I listened as a Christian friend exchanged the usual pleasantries with a friend he hadn't seen in several years and probably wouldn't for several more. They offered updates on family, pets, jobs, churches, and health. Then the first friend decided to get real.
"I've always believed in life after death," he said. "But I'm wondering about life before death. Is this all there is?"
The second friend promised to pray for him and asked for details, which spilled out like rice from a leaky sack. He was dissatisfied with his job---and, like many others, worried about whether it would continue. He was also depressed and taking medication. His marriage seemed to be going all right. Their church was solid. Still, the question rang in the second friend's ears: "Is this all there is?"
When the Waves Crash
Midlife restlessness is common, even for Christians. Having recently turned 40, I think about restlessness more these days. Sometimes we express this restlessness in trips to the counselor or to the Walgreens pharmacy counter. Other times we'll see a middle-aged (or older) man respond to his ennui with a new red convertible.
Sometimes this restlessness takes a nasty turn. A pillar of his church, respected both in the sanctuary and in the local business community, leaves his wife and forsakes his membership in the local church. It is a distressingly old story, but its familiarity doesn't lessen the shock or pain. This man, who certainly should know better, has resisted all entreaties of church leaders to be reconciled to his family. Their efforts have bounced off his hardened heart like the futile crashing of waves against the thick stone foundation of a seaside fortress. Why has he jettisoned his old values and relationships like so much excess baggage? What is he seeking that they couldn't satisfy?
At the risk of rushing in like a fool where angels fear to tread, the recent tragic suicide of football legend Junior Seau speaks of our inability to be satisfied, even when we accomplish everything we want. Seau, who played in the National Football League for two decades, seemingly had it all: adoring fans, great reputation, loving family, beautiful home overlooking the Pacific, and more money than most people could spend in a lifetime. He even went to church! Only 43 years old, Seau had retired and was living the American Dream.
Yet something was wrong. He didn't leave a suicide note, and we don't know whether any brain injuries from football may have contributed to his death. But we do know that for many players, the transition from stardom to "everyday life"---even if "set for life"---can be jarring.
Miles McPherson played with Seau. Now he pastors the Rock Church in San Diego. McPherson says:
By the time you get to play 20 years in the NFL, in 12 consecutive Pro Bowls, and all that comes with that, you're living in fantasyland. All that one day stops. But your body, mind, and heart are conditioned to such a high level of excitement, adrenaline rush, challenge, and then you're like taken off the drug, cold turkey. A lot of guys, women as well, celebrities, who live in a bubble, have a hard time living with normal life. Unless they can emotionally and spiritually handle the letdown and transition to something that will satisfy them, even though it will never bring the adrenaline rush their career did, they're somewhat at a loss.
Being a Christian is no bulwark against spiritual restlessness. Even those of us who keep up our "quiet times," engage in witness, and go to church sometimes struggle. Times of boredom, dryness, unanswered prayer, and searching can and will come.
Still, restlessness is not the norm in the Christian life. The Lord Jesus promised abundant life (John 10:10)---not just in the sweet bye and bye, but in the here and now. That makes sense, because eternal life is all about knowing him (John 17:3), and this relationship starts as soon as we receive him as Savior and Lord. Remember the testimony of the apostle Paul, who, despite all his persecutions, could say without irony, "For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ" (2 Cor. 1:5). There's that word again . . . abundance.
So if you are feeling down, depressed, or dry in your spiritual life, don't give up, and don't despair. There is hope. How could there not be, with Christ risen from the dead?
Here's a gentle suggestion: Throw yourself into the work of the gospel, knowing that you do not labor in vain (1 Cor 15:58). Find God's calling and pursue it at all costs. Nothing is more exciting. I can't guarantee that your problems will vanish. Just the opposite may happen (2 Tim 3:12). But I can promise you one thing:
You won't be bored.