I knew Laura had a 6-year-old daughter, but I didn’t know the details. At dinner tonight, she told me her story.
“I never had any emotional connection with her father,” she said. “He’s a decent man and he tries to be in her life, but there was never any feeling between us. I was always just desperate for attention from a man — so I kept getting it however I could.”
Laura is 28 now. She’s a strikingly attractive blue-eyed blonde with a successful career in management. But she admitted to me tonight that she has always tried to find something that was missing from her life.
“When I was little, my daddy told me that I was a mistake,” she said. “I was an accident. They didn’t want me. My mom admitted it was true, but it mostly affected me with my dad, especially since he had another ‘accident’ a year after me with another woman. I craved his attention and couldn’t get enough to make me feel like I was loved. So when teen-age boys started wanting me, that was my way to feel loved. I kept looking for more and more — but I never found what I was looking for.”
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my own pursuit of “more.” Laura’s ways of pursuing something more was different than my ways have been, but our motivations haven’t been so different — and this is more common in our society than any of us like to believe.
It’s a common dilemma in our culture. The pursuit of more — more of something we can’t quite identify — is killing us, yet we die when we finally stop pursuing more.
Just like Laura, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
The things I believe will satisfy me rarely do. I always find myself wanting more, but maybe I’m chasing more of the wrong things. It’s our cravings and longings that keep us moving forward in life, but craving the wrong things — or pursuing the wrong things because we’re confused about what we’re really craving — is self-destructive.
In his haunting song, “Traveling Alone,” singer/songwriter Jason Isbell refers to his past — when he was lost in addictions — as himself having been “strangled by my appetite.” Most of us are similarly hurting ourselves one way or another — as we desperately chase the next thing which we hope will make us happy.
But if we give up on trying to fill our needs, we stagnate and die. For most people in modern culture, it’s a mad race to find one thing or another — always something more — all of which fail to make us happy, followed by eventual lethargy and boredom and depression when we give up on life. That’s when nihilism sets in, even for people who don’t know what the word means.
The pursuit of more in our culture leads us to emptiness but the lack of such pursuit leads to death. That’s a paradox that leads a lot of people to believe life has no pursue and no meaning. But as Christian songwriter Terry Scott Taylor writes in a song he wrote for the band Daniel Amos (“Ribbons & Bows“), life is full of such mysteries:
Love is a question mark
Life’s in a shadow box
God hides himself sometimes
Inside a paradox
We are created to have basic needs which must be fulfilled. Just as we need food and water to survive, we also need love and connection to find peace. That’s a complex need and it’s further complicated by the traumatic experiences of the human life, even more for some than others.
I lived for many years without understanding what I was looking for. I pursued a number of different things — which I’ve outlined for you here before — for many years before I realized how damaged I had been by things which were missing from my life.
Some people are eager to explain it all as a need to find God. Ultimately, God is the source of the things which we need and crave — even though we rarely realize that — but it doesn’t mean that finding God or joining a church is going to fix everything.
In fact, for a lot of people, organized religion is a place to hide from the deeper and more powerful spiritual experiences they’re looking for.
I’ve chased “more” as a religious experience. I even served on a church staff when I was young and almost went into the ministry. I’ve chased more by trying to be successful. I’ve chased more by trying to be famous and loved and praised by people who don’t even know me. I’ve chased relationships which I hoped could finally make me feel loved and wanted and understood.
I can tell you a lot of things which haven’t worked for me. And more hauntingly, I can tell you things which I believe would have a chance of helping if I could find them. But it’s still a story of longing. A story of craving. Of appetite. It’s a story of craving something more — something which I can almost reach out and touch at times.
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. And on some terrifying nights when I feel close to hopelessness — such as tonight — I fear that I never will.
Note: If you’ll look below, you’ll find two short videos which comment on this search for more in similar ways. “Happiness” is a very “in your face” presentation of modern culture as a dangerous rat race in which we’re chasing happiness that’s being sold to us in forms that never quite bring what we want. “More” is a more nuanced look at the same issue, depicting a man who’s full of fire to achieve something seeing his life devolve into something entirely different as he achieves success — only to discover that what he was looking for was in something simple that he gave up long ago. These are both excellent, but “More” is one of my favorite short films. Its haunting music makes it even more effective.