‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’
John 10:10 New International Version (NIV)
This is one of the more widely used quotes from the Bible.
You have probably seen this verse quoted on another Christian’s timeline or,
better yet, in a curated Instagram picture. Maybe your mum or aunty has sent
this verse to you on WhatsApp. Jesus promises us ‘life to the full’, or ‘life abundantly’,
as the English Standard Version says. I’ve been thinking about this verse a lot
recently, and what it is supposed to mean for the believer.
What does it mean to
be living your best life?
I think it’s fair to say that as a generation, many of us are
fixated on the ‘good life’. Assets, beauty, good food, great experiences, etc.
The popularity of vlogging culture, reality television and ‘lifestyle’ branding
in recent years has shown this. We love to live vicariously through people’s
experiences, and we aspire to have them ourselves to varying degrees. It is
also true that this type of life, at least on a superficial level, is
increasingly accessible. Want to go on a beach getaway? Book a flight on a
budget airline! Are you in the mood for a luxury meal, afternoon tea or a night
in a posh hotel? Hop online, find a voucher code or last-minute deal!
What I am not saying is that these things are bad, or that
sharing the cool things you do is bad. I have done several of these things, and
will continue to. My question is, do we feel under pressure to curate and
perform our lives to others, and if so, why?
What’s striking to me is how quickly many of us as Christians
conflate material things with being ‘favoured’ or ‘blessed’. Again, this is not
a bad thing in and of itself. But the risk is that when our lives don’t
outwardly look good, our faith wavers. What happens when life disappoints us?
It can be tempting to just be fake, pretend everything is fine and say ‘God is
good!’ through gritted teeth. I have often felt pressure to do this for fear of
other believers thinking less of me, or ruining my ‘witness’ to non-Christians.
The past 12 months have been difficult
for me in lots of different ways, and I couldn’t help but feel guilty, like I’d
let the team down – who would look at my life and be compelled by my faith? How
would anyone be drawn to the Christian life, when I was so clearly weighed down
by my problems?
This is, of course, a wrong perspective. Throughout the past year, due to my own grapples with faith, I have seen how even as a Christian I have been more concerned with living a ‘good’ Christian life than a life devoted to Christ himself. There are countless bold declarations about who God is in the Bible. We sing about how great he is on Sundays, or in our curated Gospel/Christian music playlists on Spotify. We talk about how he is our everything, and is more important than everything. But do we really believe that a life without the material or personal things we deem successful, is still our best life? I, to be honest, did not.
I had a set of aspirations which I thought would make me happy, or at least satisfied, once achieved. If I look good, get good grades, am well liked and respected, have a good income, a stable job, start a family and make my parents proud, that’s guaranteed happiness, right? The issue with a lifestyle shaped by constantly wanting what you don’t have is that, in my experience, it’s a continuous cycle – you just keep trying to accumulate. When I was young, I would use fear and dissatisfaction as a kind of fuel, to push me to work harder. It worked well enough, but as I got older, this fuel began to hinder me, as it transformed into full-fledged anxiety. I would worry away time, convinced of my inabilities. As soon as I achieved something, instead of celebrating I’d immediately be on to the next thing, to the point where they didn’t really feel like wins any more. My entire sense of self became performance-based which, aside from being an unhealthy and mentally exhausting way to live, amplified my mistakes and shortcomings, and minimised my accomplishments.
I’m not (intentionally) trying to feed you a cliché,
suggesting that material goals and success play no part in satisfaction. I’m also not going to point to some
picture of a poor family/community and say ‘look
how happy they are with so little!’, because it is 2019, and poverty porn is
still a thing, but that’s another conversation for another day!
We don’t need to take life too seriously. I have conversely encountered some believers, who I think did mean well, who denied themselves any luxury or enjoyment to the point of isolation and misery. Self-flagellation is not the same as humility, and we don’t need to romanticise suffering. It’s tricky. But being a Christian is not all blue skies, and there’s no point in pretending it is.
So what is the solution between these two extremes? To simply say balance is reductive. What does Jesus mean when he promises us fullness of life, if it’s not material?
‘I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”’
Psalm 16:2 (NIV)
Part of unpacking the ideas I have around success made me realise that God wasn’t as big a feature as I thought he was, or said he was in my values.
Personally, I am nowhere near what I would have deemed as successful, or ‘on my way’ 5 years ago, which is a strange headspace to be in as someone who’s consistently been defined by achievements. I’m trying to learn what a life that is foremostly defined by my identity in God looks like, because I still intrinsically believe that living with and for God is the very definition of living your best life. Any good thing we see or chase on this earth is the result of him, because he made everything. By that logic, I have been led to believe that I shouldn’t pursue creation, if I’m not chasing the Creator first. In terms of the how, I try to honestly reflect on what I’m prioritising in my life. God knows how we’re feeling anyway, so we should be real with him if we are putting material things before him, and ask him for help in restoring and maintaining our priorities.
‘Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.’”
Exodus 33:15 (NIV)
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5:6-7 (NIV)
Good things come and go – they fall in and out of our hands. When we have them, we are allowed to hold them with gratitude and happiness. When we don’t, we need to cling to the reality of the believer, which is that we still have a full life, because its still full of God, and he can provide us with limitless comfort and support. To many, that might sound like nonsense. But it’s true.