Existence Pain & Filling the Emptiness

This post is “From the Drafts”. I decided to look at my drafts on WordPress —the posts I poured my heart into, but decided not to publish for one reason or another—and I think some of them want to be shared:) They are vulnerable, and I’m not an expert on anything I wax poetic on:) But I hope you enjoy them! 

My friend and I had just come back from church and were eating burgers in the car when we saw her.

She was crouched on a rusty metal staircase of an old record shop, in front of a full-wall mural of The Beatles crossing Abbey Road. Her brown hair was loosely held up in a ponytail, and you could tell by her faded and dust-coated clothes that she had been living on the streets for a while.

She had one pant leg rolled up, and in a frantic motion, she jabbed a needle into the left side of her calf, breathing heavily with her head down. Maybe it was heroin, maybe intravenous cocaine or dissolved methamphetamine, I don’t know. A moment later, she pulled her pants down and squatted to urinate on the ground, needle still in her leg.

Grappling with Sorrow

Call me sheltered, but at nineteen that was the first time I had ever seen someone do drugs. I grew up in the country, and none of my friends ever experimented with drugs, at least not while I was around anyway. I was a quiet, bookish teenager, so parties, alcohol, and drugs weren’t really on my radar. It wasn’t until I moved to the city of Seattle, WA, for an urban missions program that I began to see the painful horrors of addiction.

When I saw this woman inject, there were no words for the gravitational sorrow that tugged my heart down. Maybe it was compassion, maybe it was pity, maybe it was fear—but I felt what people feel when they see a fellow human being in a state of desperation.

My instinct was to get out of the car and speak with her, tell her she didn’t have to live this way, that there are resources and programs and people to love her. My fingers were on the door handle, but my friend stopped me before I could get out of the car. “It’s not safe.” She said with concern in her eyes. “She’s high. She’s probably not going to understand anything we say to her.” I hesitated, then slid back in my seat with a sigh.

My friend began to pray for her, and we watched her from the car for a moment, unable to take our eyes away and yet not knowing what else to do. As we sat and prayed, we watched as the woman slowly pulled the needle out of her leg and staggered down the street.

Addiction & Existence Pain

When my friend and I drove away from that parking lot, my mind was filled with questions. Questions about the nature of addiction, human suffering, and what causes people to seek drugs or become addicted. I still have those questions. I don’t have answers (I’m reading and studying, but answers are evasive.) I have a few thoughts and hopes lovingly put together, so I’m sending them your way.

We’re all looking for what will fill us up and offer relief for the pain we feel. Therapist and author Irvin Yalom calls this existence pain[1]– the pain that comes from simply existing. It’s the fears and pain surrounding life, death, love, and loss.

We all have this existence pain, undeniably some more than others. We all seek meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. So all of us—whether we are experiencing addiction or not, and whether we have a roof over our heads or sleep under the stars—all have this existence pain.

So we find ourselves with two basic needs: relief from existence pain and a hunger for purpose. The methods we use to go about meeting those needs vary. Religion, art, drugs, sex, relationships, food, addictions, music, internet, etc. All of these are various methods to fill the emptiness inside.

From the research I have seen, it seems that relational issues are usually at the core of addiction. Healthy, fulfilling relationships bring relief from existence pain and give us a purpose. I also believe that a relationship with God provides the answers we search for.  

God-Given Plans for Human Fulfillment

God gave us commands and instructions for making the best life we can on this earth. I think that Scripture is the greatest moral code for human health and happiness to ever exist. As someone who frequently doubts (my faith is weak, I’ll be the first to admit it!), something that keeps me coming back to Scripture is the depth of knowledge of human behaviour and human needs included throughout the Bible, from beginning to end.

The amount of knowledge about what people need that is found in Scripture is astounding. The systems, laws, and commands all have endless positive implications on human beings. The laws and commands address physical things such as health and avoiding disease, as well as spiritual matters and emotional well-being. That’s what helps convince me that this book was divinely put together, since the insight on human nature and what we need is so profound!

Relationship with God & The Work of the Spirit

The morality of Scripture is a good argument, but on its own it’s like a skeleton—bare bones without flesh and blood. As I mentioned before, relational issues are at the core of addiction. Following the moral codes of Scripture may help keep us from experiencing further pain, but it will not fill the emptiness inside. It will not comfort the heart that feels existence pain. It will not soothe the hurts of the human heart. It takes a living, breathing, active Savior to spark life back into a person.

We need hope like a stopped heart needs a shock. We need hope like the body needs to breathe. It’s a human need, like water, food, or sleep. Life has no meaning without hope. I may sound like a broken record, but hope is a song we all need to hear.

The Spirit Fills Us, Leads us To Healing

Did I write this whole blog just to add to the echo chamber of how brokenness screams? Maybe I did, without being aware of it. Maybe this whole thing was born out of my need to express my own pain and the sorrow that comes from seeing the pain of others. Because it is a sorrow, and we all know it, so why not meet your heart right where it hurts? I want to meet your heart there and then pour love all over it. Kiss the wound and look into your eyes and remind you, and remind myself, that hope is at our door.

Even in our broken spirits we are always reaching for the higher, for what is pure and true and right. But sometimes those good desires get pulled down and lost, like they’ve been tied to a stone and thrown into the sea. We get sunk. We can’t see light or feel love. But His Holy Spirit wants to cut these ties so you can rise to the surface. So you can rise to your calling. So you can rise to your purpose. I see pictures of life and resurrection, of hope being proclaimed in dark places, of life being breathed over dead bones. These are dreams and visions of what God can do in the most broken parts of the world. And in the most broken parts of us.

He promises restoration, He promises redemption, He promises new life—and He holds true to His promise. Restoration is found in Him and only in Him. It might not look the way we want it to, or come when we think it should, but it will be what your heart needs. He meets our hearts where the hurt is, and that’s why I herald love and justice all my days: because the world needs it, and God commanded it, and Christ lived it.

Key Thoughts & Conclusion:

We all experience pain in life and a need for purpose and fulfillment. We ease the pain and fill the voids with all manner of things, sometimes resulting in addiction. The Spirit leads us to fulfillment in Himself, but He also guides us to people and places that bring healing to our hearts. Further, He laid out commands in Scripture that teach us how to live in a way that is ultimately best for us. 

What are your addictions? What are the unhealthy things you use to ease existence pain and give yourself a purpose?

I pray you will turn to Jesus and find your purpose there. He says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest…Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29, NLT)

[1] Yalom, Irvin D. (2012) Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy. Basic Books, New York, NY.


2 thoughts on “Existence Pain & Filling the Emptiness

  1. Ruth, thank you for sharing what God so passionately lays on your heart. You communicate so clearly and concisely. Your words encourage and spur on, and I’m blessed to have them touch my own heart. God bless you as you seek to fulfill all He lays on your heart. Your pen is a power tool.

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