Life in all its fullness - Part 2

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10

These thoughts are incomplete, and may not be entirely coherent, but I think I need to write them anyway, so I can move on to other things.

I have just returned from a week’s holiday in Rome. We stayed, once more, in the ‘religious house’ we know, run by a Polish Roman Catholic order - the ‘Congregation of the Resurrection’. What I love about staying there is the relaxed ‘family’ atmosphere, and the sense of peace and tranquility once you retreat behind the gates. Such a contrast to the hustle, bustle, chaos, and noise of Rome. The brothers (and the Benedictine sisters who come in each day to cook and clean for them) aren’t immune to life’s hurts and troubles, but they are remarkably content with their lot - and it shows - there is a lot of laughter and joy. That is such a contrast to travelling on the Rome Metro, where almost everyone looks either bored or incredibly miserable. And the level of misery seems to me to be inversely proportional to the beauty and ‘style’ of the person - most of the well-groomed ‘beautiful people’ look, at best, really unhappy. Clearly, good looks and fancy clothes don’t guarantee happiness or fulfilment.

Those people on the Metro don’t look to me to be living life to the full, but those in the religious house definitely do, even though (or perhaps because), by worldly standards, they have very little.

Back here in the UK, I knew a couple who scrimped and saved every day of their lives. Children of the Great Depression and WW2, they were terribly afraid of not having enough to live on, and so they spent as little of their money as they could, saving up for a ‘rainy day’ or their retirement, whichever came first. The rainy day never came, and still they amassed money. Then came retirement. She retired first, but he kept working - ten years longer than he needed to, so that he didn’t need to draw on his pension - just in case. A couple of years after retiring, he was diagnosed with a form of dementia. He lived, an increasingly debilitated life, for about another ten years, with her devoting increasing amounts of her time and energy to caring for him... And unable to enjoy life, or what they had saved. Now, she is alone, and has more money than she could possibly spend, even if she had the health or inclination to do so. He missed out on life. And she has missed out too. Even if she fell ill tomorrow, I doubt if she would need to spend a quarter of what they amassed to ensure a good standard of care to the end of her days. So now she’s sitting on a small fortune and is unable to enjoy it.

That too, seems rather unlike ‘life in all its fullness’.

So, what about ‘life in all its fullness’? It clearly isn’t about wealth or beauty. It’s also not about being happy all the time - life isn’t like that. We all have our troubles; our struggles. People we love get ill; get old; die; move away. Life is full of griefs; some major, some minor. All those things leave scars. But we should be pleased. Scars show that we have survived. The physical scars show that we survived where others didn’t; the emotional scars show that we love, and have loved. Those we loved may not be with us physically, any more, but they live on in our memories, and the scars remind us of them. Yes, we miss them, and it hurts; but it shows that we have the capacity to love. So, love those around you, even if there is the possibility that, in the end, it will end in pain. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in his poem "In Memoriam A.H.H.", said:

I hold it true, whate'er befall;

I feel it when I sorrow most;

'Tis better to have loved and lost

Than never to have loved at all.

Now, I am not about to ‘kick over the traces’; I am not about to become a hedonist, devoting myself to self-gratification. But I do intend, once more, to grab life by the scruff of the neck, and make the most of it.

Ecclesiastes 8:15 says:

So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.

That is often rendered, rather more pithily, in English as “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die”.

In ‘Works and Days’ Ralph Waldo Emerson writes:

“Just to fill the hour – that is happiness. Fill my hour, ye gods, so that I shall not say whilst I have done this ‘behold an hour of my life is gone,’ but rather ‘I have lived one hour.’”

In his children’s novel ‘The Hobbit’, JRR Tolkien has the dying dwarf king, Thorin Oakenshield, utter the following words to Bilbo Baggins:

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

Yes, life has its difficulties; its grief; and strife. But ‘living life to the full’ is about ‘finding the strawberries’, as one of my friends so delightfully puts it, instead of seeing the mud they’re growing in the midst of.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

I think that may well be the crux of the good news - it is, at least, one of the times when Jesus explicitly tells us why He has come. And I think it’s the duty of Christians to share that... It’s radically different to the ‘Thou shalt not...’ culture which a lot of people (even Christians) think the faith is all about.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2020