Mending of a Broken Heart: The Nature of Meaning and the Purpose that Gives Life Hope speaks with a distinctive and evocative voice.

It brings to the world of words and the thoughts they convey the unique experiences of a man struggling to pass through the deeps of loss and to emerge with a trustworthy grasp on life’s meaning and purpose.

The author, James Michael Castleton, an award-winning physician, shares his journey in both prose and poetry. The blend captures the nature of life—sometimes lyrical and mystical and majestic, yet often prosaic and focused on finding a path upon which one can place each foot in turn, just to make one’s way through the day.

We are born with a broken heart,
Born with a sorrow we can only later articulate,
Born missing the most essential aspect of what we need to live a fulfilling life ...

Born without a sense of meaning.


The search for meaning is the search for a reason to live. It is the single most important question we will address, the one that will most determine the quality of our lives and the one that has most haunted human beings since we possessed the power of introspection. Yet meaning is the one question for which our psychology provides no understanding, our biology no adaptive response, our instincts no insight, our emotions no motive power, and our institutions no program of formal instruction ...

The failure to find a satisfactory answer to the question of meaning is perhaps the single greatest determinant of disease and despair.

Those whose lives are without meaning find it difficult to live in and enjoy the present. Instead, they are drawn emotionally either to the past, becoming mired in regret, or to the future, where they are consumed with anxiety. Such individuals find it difficult to live with the realization of what is lacking in their lives. They tend, therefore, to engage in distracting pursuits, fill their lives with trivial detail, or subdue their distress through various forms of self-indulgence or addiction ...

Book overview

Meaning is one of those words whose meaning is itself maddeningly difficult to define. Traditional definitions resort to the use of nouns such as “significance,” “value,” “quality,” or “implication”— which, far from illuminating the underlying concept, beg further definition.

Too often meaning has been discussed as a means to an end or the consequence of a way of life without actually clarifying what meaning means. If the essential nature of meaning remains unclear so, too, will be the means by which it is to be experienced ...

If meaning is something we experience as a result of living life in the appropriate or proper fashion, then the next question is obvious, even if the answer is not. What sorts of actions or pursuits will lead one to feel that life is meaningful?

Toward what end should life be lived so the journey will be experienced as meaningful? That end, I would suggest, is our “hope,” and the means to that end (the principles that direct our actions to achieve that destination and as a result find that life will be experienced as meaningful) can be considered our “purpose.”

The answer to the question of meaning can be seen, therefore, to depend on the answer to two others. First, what is the nature of hope, and does a meaningful life admit to multiple destinations, multiple hopes, or only one? Next, what is the nature of purpose, and can the correct hope be achieved by multiple codes of conduct, multiple value systems, or only one?

Like many young men, I looked for meaning in all the wrong places: the ego, the emotions, and the senses. The emptiness of hedonism, however, forced me to consider why pleasure doesn’t bring contentment. This conclusion, in turn, led to a consideration of the important differences between happiness and meaning. 

Both philosophy and theology often fail to make a distinction between the two. This failure leads, on one hand, to less-than-articulate discussions of the difference between a “true” and “false” happiness, which aren’t as instructive and helpful as they might be. On the other, it leads to apparently self-contradictory musings on the extent to which happiness is independent of circumstance, yet is, in some fashion, contingent upon it. By drawing a clear distinction between happiness and meaning, we will resolve this apparent paradox and in the process explain why happiness is contingent upon circumstance while meaning is not ...

Everyone has a purpose in life, whether he or she is conscious of it or not. The absence of purpose is not the chief existential dilemma in life, and the creation of an arbitrary sense of purpose will not resolve it.

The question isn’t whether our lives are purposeful but whether that purpose leads to a hope that is proper to our nature as human beings, for only then, I would assert, will life be meaningful. We will examine how the two views that dominate this world—humanism and faith— answer this question and discuss why I believe the latter provides the better response ...

This book begins from the perspective of one man who was, at first, less interested in finding God than in discovering the meaningful life ... It ends with the realization that faith has a lot to say that is pertinent to hope, meaning, and especially purpose.

This assessment is neither antithetical to the premise of biology nor hostile to the findings of science. Indeed, it is rooted in both, for it is only when the relationship between the spirit and the mind, cognition and emotion, and psychology and physiology is properly understood that the origins of, differences between, and functions of happiness and meaning can be correctly understood. We will explore the physiological basis of happiness and the spiritual origins of meaning, and we will examine the relationship between purpose, meaning, and hope as well as the facets of faith that realize each ...

The journey to faith is the most marvelous and sobering of all journeys, for the transformation of one’s heart transforms the questions one asks, the values one holds, the world one perceives, and the life one lives.

This journey is christened in pain, sustained in longing, refined in trial, and concluded in love. Yet it is not a journey we make alone. Humility is our guide, Forgiveness is our porter, and Contrition and Gratitude are our traveling companions ...

Book Reviews:

“His insight ... rings humbly and true ... Rich in metaphor, Mending of a Broken Heart is heartfelt, poetic, and beautifully written, offering wise reflections on the nature of life, death, suffering, and trying to find our way through an often-challenging world. Readers of Robert Wicks, C.S. Lewis, and Henri Nouwen, will find much to appreciate here.” ~BlueInk

“graceful” ... “an elegant and weighty theological memoire”. ~Kirkus

“A search for answers to timeless questions leads to enlivening theology from a lay perspective ... Familiar concepts are eloquently drawn to show the need for God ... Nearly aphoristic gems reveal a talent for distilling complexity. The theme of agape ... build[s] a case for seeing others from a radical perspective ... God is portrayed in the multifaceted and challenging way that the topic deserves.” ~ForeWord Clarion


Overcoming Temptation — Lessons from Gesthemane, Part 3
The Disciples’ Failure and a Prescription for Success

This series is for anyone who has ever struggled with temptation and would like to find a better way. 

In Part 1, we learned that Jesus’ suffered in the garden of Gesthemane, not as God, but as a man, and revealed just how severe His was. In Part 2, we discovered the resources Jesus brought to bear to triumph over temptation. In this Part, we’ll look at why the disciples failed in their own Garden temptation for insights into why we so often fail in ours, and then close with some thoughts about what we can do to better cope with trial.

5 minute read.

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