What to you makes a satisfactory life?
The apostle John writes of an incident soon after Jesus had risen from the dead that is very telling. Jesus had just prophesied Peter’s death by crucifixion. Peter, in response, looked at John and said, “Lord, what about him?”
“If I want him to remain alive until I return,” Jesus said, “what is that to you? You must follow me.”
Often, like Peter, we compare our life experiences with others. We want to know if our experiences are better than others, if they are normal, or if they are worse, thinking this determines if our life is “good” or “bad.”
But if we base our life’s significance on where we fall in the spectrum of experience, we will soon find ourselves frustrated and bitter. Life seldom deals an even hand.
Every life experience is unique.
Peter was chained in prison between two guards when an angel of the Lord released him from his chains. John the Baptist, the loyal forerunner of Christ, was imprisoned for weeks and then beheaded on a whim of the king.
Paul and Barnabas, missionaries and evangelists for Christ, almost lost their lives in Iconium when leading Jews and Gentiles made plans to stone them, but they heard of the threat in time and escaped (Acts 14:5-6). Stephen, a passionate minister of the gospel, was stoned to death.
Blind Bartimaeus, who sat by the roadside crying to Jesus for help, was miraculously healed. The Apostle Paul prayed three times for God to heal his “thorn in the flesh,” (which some people believe to be blindness), and God told him, “My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Things don’t turn out the same for everybody.
And it’s not necessarily because of the choices they’ve made or the way they’ve lived. All those mentioned above were godly people who dedicated their lives to the gospel. They approached similar situations and came away with very different results.
It would be easy for John the Baptist, if he had lived long enough to hear Peter’s story, to think: “What did I do wrong? Why did God miraculously rescue him and not me?”
It could also be easy for someone like Bartimaeus, who was healed, to look at someone like Paul and think, “Well, he must not have enough faith.”
Both responses are wrong.
Focusing on the “quality” of the journey leads to frustration.
Satan would like us to focus on the “quality” of our life experiences, but the truth is, quality as the world measures it does not determine the fulfillment we get from life. We hear sometimes of poor or suffering people committing suicide, but we also hear of suicides of the rich, celebrated and successful: those who have “everything.” One man said that when he got everything he wanted, he found out he didn’t want it anymore.
It doesn’t matter which side of the spectrum we are on, if we limit our focus to the good and bad of our experiences, we will find ourselves empty. Rather, we should temper our perception with the understanding that each aspect of our life — whether a thing of joy or sorrow — has its foot in a greater world.
Following Christ is the reason we journey.
Following Christ gives a deep inner meaning to life that is not determined or lessened by outward circumstances. Perhaps, if we need a measuring line for the quality of our lives, it should not be how well things are going at church, or in our businesses or careers, or with our families, but how much time we spend abiding in Christ.
Jesus is saying to us what he told Peter: “This is not about him. This is about you. Follow me.”
I am indebted to Dave Schlabach of Traverse City, Mich., for these thoughts.
Lucinda J. Miller lives in Boston.