Feeling Useful

During a recent morning walk, I had a chat with my neighbor. Her husband works at a local concert venue that recently canceled their entire summer program – Celtic Woman, Emmylou Harris, National Symphony Orchestra, Goo Goo Dolls, all kaput thanks to COVID-19.

When I asked if they would be OK, she said the staff was being paid. But then she dug deeper, saying that her husband was having a hard time with nothing to do and nowhere to go. He is an active guy – hiker, biker, outdoorsman, etc. – and I have seen him on dark, sub-freezing mornings mounting a motorcycle for his commute. Now, she said, he is sleeping till 11 a.m. and fighting depression on cloudy days. After two months of social isolation, he is adrift.

One of the most basic human needs is meaningful purpose, especially feeling important to and needed by others. It goes beyond being a source of income, though that may be part of the equation for some. Many think that fame or popularity is the epitome of meaning, but it goes far beyond entertaining people or impressing them.

We find our ultimate sense of value by improving the lot of our fellow man, even to the point of sacrificing in order to enrich them. We celebrate the bravery and dedication of healthcare professionals for good reason.

Now this is not a popular truth in today’s “I’ve got this” culture. Many revel in a driven, entrepreneurial, climb the corporate ladder, “I can have it all” mindset. Relationships have been replaced by hookups. Childbirth is delayed or ditched for adventure. Instead of making a true home many opt for a second house on the lake.

But it is getting harder to ignore the elephant in the room: We not only need each other; we need to be needed by each other on a deep, committed, sacrificial level.

The primary place where we make the most difference to others is within the family. While radical feminists have slandered motherhood for decades, the woman whose children “rise up and call her blessed” (Prov. 31:28) has found deep meaning the corporate world cannot provide. A husband and father who guides, protects and provides for his family finds his true worth in seeing others mature and thrive through his selfless efforts.

Spiritual family also provides a venue for meaning. Paul assures the Corinthians, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (II Cor. 12:15). He tells the Philippians that while he would rather depart this world and be with the Lord, “to remain in the flesh is more needful for you” (Philip. 1:24).

In a famous judgment scene Jesus sets forth the criteria for genuine discipleship: “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me … inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matt. 25:40).

The coronavirus destroys more than flesh. It also disrupts the healthy from serving others in meaningful ways. We need to search outside the box for new ways to be relevant and useful.