The Empty Life
These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. Jude 1:12-13
I once thought that happiness was found in following my desires, simply doing whatever I wanted. I knew that many of the things I wanted were sinful, but I also knew that God would forgive me. So, I thought I could do whatever I wanted and simply be absolved later. I saw the mercy of God as a cosmic loophole which meant I could have the best life on Earth – following my appetite – and still be forgiven, enjoying heaven in the afterlife.
Looking back, I can now see that it was following my stomach that led me to addiction, misery, and disaster. At first, my appetite did provide pleasure. I used pills for a reason. I liked them – a lot. Like any immediate gratification though, the pleasure always faded, leaving me empty. There are a lot of words I can use to describe my addiction, but empty seems to sum up the melancholy I experienced in following my stomach above all. In my addiction, I’d wake up each day disappointed at my life. I was joyless, purposeless, and meaningless. I promised that someday things would be different, but I knew they wouldn’t be. I was empty and hopeless.
This is the sentiment that today’s passage evokes in me. I love the poetry of Jude’s rapid-fire metaphors, but every time I read it, I’m transported back to that absolute emptiness of my addiction. In the passage, Jude described those who would lead God’s children astray. It’s an easy passage to point at other people – those outside our faith. Jude’s message though, is about those inside the church who pretend to be of the faith, but who follow their own appetite above all. That’s been me. I’ve sat in church and claimed to follow God while living for myself above all else. I’ve been the waterless cloud, the fruitless tree, and the wandering star. I’ve known the emptiness of following me and I’ve absolutely hated that life.
Paradoxically, I’ve not found true joy, purpose, and meaning in following my stomach, but rather, in abandoning my will for God’s. My appetite leads not to fullness, but emptiness. So, daily, I must make a genuine effort to point my life at God rather than self. That’s faith. That’s recovery. My way leads to futility, despair, and emptiness. Only God’s way leads to joy, purpose, and meaning.