Why should I choose life? — It’s a question that presents itself to many people struggling under severe circumstances. When the odds are against you when there’s no way out of the suffering, why choose life? What does scripture say about choosing life amid these circumstances, and what role (if any) should Christians play in influencing these decisions?
Choosing Life Can Be Hard
Imagine for a moment, you receive bad news from your doctor. The treatments have failed. He or she says you can endure the next six months of pain, or they can provide you a gentle slip into an endless sleep. Or maybe it’s not physical anguish that concerns you. Perhaps it’s mental or emotional: you’ve endured years of crippling depression and anxiety. Then again, it might be the life of your loved one in question. Imagine the shock and inner turmoil when a doctor comes to you, grief in their eyes, and tells you that your precious baby has Nemaline Myopathy. Maybe he or she says that your elderly mother’s health is rapidly failing, and they predict the next year of her life to be lacking in quality and comfort.
While most of us can’t imagine what it’s like to face these kinds of choices, many do. In these heartbreaking cases, choosing what looks like a life of suffering over a quiet death, might seem like a merciful option. Thankfully, there are hopeful truths that offer motivation for choosing life, even in the face of hopelessness.
Running the Race
The Bible contains several scriptures concerning life-long challenges. One of the better-known cases of this is the struggle of the Apostle Paul.
The Thorn in Paul’s Side
Paul struggled with a mysterious condition that he referred to as a “thorn” in his flesh. The most we know of Paul’s struggle is that it caused Paul grief and that Paul was spiritually harrased because of it. Whether the “thorn” was spiritual, physical, or a combination of both, his response to God sets the example of how Christians can respond to life’s intimidating challenges.
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
Paul insists that, although his “thorn” was the cause of much pain and suffering, it was used for the glory of God. Knowing Paul’s personal struggles gives a deeper meaning to Paul’s charge to believers in the book of Hebrews.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
A True Story: Sharon and Elaine
Years ago, I had the privilege of attending church with two ladies, *Sharon and *Elaine, who decided to form a runners club at our church. Each woman was at a different level of fitness and overall health. Sharon, who had been a long-distance runner in school, was 5’7 and only slightly overweight. Having struggled with past trauma that led to disordered eating, Elaine was 5’4 and weighed nearly 270lbs. Despite their differences, they decided they’d team up and work together as sisters in Christ to run a half marathon, each at her own pace.
They set their eyes on a race that was 16 weeks out. Drawing on Sharon’s running knowledge, they drew up a plan to reacquaint Sharon with marathon training and develop necessary long-distance running skills in Elaine.
It was hard work, but the women met nearly every day over the six weeks and ran laps around the church parking lot. By the time of their race, they had both worked up to running 13.1 miles. Amazingly, Sharon had managed to achieve an 11-minute mile, and Elaine had shed almost 50lbs.
As each woman prepared for the race, they agreed that they’d do their best, regardless of how fast the other person was going. This way, each woman could achieve the goals they set for themselves. Sharon hoped to beat her previous minute mile, while Elaine hoped to finish the race within its given time frame of 4 hours.
The race began. As expected, Sharon was soon well past Elaine. A little over two hours into the race, Sharon found herself at the final stretch. These last few miles of the race were the hardest, leading the runners up a summit named Blackberry Mountain. Sharon turned up her running music and scaled the summit, pushing past the pain of tired legs and lungs. She crossed the finished line with a time of 2:22:00, having run 10:51-minute miles. For Sharon, this was mission accomplished!
However, as she stood at the finish line waiting for Elaine, she grew worried. An hour passed, and there was no sign of her running companion. Then, like a scene out of a movie, it started to rain. Out of concern for her friend, Sharon laced up her shoes and raced back across the finish line.
Facing the Mountain Together
Sharon backtracked two miles down the mountain until she found Elaine. Elaine had made it to the base of the summit. She was running against the rain, slipping every so often as the road grew slick. On top of that, Elaine was running with a prominent limp. Somewhere along the way, Elaine had developed a half-dollar-sized blister on her foot. Now, the trek up Blackberry Mountain, challenging even for athletic Sharon, was increasingly painful for Elaine.
Together, they scaled Blackberry Mountain. All the way up, Sharon offered encouraging words.
“You’re doing great!”
“I’m so proud of you!”
“One more mile! Just one more mile!”
“It’s just around the corner!”
“There’s the finish line! Look! You’ve made it!”
With both ladies crying tears of joy and relief, Sharon and Elaine raced across the finish line. They were met with family, friends, and even strangers happily applauding.
Elaine had finished the race with a time of 3:54:53. In six weeks, Elaine, who had never ran a day in her life, became a half-marathoner.
Same Race, Different Pace
Each runner ran at a different pace and faced different challenges along the way. However, both were celebrated at the finish line with equal excitement and respect for the feats they had accomplished.
Since this race, Elaine, using the foundational running skills that Sharon helped her develop, has encouraged numerous other women to train for their own races. Furthermore, when Elaine’s friends think they’ll never be able to run 13.1 miles, Elaine shares with them the advice that Sharon gave her when struggling to jog her first five miles during training:
“Your brain thinks you can’t, because you’ve never done it before. Trust me, you can.”
Would Jesus Choose Life?
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is the perfect example of how Christians should help others run their race. In Isaiah, we find the life of Jesus layed out according to God’s plan:
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:3-4)
Jesus finished his race well, even closing his earthly life with a plea to God for those persecuting him to be forgiven (Luke 23:34a). And like a faithful friend, after crossing the finish line, Jesus stepped back over it and ran to meet us. Consumed with love, He isn’t intimidated by the slippery slopes and pouring rain. And He isn’t frustrated by our slow, limping pace. With Jesus bearing our pain and challenges alongside us, we can scale the final summit and cross the finish line–victoriously!
Christians and Choosing Life
As Christians, we are called to be as Jesus, bearing with one another in love. The Apostle Paul stresses this too, calling Christians to walk in our own callings while bearing one another’s burdens (Ephesians 4:1-3 and Galatians 6:1-3).
Just as Sharon and Elaine faced the same race with different challenges, each of us has our own race with unique obstacles.
Some see these challenges as blessings in disguise, others as side effects of living in a fallen world. Either way, we can be confident that God’s will is that we don’t have to run this race alone. Furthermore, we are offered the honor of standing beside others as they run their race. Additionally, because Christians are called to be vessels of the Gospel, we have been empowered with the greatest weapon in combatting hopelessness — love.
How Christ-like love appears in our lives is outlined in 1 Corinthians 13:
Empowering Others to Choose Life
Thankfully, many followers of Christ are already replicating the love of Jesus in the lives of those who face extra challenges. These efforts range from providing alternatives to abortion for mothers of unexpected or unique pregnancies, to becoming a Hospital Sitter for those facing health-related challenges.
Jesus ran His race with the hopes that we could cross the finish line as He did, with our entire life poured out in love, cheered on by those who ran the race before us. So, the next time you encounter a hopeless case, or find yourself limping with miles to go before you rest, choose to see life differently. It’s not about the quality of our gait or comfort of our stride. What matters is that we, and those we love, cross the finish line–triumphant!
For more information about helping others finish the race well: