On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter delivered an address live from the oval office that would soon become known as “The Malaise Speech.” Here is an excerpt from that address:
“It’s clear that the true problems of our Nation are much deeper—deeper than gasoline lines or energy shortages, deeper even than inflation or recession… In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.”
Carter is certainly not alone in his observation that “The American Dream” of nice big houses and cars has been unable to fill the holes in our hearts. Addiction specialist Johann Hari puts it this way: “We’ve traded floorspace for friends, we’ve traded stuff for connections, and the result is we are one of the loneliest societies that has ever been.”
So what are we supposed to do, when nothing that we try works? What if I buy new gadgets, and I still feel… bored? What if I binge-watch Netflix, but my own life still feels empty? What if I go to work day after day, but I can’t help but wander if what I do really matters to anyone, anyways?
A new year is beginning. Do you find yourself hopeful that this year, things will be different? Maybe that feeling of emptiness that so many of us feel is telling us that we are missing out on something vastly important.
I cannot tell you how many times I have resolved to make changes in my life. “From now on, I am going to do the dishes every day. I am going to eat healthy. I am going to pray for an hour each morning. I am going to live a life with purpose, making the most of every moment.”
But then that “malaise” that Jimmy Carter warned about comes creeping back in. I find myself turning to “stuff” instead of to meaningful human connection, against the advice of Johann Hari.
But as cheesy at it may sound in a society so traditionally steeped in religious tradition, Jesus has answers.
He told us that He came to give us a new kind of water that would not simply leave us thirsty again. He told us that He came to teach us how to live abundantly. He modeled a life of intentionality and passion.
In Ephesians 5:26-27, we are told that Jesus died for the church “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory.”
To be sanctified is to be set apart as something that is special and different. Do you want to get out of the rat race and start living a different kind of life, one with true meaning? To be washed in holy water is to have a fresh start in life, day after day, as His blood continually cleanses us. Do you think you could use a new start now and then? To be presented to God “in all of your glory” is to unlock that potential that always seems to get snuffed out by “the malaise.” Do you want God’s help to live abundantly?
Jesus says those things happen in the church. Yes, as cheesy as it sounds in a nation as traditionally religious as ours. Yes, even though the church is made up of human beings who, by their very nature as human beings, often seem pretty insensitive and dimwitted. Yes. Jesus says those things happen in the church. Will you join us?