Get Off the “Meaning Treadmill”

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We all want to figure out life. We want to understand. We want to know what it all means. And that’s where I want to begin: with the simple premise that every person longs for meaning.

Meaning is both the way we define what matters most in life and how we pursue that. Meaning is how we decide what’s more or less important—and if we’re lucky, it’s how we know what’s the most important thing of all.

I like how this psychologist puts it: “As human beings, we need to make meaning of our existence. Meaning gives definition to our life and our life path. This search for meaning is often challenging. How do we make sense of who we are within a world that seems out of balance with poverty, war, and famine on the one hand and tremendous privilege on the other?”[1]

I mentioned in the prelude that we’re going to be exploring what it means to live in three directions: upward, inward, and outward. And here in the first movement, we’re looking at what it means to live upward, which might seem a strange choice.

If we’re talking about the art of living, it seems like inward (us) and outward (others) would be the most important. The reason we’re beginning upward, though, is that the way we understand God changes everything. I believe that with all my heart.

See, what we believe (or disbelieve) about God shapes the way we think and the way we act. That’s why figuring out how to live inward and outward depends on living upward.

Usually, though, we look for meaning in the next big life event, rather than in our relationship with God. When I get to college. When I graduate. When I get my dream job. When I get married. When I have kids. When I own a house. When I get promoted.

Those aren’t bad things. The problem comes when we expect them to provide a level of meaning they can’t.

At some point we find ourselves asking why we cared so much. We might be sitting in our offices doing our “perfect” jobs, wondering why we ever expected this to make such a difference in our lives. There always comes a moment when the thing that was supposed to provide meaning doesn’t, and all we can say is, “Really? That’s it?”

What happens next is we figure we were chasing the wrong thing . . . so we chase the next thing instead.

The next job, the next relationship, the next amount of money. The “meaning treadmill” can last a lifetime—but it doesn’t have to. Meaning isn’t floating around somewhere, waiting to be captured. Meaning is made—it’s what happens at the intersection of upward/inward/outward. It’s what happens when what we think and believe is expressed in (or collides with) how we act. Part of the art of living is learning how to make the right meaning out of our lives.

And that depends on how we relate to God.

A lot of the time we’re like fish, swimming around our little aquariums. Now I don’t know much about the consciousness levels of fish, but I don’t imagine a fish thinking, Wow, my water is so interesting today! I really notice it! It seems like it’s about, maybe, 0.3 degrees warmer, and it just feels so good sliding across my scales while I swim![2]

Finish reading chapter one here.

Fish are like us when it comes to meaning! The most important thing in life—God, in whom we live, move, and have our being[3]—so often escapes our attention.

Which is why I’m glad you’re reading this, because I can ask you straight out: What is more important than your relationship with God?

I know that’s a “pastor” kind of question, but that doesn’t make it wrong! I mean, if there is a God who created and sustains everything (which I believe), then our relationship with God is ultimate.

Now here’s where I’m going to take us: We all need meaning, and because ultimate meaning can only be found in our relationship with God, worship is what satisfies our need for meaning.

You might be like, “Okay, Fusco, not sure I buy that. That’s a big jump you’re making.”

Yep, it is.

I want you to read the… keep reading chapter 1 here.


You’ve been reading Daniel Fusco’s Upward, Inward, Outward: Love God, Love Yourself, Love Others. Daniel is an expert on illustrating how Jesus is at street level with you and me. In this book he unpacks how the greatest commandment Jesus gave us is to be lived out today. We only have one life, so we need to live the most meaningful life possible!

[1] Bob Edelstein, “The Need for Authentic Meaning: Who Am I Now? Who Do I Want to Become?” Psychology Today, October 15, 2012, accessed March 3, 2017, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/authentic-engagement/201210/the-need-authentic-meaning.

[2] I do think fish are continually surprised by their little plastic plants. But I digress.

[3] Acts 17:28.

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