Today marks the one month anniversary of my veterinary missions trip to Honduras. What a coincidence considering that yesterday my brain decided to dump a massive clod of reverse culture shock on my poor soul. As many of you know, I am in veterinary school. And at this school, we have club meetings an average of twice per week. Well, you may hear “club meeting”, but we students hear “free meal!”. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to turn down free food, but this one circumstance just helped play into my sad conclusion that we as Americans really are entertaining ourselves to death. The consumeristic nature of the average American (and please realize, I as an American include myself) has made me feel physically sick. We gorge ourselves on food, on pleasure, on booze, on reality television shows and pretty clothes. And then we wonder how a six year old girl in Oregon could commit suicide. The disconnect is staggering. If we live our lives centered around our happiness and attaining things that increase our pleasure, we create a world in which all we can think about is ourselves – our mental status, our emotions, our physical desires, our financial security. And if something grates against this reality we’ve fashioned for ourselves – mood swings, depression, gluttony, drunkenness, rash words, selfish actions result. In other words, death, ladies and gentlemen. In every aspect of the word.
So, what is the remedy? First, learn the lesson your parents probably never took the time to teach you – the world is not a comedy written with you as the protagonist. Heck you’re not even on the list of players. Once you realize this, your next thought should be “if this life is not about promoting my quality of life, then what is the purpose of this life?”. In short, the reason you ask this question, the reason you feel this desire for a purpose and a direction, is the same reason why you feel that sense of fulfillment when you help someone in need, or when your soul blazes with rage at the sight of some injustice, or when you witness a stunning sunset and tears stream down your face, or when your love for someone swells to such heights you feel that your heart may burst. These desires and reactions do not belong in this world of imperfections, carnalities, and corruptions. There exists something bigger and better than our pitiful selves.
Per C.S. Lewis: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Practically? If you struggle with depression, look to work or serve. As my pastor would say, “Stop navel-gazing!”. Do you fight stress-induced gluttony? Learn to fast. The Church has done this spiritual discipline a disservice due to a backlash from the fight against eating disorders. If you are a slave to your self-image, depriving yourself of food only feeds the fire. However, if you are a slave to food, depriving yourself quenches it. Perhaps most dangerous is the fight against idleness. As a student, I am amazed how easy it is to waste time on idle pursuits (*cough* Facebook *cough*) even with a three foot stack of homework sitting next to me and five exams hanging over my head. Even more startling is how easy it becomes to concentrate on the task at hand when I turn off my internet (or close my browser if I’m listening to streaming radio), quit my e-mail client, close my RSS feeder, hide my planner, silence my phone, unplug the TV, pour a big jar of ice water/tea, and work.
In the end, it’s all about input and output (kind of like water regulation physiology). If your life is overrun with input – movies, music, google, facebook, food, drink, etc., sooner or later that’s all that will come out – pointless dialogue, selfish activities, directionless living, self-mortification. Seek to operate in the realm of output – serving, learning, teaching, appreciating, loving – and watch the meaningless trivialities of this life fall away as you become a more grounded, more self-controlled, and more accessible individual.