A Purpose for Living

As I surveyed the sea of people dressed in black, shedding quiet sorrowful tears, I reflected that – for me – this was the most devastating consequence of Covid-19 so far. I’d cut short my break in Keswick by a day to attend.

No, he hadn’t actually caught Covid-19. My friend and ex-colleague had died of despair. Unable to work because of the pandemic and therefore unable to support his family, he’d decided there was nothing else to live for. I reflected that most of us who knew him would have strongly disagreed. Aged 57, he was kind, an excellent mentor as my daughter Helen well knew. He was clever, original, inventive, always willing to go the extra mile for you. A loving husband, stepdad, and step-granddad. But he didn’t see the value in his life that others did. Self-esteem had never been his strong point.

This sad event set me thinking about ‘purpose’. I decided to interview two elderly widows, both of whom live in their own homes, are of sound mind, but have had to adapt to depending on others for most aspects of their daily lives. One is confined to her four walls, the other mostly so. You’d reckon that my late friend would have had far greater potential to make a contribution to the world than either of them.

And so, I asked Betty, aged 96, what was her purpose for living. She replied that every day provides her with opportunities to share the love of Jesus. During the pandemic, much of this has had to happen by telephone. But she told me about her fall in May this year, after which she needed hospital treatment followed for a few weeks of care visits. She recalled some of the conversations she enjoyed with the nursing staff and how she’d built relationships with her carers at home.

Beryl, aged 98, admits that she wouldn’t have chosen to live so long. She’s asleep for much of the day. But she’s blessed with an optimistic disposition, and her home is a welcoming place. She’s become a local celebrity, and the neighbours made her the centrepiece of June’s VE Day celebrations, placing bunting around her porch and serving tea and scones to each other. Beryl has carers who visit three times a day, amongst whom she’s a great favourite as she makes a point of drawing them out and taking an interest in them. Her purpose, if you have to define it, is to brighten up other people’s lives.

I asked Betty what her greatest challenge was. It was, she said, to gracefully relinquish her independence, for example letting her family share responsibility for her finances. For Beryl, one word sufficed. Pain. She suffers terribly from osteo-arthritis.

How, I asked them, did their faith make a difference? Beryl found this difficult to answer. If only Jesus would heal her pain! We have asked, many times…After some discussion, I’d reflect that Beryl’s faith provides a framework for her whole outlook on life and hope for the future, even though not something she’s conscious of during the day.

Betty would say she experiences her friendship with Jesus sustaining and inspiring her throughout each day. When I spoke to her, she’d been reflecting on Romans 8 in which St Paul speaks about nothing being able to separate a believer from the love of Christ. In verse 37 he declares, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us.” Betty was saying that she wasn’t just a conqueror, successfully managing each day. She was more than a conqueror! She could speak kindly to everyone she met. With some she could share Jesus and his Good News. Others she could encourage in their faith. Like me!

In conclusion, I remember something Betty wrote in a card some years ago. She said, ‘Thank you for being you’. I believe what’s true of both these old ladies is that, although age has stripped them of their energy, their strength and much of their independence, it hasn’t stripped them of who they are. They give themselves to others and, as such, their lives have purpose.          

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