Observation #2: Significance and Security

This is a continuation of a series I started last week. I am examining a number of things that are always true, but are now especially clear in light of COVID-19. These aren’t meant to be statements of expertise or anything like it – just some observations that make up part of my worldview. Here is the list, with the other ones I have written linked:

  • We are not in control
  • We long for significance and security
  • We (and things) are complicated
  • We need grace from/for each other
  • We are deeply interconnected
  • We are more selfish than we think
  • We have a great capacity for love

This observation I can’t take credit for. It was actually something I learned in seminary last semester. The idea is that all humans possess a deep longing for two things: significance and security. Significance and security are really just two words that serve as short hand for two questions that are central to the human experience. Does my life have meaning? Am I going to be okay? (security) The theological idea here is that our hearts are discontent, unsettled, and experience a deep sense of longing because of these two powerful questions. And the only thing that offers true, unwavering significance and security is the Gospel of Christ. The idea of a perfect, just God who loves us with an unending, sacrificial, merciful love gives our life great meaning, and it offers us eternal security. Of course, we fail to remember this and look at all kinds of other substitutes to give us significance and security.

What I love so much about this idea of our longing for significance and security is that it is so easy to see this at work in all aspects of the human experience. We can look around and see how so much conflict, discord, or despair come from our sense of significance or security being threatened. We feel discouraged when we can’t find a meaning to our life, or see meaning in the suffering around us. We feel scared when it becomes unclear whether we will in fact, be okay. We make compromises and impulsive decisions in a desire to gain security or significance. This is always true, and I have seen it in a few specific ways over the last few months.

Significance. I have seen this one manifested in some kind of unique ways. For some, the coronavirus has threatened their sense of significance. Incomes lost, jobs that once seemed vital and honorable are now discovering they aren’t considered “essential.” Or just in a very simple sense, it can push us towards despair thinking, “What is the point of all this?” It all feels so chaotic, out of our control, and scary that it is hard to see how there could be meaning behind this. For others, the coronavirus has given them an opportunity to lead a meaningful life. I have seen this in the way that millions of people have rallied around the idea of social distancing, feeling incredibly motivated by the idea of making a change for the greater good. That alone gives us a sense of meaning. Now I’m not just sitting around at home all day for no reason; instead it is a sacrificial, others-focused decision. Loving others sacrificially gives us a great sense of meaning.

Another example I have seen is a podcaster/lifehacker/entrepreneur named Tim Ferriss. He was one of the first people I saw paying close attention to the coronavirus before it hit America. But rather than reveling in his accurate predictions, he has overall forgone the opportunity to say “I told you so!” and instead has started to look for opportunities to help in any way possible (such as using his closely followed podcast to invite others to help). He is using his platform and influence for the greater good. He seems especially passionate and fired up about this cause. He is doing everything he can to lead a meaningful life in light of all that is going on.

Security. This one is even simpler to explain and observe. The idea is that we all just want to know, on a literal, physical, and existential level – “Am I going to be okay?” And part of the fear and anxiety introduced by the coronavirus is that this question feels almost impossible to answer. And similar to how we are never actually in control, we never actually know for sure that we are going to be okay. But we can do everything in our power to live in a set of circumstances that make us feel safe, or in other words, secure. A quick diagnostic to think about what you look to for security is how you would complete this sentence: “As long as , then I will be okay.” As long as I get to go on that vacation. As long as I have a nice retirement fund. As long as I have some friends to hang out with. As long as I can go to the gym. The list could go on and on. And there is (almost) nothing you can fill in that blank with that can’t be stripped away. And we are always subconsciously aware of that. And because of that, we don’t ever fully feel secure. COVID-19 has just made that especially clear.

So this brings us back to where we started. The idea that we are all longing for significance and security is a theological idea. Meaning it describes something about the way that we relate to God. If our deepest longing is for significance and security, the greatest thing we can find is something, or someone who can eternally, unwaveringly, powerfully meet that need. The only one who is capable of holding the weight of that, who can not fail to provide these for us, is an eternal, unchanging God. If we attach our significance and security to literally anything else, it is always at risk of being taken away. The only way to experience true significance and security in our finite lives is by being united to an infinite God. It’s always true. May we see it even more clearly now.

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