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Finding Meaning in the Groundhog Day of Coronaquarantine

Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes,ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Job 1:2-9

"Meaningless, meaningless" is definitely how I have been feeling in this perpetual "Groundhog Day" of Coronaquarantine 2020. One day melts into the today Tuesday or May? Concepts of time have changed with nothing to really mark the days as we used to have. Should I clean up the mess in the hallway today or let it sit until tomorrow? There is no urgency. And I discover that "urgency" is apparently one of my defining features of something being meaningful. Perhaps this is why we love to rush about, filling our days with meetings, appointments, events, and activities. The hurry makes those things feel urgent which makes them seem meaningful.

But I also notice that "visible, lasting impact" defines "meaningful" to me. What does it matter if I clean up the kitchen now or later, with everyone home eating constantly, its constantly a mess in there. If I march and protest and write and engage in relationships to combat racial oppression, inequities, injustice, and broken systemic issues but see no visible change or impact, it feels pointless and meaningless. When I pray and pray and pray for something to no visible effect, it feels meaningless. When the meaningful nature of my actions is defined by the perception of its results, I am left with "meaningless, meaningless."

I went to Vanderbilt. I have a master's degree from Reformed Theological Seminary. I have done some pretty cool stuff in my life and those experiences have given me some understanding and insight that I might not otherwise have. But I have no title or position of merit, no fame or acclaim to validate the importance of these "accomplishments," and no obvious expression or use of them in my current daily life. If acknowledgment, acclaim, title, position, fame or other credit define meaning, I once again find myself crying, "meaningless, meaningless."

By your hand save me from such people, Lord, from those of this world whose reward is in this life. Psalm 17:14a

This is talking about "the wicked," but isn't it also addressing me? I fall into despair when I am consumed with "reward in this life." That is truly where I am looking for meaning, isn't it? The reward of admiration, of importance to other people, of power to effect change, of being "vital" to the world. The truth is that I am not vital to the world and so this pursuit is meaningless.

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. Matthew 6:1
At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:26-29

The car ride to the beach isn't particularly exciting, but the beach is glorious. The dollars, one at a time, that we put into our accounts aren't nearly as satisfying as the house we are able to buy when enough have accumulated. A medal for showing up isn't nearly as meaningful as a trophy for winning. Stopping at a beautiful pond to break up the monotony of a trip is nice, but it would be a poor substitute for the majestic ocean. Maybe this is what God is suggesting about our temporal and material methods of defining meaningful versus meaningless?

When the determination of "meaningful" is limited to the immediate moment, Gospel amnesia and anemia strip my heart of strength and energy. My eyes are not well trained yet, and it will require some straining to see at first, but if I instead, by faith, look to God's Kingdom, God's eternal purposes, God's perspective (that more often meaning is found in stillness and quiet than urgency and noise), God's promise that He will complete the work that He has started (therefore impactful, lasting change is certain), and when I am more satisfied in His glory than greedily hunting for my own, it may be possible to see everything as meaningful after all.

Shows like This is Us and Modern Family are so well written in that they bring seemingly disparate moments back together, to overlap and coalesce, making the individual scenes take on greater significance as they fall into the whole story. We are so delighted and moved to both tears (usually in This is Us) and breathtaking laughter (usually Modern Family) when we watch the collision of all these moments reach their peak. The meaning of this moment may not be found in this isolated moment, but as this scene we find ourselves in falls into the full storyline of God's eternal Kingdom and purposes, the aha realization will come along with the full heart, laughter, and tears. Meaningful, Meaningful, we will one day be able to declare with deep satisfaction.


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