What do people need to have a full and abundant life? Many of us might think of material things as the primary need, and Maslow’s physiological and safety needs (see my 11/14/2010 blog) certainly are foundational for life. In reality, however, people can have everything they could ever need in a material sense and still have an empty and unsatisfying life. Column 1 in the “Making Disciples Chart” lists six ingredients that I think are essential for the full and abundant life to which Christ calls us: identity, love, acceptance, achievement, legacy, and integrity. Over the next few days I will address these needs; but because a close association between material things and happiness is so ingrained in our society, I want to share an anecdote first.
In 1970 I began my service as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Crothersville, IN. One of my first Saturdays in Crothersville, a deacon in the church took me around to introduce me to some people in the community. One visit that day was to an elderly, homebound couple named Jephthah and Mary Bridges.
Jeppie and Mary probably were the poorest people I have ever known. Jeppie was a member of our church, but Mary belonged to the Presbyterian church in the next block down from our church. Their small, dilapidated home had floors that sagged from a poor foundation. The exterior had flaking paint and was overgrown with bushes, vines, and weeds. Finding a sturdy chair to sit in always required bringing a chair from the kitchen table into the small living room where Jeppie sat in his old recliner. Jeppie would tell stories of when the first automobiles came through town and he had to pull them out of muddy ruts with his mule. Mary was one of those people who made you feel like you were the best friend she ever had. They had little in terms of material possessions; but they were two of the happiest, most fulfilled people I have ever known. Over the next five-and-a-half years of my pastorate, I buried Jeppie and found Mary to be one of my best supporters. The smile on her face when you came to see her was enough to make your entire week.
Several years after we left Crothersville, Mary suffered a stroke that partially paralyzed her and left her unable to speak. She was placed in a nursing home in Brownstown and was only able to communicate by spelling out words, pointing with the only hand she could use to letters on a board with the alphabet printed on it. My last time to see her was about 15 years later when we went back to Crothersville for the church’s 100th anniversary. After the anniversary celebration, we drove to Brownstown to see Mary in the nursing home. As soon as I walked in the door, Mary’s eyes brightened and the unparalyzed side of her face broke into a big smile. I talked and Mary spelled; and the magic of a full and abundant life touched me again. This humble disciple of Jesus Christ made my day, and my week, and in many ways my life better.