I have written before of the movie "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." I consider it one of the most profoundly thought-provoking films I have seen. In a compelling true story, it raises questions about the quality and purpose of life.
Lately, I have been thinking - again - about the basic question it raises: What constitutes a quality life? It's not an easy question, but it's one I think is worth consideration now and again.
My initial response is negative, rather than a positive: What life is not a life of quality? My answer is that any life that is lived with self at the center, focused on satisfying my whims and wants, is, in the end, a life devoid of ultimate fulfillment and richness. In fact, selfishness is a mark of immaturity. Children are self-centered. Adults should not be.
On the positive side, I have long considered that any life lived in conversational relationship with God, knowing and serving him, was a good life. I have believed, further, that the length of one's life was not very important, because the quality of a life is measured by its depth, not its duration. It is not necessarily tragic when a young person dies. It is, however, tragic when a person of any age dies after a shallow, selfish life.
I still believe these things. Yet I have struggled for years with some questions, wondering about certain scenarios. What about Alzheimer's disease, for example, which seems to rob people of their very personhood. Is that a life worth living? The answer is not so easy. Nevertheless, I am still inclined to say yes, for two reasons: Because I can observe only from the outside, and have no knowledge of what God may be doing on the inside, and because I know the God to whom I have entrusted my life, and I have confidence in his love, grace and mercy. But my yes is not as easy as it once might have been.
I come from a family that is riddled with diabetes. Some families deal with heart problems, others with cancer, but we are diabetic. And if we have to have our own pet malady, I much prefer ours to most of the others I can think of.
About eight years back, I was diagnosed with diabetes. No big deal. I am nowhere near overweight, I live an active life, and I watch my diet. Diabetes has so far been a nuisance, and little more.
Then, on a recent Saturday morning - a week before Christmas - I got a message from my doctor: "Larry, call me at the office Monday morning. It's about your lab results." Sigh.
So I called.
Seems a long-standing problem that has been bothering me just found a name: The lab report says I likely have developed yet another problem, a chronic, incurable autoimmune disorder. And one that might be more than a minor nuisance.
Ah. The ease with which I say, "Yes, Lord. Anything you say, I will do," just got a little more difficult. "I love you, Lord, but...."
Add to this some other, non-physical matters, and I'm not certain what to think of this life of mine. Is it really one of quality?
A friend once told me of his belief that our task in life was to "live well and love well." That works for me, except that living and loving well is not clearly defined, and so I am left with most of the same questions.
Jesus said that he came that we might have a life of fullness, a life of depth and richness. So what is that? Can one have multiple chronic diseases and have a rich life? Can one be physically disabled - even paralyzed - and have a rich life?
I knew another person once who suffered kidney failure. He was told after a time that they had found a donor for a transplant, but that his life would have to change. No more desert motorcycle racing, for example. He said he would rather die. A life without racing was a life not worth living. The surgeon thought little of that perspective, and I agreed.
I am happy to say he changed his mind, received a transplant, and lived a rewarding life for some years after.
So, ultimately, what makes for a rich, God-honoring life?
I am convinced that one can have myriad and serious physical problems, and still have a "good" life. There are many examples through history. I am also convinced that one can have problems in relationships, and have a life that honors God, though I will concede that it's more difficult. Difficult or not, however, I cannot think of a situation where one cannot honor God in life.
In the movie I mentioned, a man who "has it all" suffers a massive stroke, and is left totally paralyzed, with control only of his left eye.
Does he have a real life? Does he have a life that carries some sort of fullness, some significance? These are not easy questions. In fact, if there is a quick and easy answer from someone, that person probably hasn't thought carefully.
In the end, the man deeply touched thousands of people, probably more than he would have otherwise.
I wonder if a good definition to a rich, rewarding life might not be that it is a life that leaves the world a little different, a little better, for our having lived.