I Just Have a Little Apathy, But So What..


By Matt Sandford, LMHC

Okay, so I spend some of my free time playing Halo or Facebooking. So what!? Okay, maybe it’s a little more than that. Okay, maybe it’s a minor obsession; get off my back! I’m just having fun and blowing off steam. Because my life is really stressful. I have to figure out where I’m going in life. At least, that’s what I’m told. I think. (I tuned it out awhile ago, but I think they’re still droning on about it.)

Apathy in the young crowd today is as common as cheap sex, as common as credit card debt, as common as short shorts and too big pants, as common as whatever fad is popular at the moment. Although I am not suggesting that apathy is a fad. Yeah, maybe we could chalk it up to being a normal adolescence phase. But I’m guessing that many of you are finding that that doesn’t sit well for you. Particularly because that phase is lasting longer and seeming to be more pronounced that if it were simply a “phase”. 

And if you are a parent of a late teen or young adult struggling with this or if you are that teen or young adult, then you may be frustrated. Let’s face it, apathy is a problem. Well, if you’re in it yourself you may or may not think it’s a problem. But it probably presents problems in the form of parents bugging you about it. Let’s take a look at the nature of the problem and then I’ll offer some approaches to dealing with it.

What’s Going On?

I certainly won’t claim that I can succinctly and completely explain all of the workings and nuances of current apathy in our culture. But I will make some suggestions. I will break it up into a couple of groupings, or types of issues.

1.       Loaded or Overloaded

In Kevin DeYoung’s book Just Do Something, which is about discerning God’s will, he says that for most young folks there are so many more options than there were a couple generations ago; too many choices presented. What do you usually do when you are bombarded with more choices than you can take in? Maybe we back up and slow things down? Maybe we run? Maybe we just randomly pick one? Or maybe we freeze? What if one element at least has to do with this sense of being overwhelmed by all the options, decisions, choices, and possible directions. And then on top of that, I am wondering if there is a sense in our culture today that the consequences are so much more dire as well. That that young person is feeling that they only have one shot at getting it right – that is, finding the path that will make money, make a difference, do something they are good at, enjoy and brings lasting satisfaction. Oh and make my parents proud (or get off my back, or stop worrying about me). That is a lot of pressure. Sometimes we conclude that if we can’t make the grade, we won’t bother to show up for the tryout.


2.       Limited

Now let’s go the other way. What if, among all the myriad of choices that are out there presently, that you believe your options are limited by your situation. Maybe you don’t think you are smart enough, or good looking enough, or skinny enough, or popular enough, or talented enough, or positioned to get onto the track that you long to get on. From your perspective you’ve been dealt a crappy hand and there’s nothing you can do about it. So why try?


3.       Loss

Here’s another category. What if something has come along and hindered your path? Maybe you were on the right track and things were going well. But then something happened. A loss of some kind. A disappointment. Maybe your family went through divorce, or someone who believed in you, like a grandparent, died? Maybe you experienced rejection from someone close to you, like a boy or girl friend or a sibling? Maybe you tried out for something and didn’t make it? Maybe it was a personal failing or weakness of yours? Maybe you got caught and experienced humiliation? Or it could have been something traumatic or something evil, like abuse? But something took the air out of your sails and now you’re just drifting. Motivation is long gone.


What is apathy really, other than a loss or lack of hope? Hope produces motivation, hope keeps dreams alive or awakens us to new dreams, hope wakes us up in the morning and hope keeps us going when it’s hard and the road is long.  But when you are overwhelmed with pressure, or you feel boxed in by your situation, or have lost something or been victimized, hope can seem more like a taunt from those more fortunate or maybe from a God who doesn’t seem to care.

When hope has been lost, what really matters? Exactly. Not much. Achievement, striving, virtue, long term goals, even love. They all seem, well, a lot of bother. But fun – now that’s something you can wake up for. Why? Because it distracts me from the weight of dragging myself around through a life that is devoid of hope, and offers me a reprieve in the now. And without hope all I can live for is the present moment. There are those who talk about a way of experiencing life in which one embraces the moment and how this is a mark of maturity. But, that is sadly not what this type of living for the moment is. Because this type is more running from the future and often the past and so the person of apathy does not live in the moment in freedom – but rather through avoidance.

I believe the key to overcoming apathy does not lie in simply finding something to get excited about, although developing new goals can revive some hope in us. Overcoming apathy is more about understanding the source of one’s apathy and choosing not to run away from those emotions, thoughts and beliefs that got us there. You see, working through the negative emotions of anger, sadness, disappointment, regret, resentment, or to sum these up – grief and loss – is the way to free our hearts to hope again. This can be a painful process. But don’t run from it.

This would be a new kind of hope different from what you may have experienced before. Maybe before your hope was built on rosy circumstances, or your talents, or your socio-economic background, or your intellect, or your experience? See the trend there? Your, your, your. Hope placed in ourselves – when overrun can be devastating and drain the life out of us. And, it can help us to find hope in something more secure and more worthy.

Dig deep and allow your apathy to direct you to the fountain of hope and water that truly satisfies. And I’m not really getting preachy about coming to Jesus here. Not in the getting saved sense. I guess this is more a getting saved from your apathy sense. I think a lot of folks who have Jesus haven’t quite figured out how he saves from loss and apathy and aimlessness and lack of desire.

But I think that was what he meant in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating a Jesus who fills our happy cup and came to help us fulfill all of our desires. Hardly! Jesus came to remake us and to get into us true desires that bring true fulfillment. Because he knows what would be fulfilling better than we do!

There is no better place to go when you need to grieve than to the guy who knew how to suffer better than anyone. He really does want to lift our apathy – by giving us the hope that we need.


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