives, and how he is using cancer to ignite her faith and lead others to deeper faith. We shared lessons that he is teaching us through each other (and I’m looking forward to sharing a couple more with her). We discussed my earlier vague feeling of being out of sync and how such feelings are only feelings, not truth, because “he will never leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6b). I left our lunch refreshed and renewed, reminded of who and what I am living for.
In the devotion I received by text, Pastor Curt advises “it’s always better to focus.” He challenged us to “apply this knowledge to our relationship with God.” I am resolved to live for God, though I surely stumble at times. Prayer, quiet time reflecting, Bible study and similar activities help me focus on what is important, giving my life purpose and meaning. They also help me create boundaries to avoid an unhealthy pace. My family, friends and my church provide community and allow me to connect deeply with others. As a result of all this, I am a baby boomer who is avoiding neurosis and living instead with inner peace and joy.
You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3
I can see how joy could be elusive without hope that there is a bigger purpose we are living for. Moreland notes that “the classic definition of happiness – a life well lived, a life of wisdom and virtue – has dropped out of the dictionary. People are obsessively concerned with feeling happy and, while pleasurable satisfaction is a good thing, it is not important enough to be the goal of life.”
I love The God Question’s Monopoly example. Suppose we’re playing with no rules – you can do whatever you want – so you load up your properties with hotels and houses. My turn comes along and I dump the board upside down. Another turn or two with my shenanigans and you’d realize “it didn’t really matter what you did with your turn, and here’s why. There is no goal, no purpose to the game we are playing. Our successive turns form a series of one meaningless event after another. Why? Because if the game as a whole has no purpose, the individual moves within the game are pointless… the very act of taking a turn become pointless.” On the other hand, “if the game was invented by someone who established its goal or purpose, players must know what the purpose is. Misinformation about the purpose could easily harm players if their efforts are directed at an end inconsistent with the game’s actual goal. Sincerity is not enough.”
Can you see how his illustration translated into a life without faith could spell hopelessness, and depression? You could be left with a pursuit of contemporary happiness. Moreland quotes Psychologist Phillip Cushman, who describes the empty self resulting from the abandonment of classic happiness (living for a greater purpose): “The empty self is filled up with consumer goods, calories, experiences, politicians, romantic partners, and empathetic therapists…[The empty self] experiences a significant absence of community, tradition, and shared meaning…a lack of personal conviction and worth, and it embodies the absences as a chronic, undifferentiated emotional hunger.”
God, creator of us and the entire universe, has a goal for us. Our “Monopoly” moves through life are either with purpose, moving us toward his goal, or not. He’s planted his purpose in our heart, waiting for us to respond. My conscience testifies to it. He’s created a rule book too – the Bible, an owner’s manual.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10
Oh boy, there’s a lot to think about! If you find yourself relating in any way, just know you’re not alone. God loves you right where you are, but you don’t have to stay there – you can start living with purpose this very moment!
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. Romans 10:9-10
But for now I am just amazed at how God reveals himself, how he answers prayer. I awoke unsettled and prayed that he would draw near. He led me to J.P. Moreland’s book, which helped me understand how easy it is to feel anxious when I lose focus. He further encouraged me through fellowship with a sister in Christ. Then he customized a daily devotion for me, which complimented the subject he inspired me to write about. As if that wasn’t enough, after listening to the devotion, I was driving along and thought, “I want to stop now and add my thoughts to the blog I started this morning, too bad there isn’t a library nearby.” You simply will not believe what the next street sign said! The library wasn’t yet open yet, but just like God’s superior answers often exceed the petitions generated by our limited imaginations, he provided a beautiful view (pictured above) from a shady parking spot to apply the daily devotion’s challenge and finish this blog!