Man’s Search for Meaning

The rug has been ripped out from beneath us, and we are on the brink of the unknown. We who once imagined ourselves invincible, with our medical advancements and  (at least to some extent) our economic security, are now terrified and in the grip of grief. The other day a friend of mine told me that a coworker of hers had a meltdown. He said he felt as though he was in a bad dream and he couldn’t wake up. The weight of grief and suffering can be so disorienting and debilitating.

In the preface to Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, Harold Kushner writes, “…we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.”

If you are not familiar with the book, Man’s Search for Meaning is Frankl’s memoir of his life in Nazi deathcamps (he spent most of his time in Auschwitz) and the lessons of spiritual survival he learned while imprisoned in those concentration camps. Just as an aside, this short book is one of the most important books I have ever read. It fell into my hands during a time of intense suffering and grief, and I am not exaggerating when I say it changed my life.

Frankl writes:

            “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance…It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom—which cannot be take away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful.”

Later he quotes Friedrich Nietzsche, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

We have all been given this same spiritual freedom. If you do not yet know how to begin to respond to, may I suggest beginning each day by thanking God for 5 things (even in the darkest times there are always blessings for which we can thankful). Pray, something even as simple as “Lord, I trust that you are full of love and faithfulness, and You will not let me be put to shame. Show me the way forward.” Then, trusting that God has you in the palm of His hands, go and do something for someone else-without broadcasting it to the world. It can be as simple as calling a friend to check in on them, but you must force yourself out of your inner turmoil.  The Lord will take your act of faith, no matter how small it may be in the beginning, and He will strengthen you and lead you through the darkness into safe pastures.

Author: Rebekah Durham

Rebekah Durham lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her three children.  She is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and has written for numerous publications. She is an avid reader and in particular an admirer of C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, G.K. Chesterton, Henri Nouwen, and Dorothy L. Sayers (in no certain order). She'd also blindly follow Miss Marple (Agatha Christie's famous spinster sleuth) anywhere she wanted to go.

12 thoughts on “Man’s Search for Meaning”

  1. I love your work! Some of your favorite authors are also mine and your father is one of my heroes! Keep up the great work and stay safe and healthy!
    Peace, Parson bob

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! This means a lot to me. My father is also one of my heroes; so we have that in common as well! I hope you and your family are staying safe and healthy during this time. Blessings to you all!


  2. I absolutely love this book. I’ve read a lot of memoirs of survivors of Nazi concentration camps, but this one seems more moving than the others because it doesn’t just witness what happened but why it happened. I really enjoyed reading your review of this book.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! I guess it was a kind of review, though I didn’t intend it to be. I don’t think I’ve read any other memoirs from concentration camp survivors. I really think you might be the most well-read person that I know. Ha! I’m looking forward to see what book review you post next. Right now, I am reading Wilkie Collins’ ‘The Woman in White’.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The book sounds stirring, and I will have to get that soon. In the way of Holocaust accounts, I’ve read Night by Elie Wiesel (not sure if spelled right) and the Maus series by Art Spiegelman. I like how you connect the lesson about being able to choose how we react to circumstances to what we are experiencing now. It’s so true that we can always choose gratitude and to be a caring person. Random sidenote, I saw you are reading “The Woman in White” and wanted to say–I LOVE that novel!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’d forgotten about ‘Night’! I read that years ago! Glad to hear that you like the “The Woman in White”. I haven’t gotten far in the book yet, because I am so tired by the time I get in bed to read! Ha. Did you read “The Moonstone” by Wilkie Collins? I loved that book and there is a miniseries on Prime that is very good. It sticks very close to the novel. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend doing so!


  4. Hi Rebekah! I have to say that I love that last paragraph you wrote. I am really not feeling any inner turmoil, but with all of the time on my hands and no motivation (for some strange reason) I think this is a great prompt to get me going. It actually may have inspired me with ideas on the Quarantine Writing Project as well. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The book had a powerful impact on me, as well. That is only reasonable when you recall that Frankl was trying to ease suffering. He discovered a profound truth, i.e. that meaning and suffering are related. We can endure a great deal more when we do so for a worthwhile purpose.

    This is confirmed by Scripture. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8: 28). Of course, I considered myself an atheist when I first read “Man’s Search for Meaning” in college. In retrospect, I can see that Frankl was a bridge that allowed me to reclaim my faith.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is beautiful, Anna. And you are right about Frankl. As I began my own healing from abuse, I became deeply interested in the personal stories of suffering during WW2 that I could find. They helped me process my own pain and allowed me to see my own suffering as a part of the larger picture of suffering and evil in the world. Their voices gave me strength and courage.

      I’m so glad to know Franks’s book was also meaningful to you…it makes me like you even more. I’m looking forward to your next blog post!

      Liked by 1 person

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