I read an article on CNN this past week about a man who was left paralyzed after falling 16 feet. He was faced with a decision to make after learning from doctors that his chances of full recovery were slim to none. Did he want to continue on living when odds were that he would not regain his mobility? His decision was an emphatic no, and he asked doctors to disconnect him from the ventilator. He died at the age of 32, leaving behind a wife who was pregnant with his child.
His wife spoke to the root reason behind his decision: “The last thing he wanted was to be in a wheelchair. The quality of life would have been very poor.” There may have been more to the story than a brief news article let on, but from a surface level, I was deeply saddened by his decision.
I have been asked a similar question multiple times. People are curious as to if I would have rather died in the car accident than live in the condition I currently do. I touched on the answer to this in “The fleeting nature of positive thinking,” but I would be amiss if the story did not cause me to reflect again on how thankful I am for life itself.
Over the past four years, God has been challenging me to reexamine my priorities and, consequently, has gradually reshaped my view on what denotes a “good quality of life.” That begs the question: What am I going to do with the time I have left?
Being forced to slow down from the business of the nonstop college life as I knew it has caused me to ask questions and reevaluate how I’m allocating my time. After taking inventory on how I spend my time and what I allow to consume my thoughts, there are certain aspects that I can point to and wonder: Does this really matter?
I am challenged by Matthew Kelly’s statement on the topic in The Rhythm of Life: “What are we all too busy doing? For the most part, we are too busy doing just about everything, that means just about nothing, to just about nobody, just about anywhere…and will mean even less to anyone a hundred years from now.”
My time left on this earth is limited, regardless of how much of that time will be spent in a wheelchair. Many times I get frustrated at the amount of time taken away from my days simply because of paralysis. On top of being incredibly humbling, having someone assist me with getting out of bed, showering, getting dressed, and eating breakfast seems to take an eternity compared to doing the same at 21-years-old in my fraternity house on the way to class. With less hours to leverage each day, it is often tempting to make excuses for not making good use of the time I do have.
Jonathan Edwards, a pastor from the 1700s, came up with 70 resolutions for living life effectively. One that sticks out to me is: “Resolved, never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can.” Talk about a man with a plan for efficiency.
Edwards’ objective may seem extreme, but the more I realize how limited my time here is, the more practical this advice seems. When I look to the Bible, I see time and time again references to how fleeting this world is. My life is portrayed as “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14). I’m reminded that the time is short, this world is passing away, and I am to live always consciously with that in mind (See 1 Corinthians 7:29 – 31).
Paralyzed or not, I want to take advantage of every moment I have now. I don’t want to just sit around accepting my circumstance, letting the days idly pass by as if to say, “Looks like I had bad luck in this life. Hopefully the time speeds up so I can just hurry up to heaven.” Instead, I want to invest in life-giving relationships, learn more about the world around me, leave an impact that continues beyond my last breath, and experience God’s kingdom on earth as much as possible before I meet him face-to-face in heaven having run the race of life to the fullest. In doing so, I believe I will find deeper meaning in the days ahead, as I’ve learned “quality of life” does not have to depend on physical capabilities.
This video breaks down how our time is spent, and ends with an incredible challenge:
Donald Miller, author of A Million Miles in A Thousand Years, a narrative that has challenged me to live a better story with the time I have, said, “Our lives have a countdown clock that we can’t see. Mine reminds me to only do what matters”. I am thankful that my life did not end in a car accident or in the days thereafter, and thus, my countdown has not completed, but I know that the clock is ticking. How will I spend the time I have left?
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