Thirsty for Meaning

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By: Scott Reall

One day, as Jesus was walking through Samaria on a hot day, he came upon a well in the middle of the desert. Nobody was there except this Samaritan woman. Jesus and the woman got into a discussion about her life—as Christ often does; pulling us out of deep isolation and exposing our true human condition. What we learn about this woman is that she was struggling. We know that she struggled with shame as she came to the well at a time that no one else would be there. Jesus exposed her human condition. We see a pattern of her search for love and purpose as she had been married five times. She was seeking the answer for her human condition: the longing to be loved and the find the meaning and purpose of life with love. [1]

In this encounter, Jesus is speaking to the whole human race about our struggles with our human condition. Outside of a relationship with Him, anywhere we turn to find the answer of our longing hearts or to feel the meaning and purpose of love has the potential to often leave us empty and void of that love and meaning. Theologian Richard Rohr speaks of this longing for love. Rohr teaches:

“What we lack in an addictive society or a family is a sense of being alive, really interiorly alive. And so we look for pseudo-ways to feel alive. They never work, but for some reason they’re better than doing nothing. Nicotine, caffeine, eating food to give us some kind of sensation, pouring liquor our our throats. Or we overstimulate ourselves by gambling or by sexual activity – something to make a non-alive person feel alive. It’s a testimony to an utter lack of spirituality.” [2]

The world is filled with broken people like the woman at the well, desperate for love and significance. Within the human condition is an innate desire to love and be loved, so why are there so many broken hearts? Is there anything in this world that gives us as much meaning as love? Many of us try to deny our need for love by distracting our consciousness with life-controlling issues, but our hearts will never be truly satisfied.

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At the end of the day, we all have one core need—to be loved. When this is absent from our lives, we experience lack of purpose and deep feelings of isolation, because a life without love feels meaningless.

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I often experience the feeling of meaninglessness when I am in downtime. Sometimes weekends, holidays, or being alone at night. In those moments of feeling disconnected to the purpose of my life, I notice a slight depression ormelancholy, then comes this instinctive awareness of longing for intimate connection. If I stay disconnected, the depression and melancholy gets more intense, and so does my need to escape. However I chose to numb, it disconnects me from the true meaning of my life.

Meaninglessness is the plague of modern man. We all have been the woman at the well. We all are searching and longing for an answer. Christ, as he presents Himself, acknowledges that we can drink all day long, insatiably unsatisfied, and the world will offer us no better option that to keep coming back to the same old well.


[1]Bible, John, 4:1-26

[2]Rohr, Richard. “Feeling Alive.”

Thank you Disillusionment

I am a recovering perfectionist. What that means is every day I fight for my worthiness by admitting that I am powerless over my need to prove my worthiness. It means admitting that I make mistakes, and that people may not always like me (cringe). And it means believing that improving is possible, perfection is not. Unlike a substance addiction, perfectionism evades definitive ‘using’ or ‘not using.’

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Without practicing daily awareness, my addiction is “more crafty than any other wild animal” (to quote Genesis 3:1). It slithers into my life in subtle, deceptive ways. Perfectionism talks over my rational thinking, fabricates myths about what is possible and whispers to me doubt about being God’s beloved. It disguises itself in all the bustle of daily living: my relationships, my work, my home… My kid scored a “5” on his AP European History exam? Time to rejoice! (and just proof of my perfect parenting)… A co-worker thinks my latest idea is genius? So grateful to help! (and affirmation that I am a perfect employee).

So many thoughts collectively spinning through my unconscious every day. Sorting the worthy from the unworthiness? Exhausting.

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I watched the Olympics, wishing that I could appreciate them the way I once did. But all I can see now is the exhausting drive for perfection. Because let’s be honest. We are hoping to see the perfect swimmer or gymnast and marvel at their flawlessness. And then replay that flawlessness over and over in the highlight reels. I would love to believe that all of the athletes are well-balanced individuals who mirror strong work ethics and a belief in excellence. Perhaps they exist. But I would chance to say that beneath most of that competition lies fierce comparison, struggle to feel good enough, a deep need to feel accepted.

There is a fine line between using our gifts and exploiting them. I get it. I really, really get it. We all secretly want that moment when the world says, “You are the absolute best” because the addict in us believes that will fix us.

