When Life Feels “Meaningless”

By Bindu Adai-Mathew

According to major studies by organizations, such as the National Mental Health Institute, the World Health Organization, and the World Bank:

  • Approximately 18.8 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, have a depressive disorder.
  • Nearly twice as many women (12.0 percent) as men (6.6 percent) are affected by a depressive disorder each year. These figures translate to 12.4 million women and 6.4 million men in the U.S.
  • Women between the ages of 25-44 are most often affected by depression with a major cause of depression in women being the inability to express or handle Anger.
  • Depression affects all people regardless of age, geographic location, demographic or social position.
  • Depressive disorders are appearing earlier in life with the average age of onset 50 years ago being 29 whereas recent statistics indicate it at just 14.5yrs in today’s society.
  • Depressive disorders often co-occur with anxiety disorders and substance abuse.
  • A recent study sponsored by the World Health Organization and the World Bank found unipolar major depression to be the leading cause of disability in the United States.

Few of us can claim to have never been depressed at one point in our lives. Whether it’s induced by stress, job loss, divorce, abuse, hormonal imbalance, many of us have felt the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and meaninglessness that often accompanies depression. While the actual statistics on depression may vary from year to year, one of the stats above doesn’t seem to change: Depression affects all people regardless of age, geographic location, demographic or social position. 

That means depression can affect you whether you’re rich, poor, married, single, young, old, etc. With over 18 million people in the US alone suffering from a from of depression, depression discriminates against no one.

 In the Bible, we are told how Job was truly in despair after he lost his family, his fortune, and even his own health. He was understandably depressed…no one would blame him for being depressed. In fact, if he weren’t, we probably wouldn’t think he was human.

 But what about those times when we know we have so much to be grateful for but still can’t seem to shake those blues that seem to hover over our heads like a dark cloud, following our every move? What if we seem to “have it all” but still cannot help but feel like something is missing. Well, again, we are not alone. In the Bible, there is a person who had it all…riches, power, women (900 of them), and even wisdom…and at one point, we also know he had a close relationship with God…but in the book of Ecclesiastes, we see that even King Solomon with all of his earthly blessings also went through some form of depression.

2“Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!”

3What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? 4Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. 5The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. 6The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. 7Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. 8Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.

9History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. 10Sometimes people say, “Here is something new!” But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new. 11We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.

12I, the Teacher, was king of Israel, and I lived in Jerusalem. 13I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race. 14I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.

15What is wrong cannot be made right.

What is missing cannot be recovered.

16I said to myself, “Look, I am wiser than any of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem before me. I have greater wisdom and knowledge than any of them.” 17So I set out to learn everything from wisdom to madness and folly. But I learned firsthand that pursuing all this is like chasing the wind.

18The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow.

Here is a man who had everything. He was King. He was wise. He was respected. He was favored by God. He experienced things that most of us could only dream about. Yet, he tells us that everything…not just money…not just love…but everything is meaningless…He reigned nearly 1000 years before Christ’s birth, which is about 3,000 from today…yet even then he felt that there was nothing new under the sun…that even when someone thought that something was new, it was actually nothing new. Here is a guy who was renowned for his wisdom who has come to the conclusion that nothing matters.

But to whom who nothing was spared, he felt just as lost, just as confused, just as unhappy and empty as those of us today who keep thinking “if only.”   If only we had more money…if only <fill in the blank> would change…

Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon points out the ironies and futility of life, and while that doesn’t change throughout the book, his observations lead him to some very important truths:

9What do people really get for all their hard work? 10I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. 11Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. 12So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. 13And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.

 He concludes that chapter by saying,

18I also thought about the human condition—how God proves to people that they are like animals. 19For people and animals share the same fate—both breathea and both must die. So people have no real advantage over the animals. How meaningless! 20Both go to the same place—they came from dust and they return to dust. 21For who can prove that the human spirit goes up and the spirit of animals goes down into the earth? 22So I saw that there is nothing better for people than to be happy in their work. That is why we are here! No one will bring us back from death to enjoy life after we die.

He later concludes the book of Ecclesiastes in chapter 12 by saying:

8“Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless.”

9Keep this in mind: The Teacher was considered wise, and he taught the people everything he knew. He listened carefully to many proverbs, studying and classifying them. 10The Teacher sought to find just the right words to express truths clearly.a

11The words of the wise are like cattle prods—painful but helpful. Their collected sayings are like a nail-studded stick with which a shepherdb drives the sheep.

12But, my child,c let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out.

13That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. 14God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.

In the end, it all comes back to God, doesn’t it? Human life can be futile…it can seem pointless and meaningless at times…but in the end, it is the life we are given. It is our fate…and the best we can do is to enjoy our hard work and enjoy this life…our life.

As a new mom, I think one of the gifts that children give us as adults is the ability to see life as new again. By the time most of us reach middle age, we feel embattled…exhausted…overwhelmed by life…life somehow seems to lose some of its meaning and wonder. But during those moments, try looking at life through a child’s eyes…their first Christmas…their first Easter…their first birthday…their first time at Disney World…their first day at school…

We celebrate all their firsts…but I wonder, is it really just for them? Perhaps we, too, can momentarily adopt their eyes of wonder and remember a time when life seemed new and exciting…and limitless…

Remember that first day of college? When you felt like anything and everything was possible? Remember your first place? It may have been small, but it was still yours…and you knew it was just the beginning…

Remember your first kiss? Your first love…

Remember your heart racing when your saw your husband for the first time? Or how excited and nervous you felt on your first date…or the first time you knew he was the One?

Remember the day you found out you were pregnant? Or the feeling that overwhelmed you when you first heard your unborn child’s heartbeat at your doctor’s office…the steady rhythmic beat bringing you to tears and wonder, reminding you that life is a gift.

Like the autumn winds after a scorching hot summer, may some of those memories of your “firsts” refresh your spirit…

For while this life may often feel meaningless, there is beauty all around to be enjoyed…to be re-experienced. For it is our fate…our days are numbered…enjoy your work. For remember, even God on the 7th day rested. He looked back on His work and said, “It is good.”

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