How NOT to waste your life

I was thinking about this recently as I’ve been taking care of my brother who is now in hospice in the final stages of a losing battle with cancer and liver disease. He has deteriorated to the point to where his life is but a flicker of what it once was, totally helpless and in need of other’s care. This made me think about what makes for a fully-lived life of purpose and meaning.

Here’s what I came up with. The secret is…are you ready for the answer? Here it is…

We live a full and vibrant life by not making it about us.

Now, I’m not talking about self-loathing or being a doormat because we don’t matter. As Bill Johnson put it, “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking about yourself less.” 

Jesus gave this simple maxim for life that’s profound:

25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matt.16:25 NIV)

It’s quite counter-intuitive because our natural inclination is to save ourselves, look out for number-one, etc. But doing so will ensure that we will actually waste our lives.

While the direct context of this verse is about losing our lives for Christ, we also know this from life itself. For instance, there are things in life that move us away from being self-centered and immature and toward a fully-lived life. We leave home and work for someone else. We get married and soon find out that we have to think about someone else’s needs instead of just our own. We go a step further when we raise kids. All of these stages of life requires making room for others, but add a richness to our lives. Those who live for themselves end up living more self-absorbed and shallow lives…and if that pattern continues, they’ll probably come to the end of their life alone.

My brother is a Vietnam vet. He fought in the worst part of a war he didn’t choose, during the Tet offensive in 1968. He was blown up once, survived, and received several accommodations for valor in battle. But this took a heavy psychological as well as physical toll on him.

Not much was understood about PTSD back then and we didn’t exactly treat our returning soldiers very well when they returned home. It was disgraceful, but much has been said about that so I won’t pile on here.

After my brother returned home, he started drinking heavily, doing drugs, his marriage ended in divorce after only a few years, and since then he’s been a dedicated bachelor. And while he has many casual friends, he really only has one good friend (also a dedicated bachelor) who’s been there for him through thick and thin over the last 35 years. But other than family (we’re spread all over the country), and this one friend, he has no one—no spouse, no children, no grandchildren. Fortunately, I live very close so I can be there for him. My point is, he comes very close to dying alone.

Ironically, the very thing that made my brother relationally dysfunctional and broken was his willingness to put his life on the line for others. It was his self-sacrifice that became the very thing that would eventually destroy him. Jesus’ words ring true for every vet who put him or herself in harm’s way for our benefit:

13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13 NIV)

Contrary to a popular baby-boomer mantra, he who dies with the most toys still dies. We won’t care one whit about how we put our career first or what we accomplished on our death bed. What will really matter is our relationships. The people we love and those who love us. This is foundational to living a full life.

Our success at love and relationships is totally dependent on our ability to make our lives about others. Because love, at its core, is other-centered and self-giving. It’s in dying to self that we really find our true self.

Unfortunately, ours is an increasingly self-absorbed culture that works against us finding this secret to life. We’re the product of clever marketing. The average video gamer is a 32-year old male. Many young people aren’t getting married or having kids…there’s other reasons for this, but one of them is they’re not growing up. And, before we’re too hard on them, they’ve inherited this “it’s all about me” from us baby-boomers.

We’ve forgotten civility and honor as a culture. Social media has become anything but social. We’ve never been more separated and distracted by entertainment and technology. We seem to think it’s okay to insult those who serve us in restaurants and coffee shops. We’re more politically polarized and mean-spirited than ever before.  And we certainly don’t need God…or any one else for that matter…we have an app for that! 🙂

It’s possible to have every need met without ever actually interacting with real people.

But all this does is keep us distracted from the big elephant in the room…that our lives have grown more empty and will continue to do so until we can live for a greater purpose than ourselves. Certainly, there’s medication for this. There is…but that doesn’t really change anything, does it.

I say this because all these things are ingredients for living a wasted life. You may not agree, but you’ll only know for sure when you reach the end of it.

What gives our lives meaning is found in how we loved. And love ultimately comes from God.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8 NIV).

I will finish with George Bailey. He found out that Jesus’ maxim is true. If you remember from the classic movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George always thought about others more than himself, and spent most of his adult life frustrated because every time he would try to make his own dreams come true, someone else would need his money or his time more. But, in the end, George Bailey found out he was the richest man in town. He learned what it means to live a wonderfully full life.

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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 38 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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28 Responses to How NOT to waste your life

  1. jim- says:

    Sorry about your brother. We’re at that age now we all know too many of these living casualties of senseless battles.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks, Jim. Very true. I’ve known several vets that have cancer now, or died, in their 70s because of Agent Orange. My brother remembers them telling him that the stuff was harmless after they accidentally splashed him in the face with with it. He was only 20 years old at the time. Vietnam was truly a tragically senseless fight for us in so many ways. My brother was against the war. But my heart goes out to all those like him who served so bravely under such conditions anyway.

  2. Bill Sweeney says:

    “We live a full and vibrant life by not making it about us.”
    This is so true, Mel! As Holy Spirit revealed to me shortly after I was diagnosed with ALS, even our horrible trials are not (just) about us. It’s all about what God wants to do through us.
    God bless you for taking care of your brother, caregivers are the best among us. Does your brother have a relationship with Christ?

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks, Bill. You truly are a testament to what God can do! And thanks so much for your comments. Much appreciated. Even though my brother did not live a Christian life for most of his life, he has always believed, and has come to trust Him with his life these last couple of years since he’s had time to reflect on what’s important. We’ve also had some good talks about this, too. 🙂

  3. hawk2017 says:

    Beautiful. TY for the reminder. 🙂

  4. grabaspine says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your brother. Mine passed about 5yrs ago. We miss him still. Peace

  5. I’m sorry about your brother and your sadness, Mel. My BIL was in Vietnam too, he passed away a few years ago, across the country, far from family. What was so sweet, the veterans gave him a funeral, a bell toll, a 21 gun salute. They didn’t know him, he wasn’t their friend, but they did it because he was their own. That’s Jesus too, like a soldier or a brother, welcoming us home because we are one of His.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks, and that’s cool what the vets did for your brother. They are like family. The vets auxiliary here want to do something special for mine when the time comes.

