by Michael Anthony
When does life lose its worth? The new movie, Me Before You, is sure to make you think, because it raises the merits of assisted suicide for those who don’t have the potential of living a “normal,” “happy” life. In it, Will Traynor (played by Sam Claflin of “The Hunger Games”) becomes a paraplegic – and must decide, along with his love, Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke of “Game of Thrones”), if the life he now faces is truly worth living.
What does it mean to “live boldly” as the tagline for Me Before You commends? What is a life “worth” living? What conditions determine happiness, success and value? Who should make decisions about whether or not one should try to live when the life once known is irrevocably gone? Should such decisions even be left to the individual facing the incomprehensible challenges of a radically different life?
There is a person who has made quite a life – a remarkable life – after facing traumatic circumstances very similar to Will. Rather than having to speculate about the value of life after a tragic, life-changing accident, Joni Eareckson Tada lived (and continues to live) a bold life that the movie wants us to question. After a swimming accident transformed her into a quadraplegic, Tada had to face an entirely new life – one some might question as valuable if we embrace Will’s thinking in Me Before You. In real life, Joni went on to become an exceptionally successful singer, songwriter, author and speaker. This is not speculation about living boldly. It is reality.
A bold life cannot be meaningfully measured by what one has and does, but by what one does with the little one has. All of us have dreams of the lives we’d like to live. The real challenge is to live the life God dreams for us. I’m a cancer survivor. And, I nearly died on three occasions apart from cancer. Life has not turned out the way I envisioned it. Honestly, there was an embarrassingly long time when I deceived myself into thinking life was about the fulfillment of my vision. I realize now that the only thing worth realizing is God’s vision, and this requires complete surrender. We cannot control the circumstances of our lives, but we can give to God is the gift our lives surrendered – fully – to Him. Sometimes I succeed in this quest, and other times I royally fail. But if the story of my life is merely about me and my vision, then I’ve actually put me before God. God, however, must be before me. He must be before you.
Living a surrendered life is not easy. And if it’s become easy, it’s a sure sign you’re no longer surrendered. Carrying a cross is painful, because it means the deliberate death of self – entirely – for the glory of God.
The truth is, we don’t need to see a movie to live boldly. Joni Eareckson Tada is living the dream. Her legacy is an eternal one. She will live forever, even when she is one day gone from this earth, as the woman who taught us all that the quality of life is not measured by comparison. That boldness is only measured when we are lacking, not living in luxury. Many of us are living lives far below our potential – for no other reason than having taken ourselves out of the equation. No, most of us don’t need an accident to transform our lives and change the way we live. We often do a fine job of just getting by day to day, when we could be soaring. And why? Because we believe so many lies about ourselves, about life and about God.
We compare ourselves with ourselves – and often feel as though we miss the mark, who is Jesus, our Master, Savior, God and Friend. We compare ourselves to others, and as we do so goes the life we’d otherwise live. How easy it is for us, created in the very image of God, to think and act as if we were still the dust of the earth. The truth is that each of us has been given a life – and that life is worth living simply because it’s been given to us.
2 Corinthians 10:12-13 says this:
We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. (NIV)
Today’s “wisdom” often contradicts divine wisdom – and likewise squelches God’s glory and what we could achieve, if only we were surrendered to Him. But in order to be committed to Christ, doesn’t it require being less committed to our own success, happiness, wealth, health and popularity? Is it possible to be surrendered to Christ without dying to the pursuit and preservation of anything else?
If today’s “wisdom” about the value of life were embraced on the day Joni’s life forever changed, it’s very possible that Joni would have – and could have – made a fundamentally different decision about carrying on. I’m so very, very grateful the world was a wiser place back then. And you should be, too. Go get one of Joni’s books. Listen to one of her songs. Take a long gaze at one of her paintings, crafted while she held the brush firmly between her teeth, with truly bold resolve. Joni has done, and is doing, far more from her wheelchair than the great majority of us are doing with far more.
By all means, go see Me Before You – but remember Joni in the process. Remember that she embodies, in her paralyzed body, what it means to live boldly. Surrender and boldness are not enemies. They are kinsmen. If you make them your travel mates, you too will live boldly – no matter the cards you may be dealt.
Michael Anthony is founder and president of Godfactor.com; founder of the National Week of Repentance (RevivalMatters.com); and lead pastor of Grace Fellowship of York, Pa. (GraceYork.com). All views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.