The Second Half of the Gospel: The Curse of Quiet Desperation


August 18, 2021

Matthew 16:26 (NIV)

What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 


Henry David Thoreau once famously said, “Most people lead lives of quiet desperation, and they go to the grave with the song still in them.”

Quiet desperation. It could be the curse of our time. The down-and-outers can’t hide their desperation. It is loud, unavoidable, and often public. It tends to be the up-and-outers who suffer the curse of quiet desperation. No-one sets out to gain the whole world at the cost of their soul. It happens in small, often imperceptible degrees. After all, the world looks good with all its promises of prosperity. It is the subtle deal we make with ourselves that we can have the world and the Kingdom that drives quiet desperation. 

It is signaled by the all too common response to the question, “How are you doing?”

“Fine,” we answer. Someone once pointed out that the word, “fine,” in this context, offers an apt acronym: Frustrated, Insecure, Nervous, and Exhausted. We manage this quiet desperation by trying to stay ahead of it. We hold it at bay by a thousand small distractions. Truth be told, it crouches at most of our doors. 

One of two things will turn up the volume on this quiet desperation: crisis or awakening. And though it is not a requirement, often it takes the former to produce the latter. Either way, the beginning of awakening in our lives is signaled by a growing awareness of the gnawing dissatisfaction in the pit of our souls. We call it Holy Discontent. To the extent we are not attuned to this reality we are still asleep.

True growth most often begins with a growing sense of dissonance. We are dissatisfied with the way things are. We are not the person we hoped we would become by now. Unheeded, this discontent can lead anywhere from a numbing affluence to a disastrous addiction. When we pay attention to this discontent it can lead to tremendous breakthroughs into the greater purposes for our lives. Paying attention means opening the vault of our quiet desperation and bringing forth our discontent that it might be named aloud and offered to God.


Heavenly Father, something deep down tells me there’s more to this life than I presently know and experience. I do not want to settle for less than what you want for me. I want to trust you that underneath my discontent are your divine purposes, your dreams and your plans for me. Come Holy Spirit and grant me the courage to turn away from all that would distract me and the grace to become completely honest with myself before you. And I pray this for those I love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


Do you have a holy discontent story? Did it lead to crisis or awakening or both? Are you in the midst of a holy discontent story now? It has a way of coming back around. 

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

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