Starving to Death
However, looking from a slightly different angle, this is also the main question I see men and women in their thirties and forties asking. These middle years are when the idealism of our twenties wears off. They are when grown up disappointments start to take root.
I see husbands in this age group who are tired of their wives rejecting them emotionally and physically. These men are exhausted because “she always wants me to be something I can’t be!” or because “She doesn’t respect me!” or because “She’s never interested in being my lover!" These men are starving for companionship.
I see women feeling lost in distant marriages. Sure, both partners do the work that allows basic life to happen, but underneath it all the wife is thinking, “He doesn’t take time to understand my heart. He doesn’t even know who I am anymore!” She is thinking, “I used to be an interesting person. I don't like myself anymore. Where have I gone?” She catches herself daydreaming, “I would feel so much more alive if I could be with someone like me. Someone who could adore me again." These women are starving for affection.
I see others discouraged about career and personal dreams they’ve tried to chase. These pursuits have have left a huge gap, and those who live with that gap feel exhausted and embarrassed. They cry out, “I risked everything for nothing!” or “None of this was worth what it cost!” or “They took everything I had and then threw me away!” These people are starving for a sense that all they have done is worth something in a world that feels unfair and meaningless.
Scores of adults are walking around with these questions and others like them, trying to keep going, trying to keep working, trying to keep raising children, trying to save a little here or pay off a little there, but there is a growing sense of futility to it all. And on days when the self-pep talks fade, the hunger grows so big that excuses start to form. We become reactionary, demanding, impatient. We can’t walk by the bakery and smell that bread baking without thinking about how easy it would be to steal a loaf.
A husband, after fifteen years of being rejected physically by a condescending, displeased wife, reaches out for a woman who sincerely wants him. A wife, after twenty years of offering her husband her heart without results, stumbles into a man online who adores her. An employee has chased an honest life dream without success too long and finally finds a way to bend integrity, cheating just enough to get ahead.
Finally, after years and years of trying, the decision is made to step around the rules somehow. And if anyone notices this and has the audacity to challenge that decision, a volcanic anger erupts. “Stop judging me! You don’t understand! I was starving! I asked for help that never came! It wasn’t fair! I had to do something to survive!”
In these excuses, a new breed of justice is created. There is a new equation, and it works like this: if I am hurting badly enough, then it’s OK to break the rules. When I am in pain, I deserve to feel relief.
I can understand why people draw those conclusions, and I have drawn them too many times myself. Still, the Bible seems to take a different route. It doesn't say, "Hey, when suffering gets too intense, you can ditch life in Christ. It calls us to die so that we can live. It urges us to run with our hunger-induced temptations back to the God who has promised to be our bread when we are starving. And as far as I can tell, that isn't always a neat little process like you see in the movies. A lot of times it's messy, confusing, and brutal. A lot of times we feel abandoned by God before we understand that he has been chasing us hard and with great love all along.
Because of this, there is a tremendous value to the seasons of life when we feel like we are starving to death. There are lessons we can learn in this very desperation that we cannot learn by reading books or by listening to sermons. Many of us have to experience this sort of raw, comprehensive need to reach the next level of knowing God and His indwelling.
During this learning process, we will likely make mistakes. Hopefully those mistakes won't do us too much harm, though sometimes terrible consequences can result from stealing to fill our bellies. Even if the consequences aren't horrific, what most of us find after stealing is that stealing doesn't fix the problem. The hunger comes back, and often it comes back even stronger. In fact after our remedies don't work, we feel even more lonely, even more unwanted, even more disillusioned with the world and how it works. To find real relief, we have to walk into the situation full on and learn the lesson the pain is teaching us.
If you are in this uncomfortable stage of life, feeling desperate and hungry, I want you to know you are not alone. This is not a bizarre trouble that is only happening to you. It’s epidemic.
If you have stolen and find yourself even more despondent and frustrated, I want you to hear that there is hope in true repentance, though the honesty that repentance requires will probably feel like dying before it feels like living.
If you are staring into the bakery window, quivering because you realize for the first time that you might be willing to take what isn’t yours, I want to just put my arms around you and let you cry on my shoulder. I know you are tired. I know your stomach hurts with a desire for a different life. I know you are disillusioned and trying not to ask questions that scare you to death.
But it’s OK. It’s OK. This is not the end of the story.
The next few months (or years) might be messy, and you might learn things about yourself that you didn’t want to know. My guess is that you probably won’t end up with a bunch of money, a new truck, a new baby, a gorgeous new spouse, or a yard full of cheering fans like those cheesy Christian movies promise. But there are treasures to be gained through this season, treasures that can never be taken from you.
Take heart, friend, and "do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you." You are standing at the doorway of discovering how mighty the gospel is and how terribly much you are loved. The present transformation that is taking place inside you is developing you into a beautiful being who will commune with God for the rest of eternity. He has a plan, even now. This is the beginning of the end of the shadowlands.
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Art: "The Bread Basket" by Salvador Dali (1945)