By Chris Leavenworth
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve heard it said by countless adults that by lacking a certain faith or belief in a higher power, a person can live his or her whole life with something fundamentally missing. In my particular environment, it was brought to my attention in the form of evangelical sermons and personal testimonies of people my parents and other adults felt were intelligent and good role models.
In middle school and high school, I grappled with moderate to sometimes severe depression. Everything I enjoyed or looked forward to seemed fun until the moment of actually being there. Video games, music, fishing, hanging out with friends, etc.—it got to the point where I couldn’t get past not being able to see the meaning of it all. I didn’t know what it meant to live in the moment.
I began diagnosing these feelings with the sentiments I’d been told my whole life about happiness and feeling broken. Naturally, I must have fallen away from God. No other explanation could be made. I knew about depression, but that’s just a result of a spiritual battle, or so I thought. Life without God is meaningless.
Attending a weekly youth group—and getting plugged into a church—introduced me to other peers with the same internal struggles. Some claimed to have overcome these feelings by “giving it all up to God” or by having found purpose through their faith. I was fascinated by the enthusiasm of their testimony and commitment to being a better person.
At the same time, I was deeply troubled by the fact that I couldn’t achieve the same results. In fact, after I gave up all my secular music and video games, I became more depressed, which led me down a dark path of fearing maybe God was punishing me. For most of my adolescent years, I prayed and studied the bible for answers.
In my senior year, I decided that religion wasn’t going to work for me. It was a terrifying moment in my life because it wasn’t like I had lost my faith. That happened years later. I just resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t meant to reach this level others so easily had. I had nightmares for years of going to hell. Looking back as I write this, it’s really bizarre to revisit.
Several years later, in my early 20s, I made one last attempt. Before returning to the church, I did discover a glaring pattern. After time, I learned many of the devout followers I knew growing up were nowhere near as moral or happy as they claimed to be. Some were actually terrible people and did awful things while they were most active in the church, which leads me to think now that their overt spirituality was simply a manifestation of sociopathic behavior. I put that all aside, though, and rationalized that I shouldn’t be swayed by the hypocrisy of others.
I lasted six months until I could no longer rationalize theology and maintain an honest world view. I’m not writing this to say there is no God, or that there’s no purpose for religion. That’s not a conversation I’m trying to have. What I’d like to share is that eventually I discovered the value of my own life and how fortunate I truly am without reaching any supernatural conclusions. My biggest problem was simply that I wasn’t grateful enough. This world owes me nothing, and somehow I have everything I want and need.
At the age of 32, I can honestly say I’ve never felt as content as I do now. Happiness may change at any time with circumstances, but understanding things for what they are—or at least trying to—and knowing how to keep emotions on a leash has allowed me to approach life’s challenges much more objectively.
By becoming more mindful of myself, my thoughts, and how I affect my surroundings, I can cultivate personal meaning in every action I take and apply it to an otherwise nebulous yet extraordinarily rewarding existence.