A recent patient of mine did an about-turn regarding her decision on how her blood disorder should be managed. Stricken with a disease that slowly progressed to a state where she requires regular, two-weekly blood transfusions to keep her alive, she came to a point when she felt the meaninglessness of this routine and decided to call it a day. There were discussions about when and how the end would come and how the medical team will, together with the palliative medicine team, ensure a peaceful and dignified end. She claimed readiness for the end.
Two weeks after making that decision, she reversed her decision and requested to return to her previous routine of regular blood transfusions. This could not be an easy decision, because each transfusion comes with obstacles increasing in difficulty and severity with time.
How would a disciple of Jesus live out such a life if stricken by such a disease? This does not sound like the abundant life that Jesus promised in John 10:10. Facing a time limit and encumbered by constantly increasing fatigue till the next transfusion episode, most would think that this is anything but an abundant life.
Here, the Christian is called to have a different mental model about an abundant life. The promise of an abundant life surely cannot indicate an abundant length of time that one has on earth. Jesus lived such a time-limited life. Many of His disciples did too. They knew their time on earth was limited as they could not predict when they would be arrested and executed.
The promise of an abundant life also cannot mean an abundance of material things. Jesus and His disciples lived such a resource-limited life that He warned those who would follow Him that “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matt 8:20, ESV) Apostle Paul also declared, “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.” (Phil 4:12, NLT)
The promise of an abundant life cannot mean an abundance of achievements. If it is achievements that defines abundance, the same Apostle Paul would not have declared, “I once thought these things (Israel citizenship, Pharisaic membership and zeal, obedience to Jewish laws, text in italics my addition) were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. … For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” (Phil 3:7-8, NLT)
Some would claim that the Christian way of thinking is a psychological or mental cop-out, a way to deal with misfortune and poverty. Yet, most would agree that dire situations that my patient faced would force one to seek for the true meaning and purpose of one’s own life. If one’s purpose on earth is to lead an abundant life by accumulating and enjoying the material abundance that the world craves, then surely illness, disability and incapacity, things which are often beyond one’s control, would rob him/ her of such an abundant life.
Would it not be better to insulate our hearts and minds against such eventualities, so that the vicissitudes of life do not rob us of our joy and our zest for life, a true joy that is not painted on our faces for show, but which springs from deep within our hearts? This then is the truly abundant life. Will you search for it this Easter?
By Dr Ong Kiat Hoe