Existential angst deals with the general unease we may feel as humans regarding our existence on this earth. It can create a bit of tug of war between our mind/heart and our body.
As I see it, there are two different kinds of angst that center around 1) our physical world (just the normal life stuff like paying bills, waiting in line at Kroger, taking a walk around town, etc.) and 2) all things spiritual. Often it's hard to tear the two apart because they are so intricately woven together.
We know a steady breakfast of coffee and donuts is not good for us, yet it seems to be what we crave. We know that forgiving our mate for the unkind things they said is wise, yet we struggle to let go. We can feel overwhelmed by the political and societal trends of the world around us. We may know we are significant and unique, but, on the other hand, we feel powerless and unworthy at times. These types of scenarios create inside us a sense of existential angst. [Heck! Just losing my car keys is enough to drive me bonkers!]
We're happy, but not quite. We're satisfied, but not quite. We're fine, thank you very much, but not quite. We want God to be our first love, but we also don't.
Let's dig deeper.
Have you ever felt like your heart is at perfect peace, your joy abounds, you are fulfilled and satisfied?
And then other times, you are listless, restless, disgruntled, uneasy, out of sorts?
Although my thought life has taken a 360, and I am more skilled and habitual about taking toxic thoughts captive than I ever have been in my life, sometimes I have this one little stumbling block called fear that gets in my way. The next one in line is lack of trust.
When I am afraid, I long for comfort. When I am distrustful, I doubt and become skeptical.
Okay, so we recognize the ups and downs of our lives physically and spiritually.
But what is the purpose of existential angst?
1) It shows us we may have a problem. Kinda a no-brainer, huh? If I am perpetually irritable and often arriving late to work, I've created a recipe for angst. I need to acknowledge the problem, and then I can move into a few solutions, such as getting up earlier, delegating morning tasks, removing some to-do items from my list, etc.
2) Existential angst pushes to the surface whom or what we love. Our hearts are lonely hunters, always on the look-out to find and be loved, to discover worth and be deemed worthy. Like she camels in heat, we paw the ground, sniff the air, and quite desperately, impatiently search for a "mate." Unfortunately, just about any mate will do. (See Jeremiah 2 for more details.)
Allow me to expound just a bit on point two.
God created us to desire love and to desire to be loved. He made us to want to find worth and to be found worthy and accepted. This is the great, divinely initiated HUNGER, that voracious void that gnaws in our veins.
But no worries, friend. We WILL satisfy that appetite for love and worth all right. We will stuff ourselves with our jobs, our spouses, our friends, our food, our money, our things, our exploits, our titles, our appearance....
What, dear friend, is the Love of your life? What gets most of your attention? For whom do you work, toil, seek validation, approval, acceptance, comfort, identity? How do you deal with existential angst? Basically whatever we are "obsessed" with is what we truly love. Whatever we give our mental time and energy to is what we love.
As Christ followers, we may be ashamed to admit our struggles. We may feel embarrassed to let others know that we are not exactly the victorious Christian sojourners we were essentially designed to be. It seems if we do confess the trappings of our flesh and the spiritual battles we are facing, the conclusion is that we don't exactly reflect the glory of God.
It may have something to do with displaced or misordered love. As humans, we are wired to latch. Wired to cling. Wired to love. Often our human tendencies, our addictions come as the result of misplaced or disordered love.
Our general come back is...."Well, my life conditions may stink, but inside I have the joy and peace of my salvation." Yes. That is the clincher, but what difference does God say that very fact should have in your life?
In other words, in the core of our souls we know we are saved. We managed to grab hold of eternal life by the mercy and grace of God and the work of Christ. We are regenerate souls, having tapped into joy everlasting. How should this knowledge affect how we live?
Frankly, I have a good deal of existential angst...and, on the one hand, I think this is kinda normal for Christians. After all, this is not our home. Not only does God instill deeply in us to our very core the desire for love and worth, He also sets "eternity" there.
This means we will never be quite satisfied here, in every situation, 100% of the time.
We may have moments of divine revelation and joy. We may learn to live in and walk in God's divine peace. We may even dance with the great King and feel His presence as He delights over us.
That I can willfully chose to place God and only God on the throne of my heart is perhaps the greatest privilege I may ever be given. The truth is, I don't want to have displaced, out of order love in my life, but sometimes I recognize that I do! Sometimes I am afraid that what God says is really too good to be true. I want to live with abandoned trust, love, adoration toward Him, but sometimes I'm scared of what this might mean.
Ah, there's the rub. And now you know why I spend so much of my energy and time writing about thoughts and why I've built a ministry about gratitude. Our thinking drives our emotions and actions. If there is nothing else I can do, I can at least choose the proper thoughts. This gives me the greatest opportunity to live a fulfilled, contented life on this earth despite the angst (practical or spiritual) I'm sure to experience along the way.
And I don't want to miss the purpose that God has for me either. My life is not about me. Of course, it starts with me, but ultimately it must be about serving others and sharing the love of Christ. I can best fulfill this objective when my thoughts are healthy and filled with God's truth.
Bottom line: Setting God first in your heart and mind has the power to influence the day-to-day existential angst you may experience.
The spiritual trumps the physical.
To sum it all up, in my humble opinion, some existential angst is Biblical - we are not of this world (John 15:19) and God has set eternity in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11). However, existential angst that results from not loving God before all others and from not loving Him with all our hearts and minds...well, that's sin and must break His heart.
If the purpose of existential angst is to help us discover that we have a problem and that God may not be "seated" in the #1 spot in our lives for our love, devotion, and attention, what are we to do?
We acknowledge the angst. And we muster the courage to:
If you want to put God first above everyone and everything else, well, that is a very, very good start to discovering the secret to a life well-lived and fulfilled. Start exercising your heart and mind toward achieving that desire. Choose to think properly and truthfully. Ask God to heal your heart and mind. He will do it in His good timing.
If you'd like to complete a few exercises about taking those toxic thoughts captive, check out the FREEBIES tab above for worksheets and exercises to get you on your way to a healthy heart and mind.
And thanks so much for stopping by!
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