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“Ask a Priest: I Have a Fine Family, a Good Job, But Feel Empty. What to Do?”
Q: I’m a lifelong Catholic, have a fine marriage, two great kids, a good job, and I live in relative comfort. I should be happy as a lark, but I’m miserable. It’s not that I want more money or more “things.” I’m not a materialistic person and, quite frankly, I would gladly part with most of my possessions. Rather, my problems are existential. My life feels empty and, aside from my duties as a parent, devoid of purpose. As a result, I feel lost and sometimes I get very depressed. Things have been going on like this for years, yet when I go to church, I keep hearing that “God loves me” and that “God has a plan for my life,” so on and so forth. Surely God’s plan for me involves more than this! Anyway, given the length of time I’ve been feeling this way, I am finding it increasingly difficult to believe that there’s a God who cares for me, or even that there’s any God at all (… and the state of the world seems to support this notion). I feel completely lost and in need of direction. Any advice? – J.S
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: The simple fact that you are asking this question is, I believe, a sign that God is at work in your heart, drawing you closer to him. That is a positive sign for your spiritual life. Without knowing more about you and your situation, however, I could only offer some general observations.
First, it’s good to remember that, as St. Augustine wrote, “Our hearts were made for you, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you.”
Having lots of money and even having a beautiful family will, ultimately, not be enough for you. This world is not meant to be your eternal home, so it is fitting that nothing here is going to satisfy you totally.
Now, that said, there could be various things at work. Perhaps God is calling you to a deeper union with him. Your faith is meant to be an expression of your personal relationship with God; it isn’t just about following rules. Cultivating this relationship requires personal, daily prayer — Christian meditation, as explained in “A Guide to Christian Meditation” and “The Better Part” by Fr. John Bartunek.
If your life seems empty, perhaps it’s because what you are doing isn’t the best expression of who you are as a Christian.
Perhaps the Holy Spirit is inviting you to rethink what you are doing with your life. Perhaps you would be happier if you dedicated yourself to some charitable work or apostolic project. Perhaps you have skills that could be used for the greater glory of God, helping with the evangelization of the world. Helpful for you here might be the book “Go! 30 Meditations on How Best to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself” which is all about the missionary dimension of our lives.
You mention the state of the world. The world is a mess because the Gospel isn’t being lived enough or taught enough. Maybe you can do something to remedy that.
As for your depression, I don’t know the severity of it. So for the record, I’d say that you might consider a bit of therapy if it is severe.
In any case, it might be helpful to do a Catholic spiritual retreat. You might consider a Regnum Christi retreat, which you could find more about HERE. Or you might find one of our “do-it-yourself” Retreat Guides helpful.
What is important here to be pro-active. You feel restless; maybe that is a sign that a moment has arrived for decision. So think about the retreat.
In the meantime try to intensify your prayer life and sacramental life. These questions about the goodness of God are a sign that you need to pray for an increase in faith. The devil is trying to sow the seeds of doubt in you. Don’t let him!
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I was in the same situation. I am a very blessed person with all the trimmings of a good life, but I was not happy and always felt depressed. I thought I was a good Catholic, but I was wrong. After praying to God, Jesus, and the Virgin Mary for help in the journey of discovering my sadness and depression, I found out that I had a lot of anger, needed to forgive others and myself, and most of all, I did feel worthless. I thought I did not deserve my good life. After acknowledging my downsides and asking God to help me overcome my faults, I started to feel happier and more grateful.
Today I woke up worthless, so I searched for an inspirational Catholic article on the internet. I read your letter. I was glad that I was not the only person going through these motions. I can say there is hope in building an intimate relationship with God. Your heart desires more than material things. Your heart is restless. Tell God your concerns or fears, and in time he will deliver.
“Our hearts were made for you, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you.”