I recently finished an excellent book written by a physician, Dr. Atul Gawande, titled Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. The book deals with the modern medical establishment and how people are treated as they face diminished physical capacity through the aging process. Having recently been in a front row seat on this journey with my mother as she faced the assault of Parkinson’s Disease – I am very sensitive to this topic and see it as one worth exploring more deeply no matter where a person is on the spectrum of physical strength.
A key point that Dr. Gawande brings up frequently in the book is that human beings don’t merely want to be ‘kept safe’ – instead they want to have enough freedom, independence, autonomy, or authority to enable them to have meaning and purpose in their lives. An aging person who is fed, clothed, sheltered, assisted, and kept safe may produce less headaches and stresses for their adult children – but they may also sense that their purpose for staying alive has been taken away from them. The quality of life is radically diminished if a person does not feel as if their life matters or has a purpose to it. Here is a key quote from the book that speaks to this issue:
In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all its moments—which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. Measurements of people’s minute-by-minute levels of pleasure and pain miss this fundamental aspect of human existence. A seemingly happy life maybe empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves.
― Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
I like the last three sentences above. We know this is true from our own experience and the experiences of others we know: pleasure-filled lives can be empty, and difficult lives can be full of meaning and purpose. As we journey through the book of Acts, we are learning what it means to be on a “mission from God.” We know that it’s not enough for people to just exist – people long to thrive. Part of thriving means knowing that your life is being used for a larger purpose – a purpose that is larger than you are.
The lives of the first followers of Jesus are an inspiration to those of us who are recipients of their legacy. Those first believers knew that their lives had a purpose and a meaning that was much larger than they were. Many of them were willing to die for their faith in Jesus – because they knew that life in Christ was something worth living for, and something worth dying for. We live in a culture where lots of people are focused on making a living but who are not sure how to make a life. They are longing for something more – a purpose and meaning that is larger than mere self-fulfillment. Jesus sends you, and me, and followers all around the world on a mission to bring his good news to others in the power of his Spirit.
The life of being a disciple of Jesus is not ‘safe’ – and it is not easy. Yet it is a life of abundant meaning and purpose. As our bodies age and our physical strength slowly diminishes, we are assured that we have a “mansion in glory not made with human hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). Though Dr. Atul Gawande writes beautifully about ways that we can improve the lives of people who are physically diminished – he is not able to offer the very best key to purpose in life. Dr. Gawande is clear that the answer to this situation takes more than medicine and surgery. That’s where you and I come in. How will God use you to bring the very best gift to the people in your circle of influence. Let’s continue to worship and pray and serve and reach out together in Christ and celebrate the lives that he is changing every day through our church and through other faithful churches around the world.