Every winter in the seasonal slump of dismal gray, I find myself turning to the same source of hope—the sunny sound walls of the Beach Boys.

Growing up in the millennial generation, I was the only one who considered Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson’s voices to be the harmonies of my childhood. Don’t get me wrong, my sister and I did our fair share of self-choreographed dancing to NSYNC’s harmonies (yes, you read that right, self-choreographed dancing), but I always loved the music my dad played for us more than the music of my own generation. Which of course never made me very culturally relevant, as I have a vivid memory of being in the third grade and all the girls talking during bathroom break about their favorite Britney Spears’ songs. When asked what my favorite song was, I panicked realizing that I didn’t know any Britney, so I gave the safe answer of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” By the looks on their faces, I deduced that I should have gone with anything by Led Zeppelin–they were much cooler. Or so my dad said.

When I got older, me and my sister not only listened to the Beach Boys, but my dad would explain more about their musical careers, their genius, and their personal lives (which if you know anything about Brian Wilson, is a little less sunny than the sounds of “Little Deuce Coup”). Nevertheless, just hearing the name “Brian Wilson” makes me smile, and I’m convinced that I would marry anyone whose day could also be turned around by the sounds of Mike Love’s falsetto.

In his most recent sermon “Looking for Jesus at 4 o’clock”, Paul Walker describes “4 o’clock moments” as a sort of no man’s land of existential seeking, an o’clock that “calls out for meaning and love and God”. My personal o’clocks are the dismal afternoons of January and February, the seasonal slump of dismal gray that I began with. And it’s during these slumps that I find myself comforted by the teenage longings of music from my childhood, often ending up on Wilson’s lament, “I guess I just wasn’t made for these times”:

Sometimes I feel very sad
Sometimes I feel very sad
(Can’t find nothin’ I can put my heart and soul into)
I guess I just wasn’t made for these times.
Each time things start to happen again
I think I got something good goin’ for myself
But what goes wrong

Wilson’s depressive lyrics tend to offer solidarity and happy childhood memories. Which is enough to get me through the day, but not enough to actually satisfy what I need. The problem, though, is that I’m never sure what it is that I need. And neither were the disciples, who didn’t know how to answer Jesus when he approached them at 4 o’clock and asked: “What are you looking for?” (John 1) Paul highlighted this moment in his sermon to describe this feeling of undirected searching:

“Sometimes we don’t know what we’re looking for, but we know we’re looking for something. Sometimes the thing we’re looking for isn’t the thing we’re looking for…What you are looking for is a universal question. Whether it’s your next meal, a hot date, inner peace, world peace, your true self, or the salvation of your soul, you are looking for something.”

And this searching, these moments of longing, do not give way despite felt happiness or sunny circumstances. I’m not convinced they are connected to modernity, a certain age group, or a particular part of the world. They were definitely no stranger to 19th century Russian author Leo Tolstoy, whose own agonized search for existential meaning was expressed in his thousand page novel Anna Karenena. His peasant protagonist, Konstantin Dmitrievich Levin, was a self-portrait of Tolstoy himself, and was set as a foil to show the empty bourgeoisie lifestyle of Anna, who could find no meaning in life and thus turned to an affair in the face of a loveless marriage.


Spoiler alert, but the novel ends in Anna’s suicide, and Levin gaining everything he had yearned for—a happy marriage to the woman he loved, a healthy baby boy to carry on the family name, and a successful farm. Yet, the last few chapters of the book are full of Levin’s sentiments that, “Though happy and in good health, I became persuaded that it was impossible for me to live much longer.” Levin finds that he is only happy “whenever he didn’t think of the meaning of his life” and that whenever he “thought about what he was and what he lived for, he found no answer and fell into despair.” But why? He got everything that he was looking for. Or maybe, he got everything that he thought he was looking for. As Paul said, perhaps what Levin was looking for wasn’t the thing he was looking for. Perhaps Levin, much like the disciples, did not know what question to even ask in his searching.

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus knew what the disciples were looking for even though they did not. Jesus pursued them, and offered them the one thing that he knew would satisfy the question that they did not know they needed to ask: they were looking to know Him. Jesus knew that teenage love would not satisfy Brian Wilson, that Brian Wilson would not satisfy me, and that an artfully rebellious expression of everything that was wrong with nihilist 19th century Russia would not satisfy Leo Tolstoy. It’s actually the same thing that would satisfy all of us. Paul said:

“What you and I are ultimately looking for is bound up in knowing Jesus Christ. We were all created by God and alienated from Him and one another by our sin and self-interest. Yet within each of us is a desire to be in a harmonious relationship with our Creator and all of His creation. So God came to us in Jesus Christ, friend of sinners. In response to our inner longing, He says to us what he said to the two men who ask Him where He is staying: ‘Come and see.’”

What satisfies the 4 o’clock call? Only grace.