One night, about a year before I was diagnosed with ALS, Mary and I were up late watching “Nightline.” Ted Koppel was doing three nights of interviews with a retired college professor named Morrie Schwartz. Morrie had ALS and was sharing his life-lessons with Ted Koppel just as he had done previously with one of his former students named Mitch Albom. Mitch later compiled these life-lessons and wrote a best-selling book titled “Tuesdays with Morrie.”
I hate to admit this, but even after seeing the three nights of interviews and reading the book, I cannot remember most of the life-lessons that Morrie taught. But, I do have one vivid memory from watching those interviews; it occurred while listening to Morrie describe his daily routine – having to rely on his wife and caregivers for virtually all of his needs. After hearing how helpless he was, I turned to Mary and told her I would rather just go to heaven than live trapped in my own body like him.
About a year after making that statement, I was diagnosed with that same “trapped-in-your-own-body” disease. While I believe words are powerful and can even be self-fulfilling (“Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” Proverbs 18:21), I don’t believe my statement had anything to do with my being diagnosed with the same disease the following year, but…
That hastily-made statement began to haunt and even taunt me when I began needing help from Mary with things I once did with little effort. The statement kept playing over and over in my head, challenging me to either disavow my words or live up to them. In this case, living up to my words meant throwing in the towel and going to heaven.
Obviously I chose to change my view and began trying to do my best to live one day at a time. But it wasn’t really me that decided to carry on; it was the grace of God in me, urging me to keep going. Not like a coach on the sidelines shouting, but more like the team captain competing alongside of me. It was then I knew the full meaning of verses like, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Hastily-made statements (like the one I made about Morrie) that are carelessly uttered by healthy people (like I was) are spoken out of pride. Pride is something we usually don’t know we’re guilty of before being humbled by a severe trial. Pride cannot comprehend the grace of God because pride is self-reliant, self-righteous and just plain selfish. God’s grace (to carry us through a trial) is one of the things people usually don’t factor in before making such statements.
Another thing people (who make statements like that) don’t consider or even understand, is how strong our God-given survival instinct is. Not merely for our physical survival, but also for our emotional and spiritual survival. This is an ironic thing because it would seem that a Christian (who believes in heaven) would be the first to cash in his chips, but the opposite is true. It is usually those that don’t believe in an after-life that judge the quality of their lives by physical, financial and other temporal pursuits and who cannot imagine a life worth living without these things. But the believer can know joy, peace, hope and have a sense of purpose without the worldly blessings. Of course, it’s always best to have both spiritual and earthly blessings, but, to the Christian, the former are essential and the latter are viewed merely as “bonuses.”
Trials cause us to reexamine the hastily-made statements we’ve made before the trial, when we so carelessly said what we’d do if this thing or that thing happened to us. As I discovered, no one really knows what they would do until faced with that situation. This is why the Bible tells us to “be slow to speak” (James 1:19).
This is the only advantage I’ve discovered from losing the ability to speak; I no longer say things that I regret!