The problem is…the world is fickle. It likes to send us all sorts of messages. Perform. Achieve. Look your best. Don’t let them see you sweat. Make something of yourself. You can do anything you set your mind to. It’s all a matter of how much you want it. You can have it all!

The word says that you can work out, be present for your kids, spend quality time with your spouse, pray, meditate, go to work, achieve amazing things, make plenty of money, pay the bills, have a photo-worthy house, schedule all your appointments and never forget one, do the household chores, be involved in church, go on mission trips, volunteer in your community, coach the baseball team, take the kids get to all their life-enriching after-school activities, maintain a network of close friends, cook a low-carb dinner, buy organic food, get a good nights’ sleep, never appear to be aging and never look tired.

Until the day you realize you can’t. We have been set-up.

Worldly success and others’ approval is a myth. The perfect life is a myth. As soon as we think we have it, it eludes us. As soon as we have all the plates spinning in the air, we drop one, and sweep it up quietly. Just as long as no one knows…right? Because it seems like everyone else has this perfection thing down.

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We have to accept that life’s perfect or imperfect moments are not a reflection of my worthiness. Who we are meant to be; who we were created to be is in the world and not of it. Our paths need to be guided by God’s deep love for us. Easier said than done? Yes.

So ask yourself: what am I trying to perfect and who am I perfecting it for? By whose standard am I living? Why? And for how long? If we can get to the heart of why we look for perfection, we can start to loosen its hold over us, one day of mindful living at a time. Let’s all agree to talk about being imperfect more, get out of our heads, silence the doubt, agree to not be complicit in perpetuating myths so we can all live better lives.

The Vulnerability of the Mountaintop

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This week I was reflecting on my struggle with what I call the “mountaintop experience”. This is the place and moments where I can have great vision for my life. Vision is a great thing. Vision will make the difference between success and failure on the path to change. Oswald Chambers says “Wherever there is vision there is also a life of honesty and integrity because the vision gives me the moral incentive.[1]

I am vulnerable in the mountaintop experience when I’m living the vision I want because I cannot stay on the mountaintop forever. Next month I’ll be headed to Minneapolis where I have been asked to speak and train the next generation of facilitators. I’ll be in the middle of ministry, and in the lead role where people are seeking my wisdom—this is a place where it’s so easy to have purpose and vision. But I can’t stay in Minneapolis forever. After a few days, I’ll board the plane and come back home to Nashville, and dirty dishes and bills are waiting. Plain. Old. Scott. It’s easy to lose perspective, so in the valley of everyday life where it is most critical to have a vision for my purpose. Most of life is spent in the day-to-day grind of life. It is in the valley that I must not lose vision, or I will be distracted by all the voices around me.

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It’s in the day to day that I must ask myself, “What are the things I want to live my life by instead of what others have told me I should live by?” I must make the intrinsic choice to live out the values I believe in. I can’t be about the approval of others and stay on the right path in difficult circumstances. My vision can’t be extrinsically driven.

Being alone in the dull-drums of daily life, I lose motivation because I lose sight of my vision. I don’t believe what I cannot see. On the mountain I see it all clearly, but down in the valley, the buildings and trees blind me. I need a vision in my day-to-day routines because Christ has purpose for me there.

The bible says in Proverbs 29:18, “Without a vision the people lose restraint[2].” What is restraint? It is self-discipline while standing in temptation to say, “No, I am not going down the wrong path”. Even in that very moment my choices steer my course. On the mountaintop I feel so close to God but when I come down in the daily I lose vision.

How do we keep a fresh vision alive and in front of us? We must share vision together and be willing for vulnerability, inviting God to lead. God gives a picture of the future, which will motivate all my actions in the present, and I will no longer be stuck in the failures of the past. Being a part of a healing community keeps me inspired as it keeps God’s vision in front of me. This is the great gift of community.

Without a God-inspired vision, we are extremely susceptible. A vision based on circumstances will create idols and distractions that ultimately leave us feeling deeply uninspired. If we put Christ first, he will give us abundant inspiration—a vision of what he wants for our life. This vision will ignite purpose, and there we will find freedom.

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[1] From ‘My Utmost for His Highest’ by Oswald Chambers, May 9th

[2] New American Bible Revised Edition