Breaking Down and Wondering Why
And now my dreams are nothing like they were meant to be
And I’m breaking down, I think I’m breaking down. [. . .]
Someone come, someone come and save my life.
– Dallas Green
I spend many hours roaming the streets of Palermo, drinking strong black coffee, wondering what the hell is wrong with me. I did it — I’m the number one tennis player on earth, and yet I feel empty. If being number one feels empty, unsatisfying, what’s the point?
– Andre Agassi
Be appalled, O heavens, at this: be shocked, be utterly desolate, they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
– Jeremiah 2:13.
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.”
– John 4: 13-14
I once had an English professor who blamed ideals for the misery people experience. If people could just learn to live in a world without ideals, he reasoned, then they could stop being disappointed. Ideals, in his opinion, were unattainable—they only raised hopes and expectations that could never be met and, therefore, were the root of frustration and despair. He thought it best that one should reject ideals altogether and live without them.
On one hand, I can agree with him; I can understand why someone might resign from ever hoping much.
Because I know as well as any that when fears are realized and hurt floods in, it is easy to want to live life numb. Hope, it would seem, makes one vulnerable to pain. To live life with your heart encased behind glass walls is safer. Because when, as musician Dallas Green writes, we discover that all our “dreams are nothing like they were meant to be,” we break down and are left gasping. When we have given everything to achieve our dreams and find them, as Andre Agassi did, to be “empty, unsatisfying”—then we despair.
And yet, if we allowed ourselves a rare moment of honesty, we might concede that we do indeed hope for more, for something ideal. There is something that eludes us, remaining perpetually beyond our grasp. Isn’t it puzzling? We act in accordance with our pursuit of happiness. We do what we want when we want. We will buy anything, do anything, sacrifice anything. We strive and strive but, more often than not, we come up empty. Or wounded.
What if we have never recognized the true ideal our hearts long for?
What if all the things we think we want—our dreams, our goals, the things we pursue—only imitate what we actually thirst for? What if we misplace our hopes, entrusting them to counterfeits that never could keep their promise?
Could it be that all our lives we have lived in a shattered world that is only a poor reflection of what was meant to be? The overarching story the Bible gives us is that our world that was shattered and turned upside-down when man chose to rebel against his creator, fracturing our relationship with him and unplugging us from the source of life. Since then, something in each of us is now crooked—bent to find satisfaction and enduring happiness in something other than the One we were made to love. In place of God, we have set up alternatives and have expected from them the things that we long for. But again and again, we find them deficient and incomplete. This is the human condition; this is the portrait of reality the Bible paints for us.
The true cause of our misery and of our craving is this: we have forsaken God, the source of life, the “fountain of living waters” and have “hewed out cisterns for [ourselves], broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). Since cisterns were underground storage tanks that stored spring or rainwater where natural water sources were lacking, then a broken cistern would have meant impending death from dehydration—perishing from thirst.
The analogy holds: we thirst for the ever-flowing fountain of living waters, but instead we go to the ditch and attempt to axe out crude alternatives that leak without end. All our attempts to find lasting satisfaction and happiness apart from God are like this: feeble, broken, ever-seeping. And the consequences have been death, pain, and wretched futility.
We can’t rescue ourselves from our misery. We know that acutely. That’s why we keep looking outside of ourselves, to others or to objects, desperately hoping, “Someone come, someone come and save my life,” as Dallas Green sings. On our own, we break down. We need someone to save us.
There is only One we can set our whole hearts on—only One who is fully trustworthy. He is the One who stepped into our shattered world and shattered his own body to set straight our fractured relationship with God. He rescues us and he gives us real hope. His name is Jesus Christ and he promises us, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:14).
In the end, we have a choice. We can continue to give our hearts’ trust, devotion, hope, and delight to broken cisterns that never deliver, but we’ve been down that road before and we know where it goes. Or we can step onto a new path, turning away from our counterfeit gods and surrendering ourselves to the true God who gives life, the life our souls crave.
Dallas Green (City and Colour), “Sleeping Sickness,” Bring Me Your Love, 2008.
Andre Agassi, Open: An Autobiography, New York: Knopf, 2009. 204.