      But the greatest welcome will definitely be on that day when Jesus welcomes us home. What a party! 😊

  6. Wally Fry says:

    Mel, I am so sorry about your brother. I pray that he has good caregivers attending to him as he departs this life. I also hate that he was yet another victim of our seemingly never-ending desire to insert ourselves everywhere, costing young(and older) lives in the process. I thank God he was willing to serve despite his feelings. That is honorable and we should respect that greatly.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks, Wally. He has great caregivers and he’s not in any real pain. It is sad how many young people have had to pay the price for our government foolishly inserting itself where we should’ve been. But he, and a lot of other brave young men, did do the honorable thing and that’s important in this life, too. They should be treated with honor and great respect. And real justice for the crappy and unjust things we have to go through in this life comes in the next one. 🙂

  7. Pingback: On Wasted lives – Truth in Palmyra

  8. Citizen Tom says:

    The Vietnam War was like any other war. When things get to the point we have to fight, it is a sign we don’t know what we are doing. Sigh! The human race is fallen. Lost sheep.

    I could have been drafted, but I was not (high draft number). Still, I entered AFROTC, but by the time I graduated it was over. Did not want any part of that war, but I respect the guys who went. Duty. Honor. Country. These are not things we talk about much, but the Vietnam vets I met in college and in the military did. It is especially difficult to serve the ungrateful.

    Matt 16:25 defies easy explanation. One reason for that is that humility is one of those many important words we have defined poorly. Ultimately, humility requires us to be obedient to God, to love as He loved. Humility of that sort appears to require a great deal of suffering, and who wants that? Yet He found joy in His suffering, immense suffering. It is worth considering when He found joy and why.

    I thank your brother for his service. When his time comes, may he find the joy we all hope for in the presence of our Lord.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Well said, Tom. I agree. We don’t understand humility. We confuse it with putting ourselves down, which can be a form of pride. Btw, my draft number was 520 when I turned 18. About as high as it went! I graduated in 1974 and it was over by then anyway. But I saw what it did to my brother, and others, and no one should ever have to go through that, especially for such a lousy cause.

      • Citizen Tom says:

        @Mel

        Graduated in 1970. My number was up in the 250’s, if I recall correctly.

        When I considered the war, I was horrified by the fact our leaders did not seem to know what they were doing.

        My father retired as an NCO in the USAF, and he had served in WWII starting in North Africa. When I was in high school, he was a communications instructor at Kessler AFB, MS. His job included training Vietnamese soldiers. He was proud of his sons when we joined the military, but he had no interest in seeing us involved in that war. He could see it was futile.

        As a nation I think we came out of WWII with some unrealistic expectations. We thought we could make the rest of world like America, and our leaders floundered when they discovered the rest of the world had other ideas. We should have just done what our Lord told us to do, spread His Gospel.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Amen, Tom. That whole idea of us butting into international affairs started with Wilson and World War I. Washington, in his farewell address, warned us not to get entangled in international treaties and foreign affairs. But, as you alluded to before, there are just causes to fight against oppression, and we probably let Hitler go too far being isolationists before World War II. But then we went the opposite direction with Korea and Vietnam, trying to “keep the world safe for democracy.” (A Wilson-ism, btw) And I would argue, with Afghanistan. We have no business being in those places. And I think the results prove it to be so.

        • Citizen Tom says:

          @Mel

          Even in hindsight I don’t know what we should have done about Korea and Vietnam. We talk about the Holocaust, but the Communists murdered far more people. So we had cause, but we did not seem to know what to do, and in Vietnam we lost.

          Spreading the Gospel would have worked better, but the Communists will not allow it. Neither will some others, Muslims in particular.

          Unfortunately, we are still muddling about. Fortunately, our enemies are even more incompetent. In that respect, God has been quite gracious to us.

  9. SLIMJIM says:

    Hearing about your brother moved me

  10. Randy Epps says:

    Mel, I’m sorry it took me so long to discover your blog. I have a lot of catching up to do. God uses our pain to open our hearts to life. The life that is worth living, the life that means something.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Randy. You’re right, He does use pain to shape us and help us see things we would never notice otherwise. Our life was meant to have meaning and purpose beyond ourselves. When we discover this, our hearts are filled with joy, no matter what circumstances may bring.

  11. Sorry Mel for the situation in the natural and yet, just like myself who just came through kidney cancer, my hope is looking forward to the Eternal! Until that time, I will do what the Holy Spirit directs me to do until He finally declares, “Well done though good and faithful servant!”

    It is a joy to know that your brother has also reconciled with the Lord and it is truly a blessing to know that according to Jesus’ parables about the workers in the fields, it doesn’t matter in His eyes if someone has been trusting Him for sixty years or six years. Our physical age has no bearing on God’s AWESOME grace and mercy!

    I will remember you and your family (your brother included) at this time where in the natural the pain will be real and at least part of my prayer will be that you and yours sense the REAL Joy of the Holy Spirit in your hearts as the Lord’s Joy in one of His children is coming home to Him!

    Take care and God bless you richly and abundantly, my brother in Christ!

  12. Mel, soon your brother will step into Glory where he will wait until you join him there. You and he will be in my prayers as that day comes closer. I’m so sorry for what the war did to him and to so many men and women like him. Please let him know that I appreciate his service and he will be remembered.

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