“No limits to my freedom can be found except freedom itself” are the famous words of Jean-Paul Sartre. The purpose of life, according to such a mantra, escapes universal definition; it is up to the individual to find purpose within their own boundless plane of existence. Radical freedom, it would seem, is the key to truly achieving fulfillment.
Radical freedom exists in our time more so than it has at any point in human history. We have the entire knowledge of humanity at our disposal, just a few clicks or a flash of fingertips away. We have technology and transportation, bidding us to travel the world, explore the faraway and somewhere, somehow, find ourselves. “Freedom” is the buzzword — freedom of knowledge, freedom of opinion, freedom of lifestyle.
As young adults, we crave such freedom. Senioritis is certainly a real thing. It seems intrinsic to our nature, at this point of our lives, to be restless, to strive for fulfillment, to take on the whole world — to yearn for radical freedom. And in this day and age, it seems we are more well-equipped than ever to accomplish our dreams. It seems that we have everything we could want or need. It seems that we should be happier than ever.
And yet, it seems the opposite is so. According to a Columbia University study, nearly one in ten Americans suffer from notable depression. Young adults — ages 18-25 — account for the highest proportion of that number, with nearly 17% percent reporting feelings of anxiety and depression that disrupt the normal pattern of their lives.
The most affected demographic, according to the study, is upper-middle class, non-Hispanic white adolescents; supposedly also the most well off, privileged, and most provided for — and the overwhelming majority of UD students. As it turns out, the saddest, most tired, indifferent souls are not the underprivileged, but rather, it seems, the overprivileged.
Life is tedium and monotony. Sometimes, the inexorable tumble of our daily experience becomes so chaotic, so fast-paced, that we can’t keep up; we become bored with so much to do. We work during the week only to get to the weekend, and then spend our weekend escaping from the work of the week. We get tired before we even get out of bed; we surf our phones without knowing what we want to see. Sometimes, it feels that we have no goal or purpose — just a hope that, in the radical openness of the universe, we will stumble upon a taste of satisfaction.
A soothing response to this dilemma is beyond the work or words of a single, tired soul like myself. But, ironically — or, perhaps, serendipitously — I found guidance in the printed recollection of Bishop Venerable Fulton J. Sheen’s “Life is Worth Living.”
According to the Ven. Sheen, the key to achieving fulfillment is not in the privilege of ultimate, transcendent freedom to do anything one pleases. Rather, it is recognizing the small beauties in our own simple lives. Instead of dreading monotony, we must learn to see it in fullness. “Look at those who are full of life,” Sheen implores, “they love repetition!” Play peek-a-boo with a baby — they will gurgle and laugh no matter how many times you do it! Ask an old married couple how they know they love each other — it’s because they remind each other, all the time, over and over!
This Holy Week, we celebrated the fullest Life there is. Every year, in repeating our celebration, we find that there are sweet, simple monotonies which scaffold the narrative of Christ’s Divine Life. Our Savior spent 30 years of his life obediently working; three years tirelessly preaching; and three agonizing hours redeeming. In Christ’s example, there is a thrill in monotony which can save us from the doldrum of depression in our own lives.
As Stephen Vincent Benet writes,
Life is not lost by dying; Life is lost
Minute by Minute, day by dragging day,
In all the thousand small uncaring ways.
Freedom, by nature, is what defines us. But the radical freedom which the secular world beckons us with, is, in fact, debilitating. The Ven. Sheen attests to this. “Life is monotonous if it has no goal or purpose,” he reminds us. When life has no intentionality, when there is no guiding principle by which we orient our lives, we become bored, pressed, and tired, despite never accomplishing anything. And that is the fear — to never amount to anything.
But when we repeatedly dedicate our personal monotonies to God, every day, we will grow closer to Him. In His Son, we find the greatest Life and Freedom there is, and we can dispel our fear, knowing that we have already been saved!
“Life does not seem worth living if it has no goal or purpose,” repeats Sheen, “but life is thrilling if it has a destiny.” Make Christ your destiny, brothers and sisters, and you will feel the romance in life again. “When you have said your prayers, offered your actions in union with God, continue to enjoy the Thrill of Monotony, and do it again!”