Christian Reflection: Does Pursuing an Exceptional Life Bring True Happiness? (Part 1)
By Xin Ai
“Look, Ai’s uncle left more gifts for them! Her uncle has money and power, and Ai’s family certainly benefits a lot from that!”
“They really do. You can’t help but admire them….”
Villagers stood around Ai’s family doorway, watching a stack of boxes being unloaded and carried into the house, as they discussed what they were seeing.
Ai’s uncle was an official who everyone in the village envied. Whenever there were material deficiencies, each Chinese New Year, and on every holiday, this uncle would have food and daily necessities sent to her family. Her uncle had money and power, which Ai especially admired about him, and at the same time, she hoped that one day, she could live a life others would admire. So, Ai secretly swore an oath to herself: She would study hard, leave her little world, and in the future, just like her uncle, she would rise above the crowd and become someone exceptional.
After that moment, Ai studied as hard as she could, but she failed the college entrance exam by just two points. She knew she could do better, so she hoped to retake the exam and try again. But, her father’s early death left her family without a source of income. At that time, her older brother and sister were also going to school, which undoubtedly was a tremendous source of pressure for her mother, who had to struggle on alone. Ai was forced to drop out of school, shattering Ai’s hopes of achieving her dream of rising above others through testing into college.
In Pursuit of Her Dream, She Became Lost
Soon, Ai got married, but she continued to work hard for the exceptional life she wanted. She took several part-time jobs: working in a school cafeteria, opening a convenience store, and working part-time as a package courier. Every day, she had to precisely calculate at what time she should be where, including when she should be taking care of the child and housework, and she was constantly running between home, the cafeteria, the shop, and the post office. She was always too busy to stop and rest. Even on Saturdays and Sundays, Ai was busy delivering wholesale goods and packages. She was like a money-making machine, constantly running….
After two years of hard work, Ai weighed only 35 kg. Long-term fatigue had made her physically weak. She often felt dizzy and felt her vision go blurry, she was often short of breath, and her limbs felt like leaden weight, but she still clenched her teeth and continued to work. Ai silently encouraged herself by saying, “After a few more years of hard work, once I’ve earned enough to do bigger business, I’ll be able to live an exceptional life. The saying goes, ‘No pain, no gain.’ I have to keep fighting!” And so, Ai persistently struggled toward her goal....
But reality rarely matches our expectations of it. Just as Ai was preparing to help her husband, a teacher, recruit more tutoring students to earn more money, the sudden onset of cholecystitis and hepatitis sent her husband to the hospital. When the doctors told her that surgery was required, Ai panicked, her vision went dark, and she fainted.
When she awakened, the doctor said to her, “Money must be more important to you than your life! You are already severely anemic. Long-term inadequate blood supply can lead to anemic heart disease, which can cause serious arrhythmia, or even acute myocardial infarction. That’s what overwork and malnutrition get you. Don’t you realize that life is more important than money?! ...” Faced with the fact of her own symptoms and the doctor’s accusations, Ai could no longer suppress her feelings. Bitter tears streamed down her face. She couldn’t understand why life was so difficult. She began to think, “For the last few years, I’ve wanted nothing but to earn some money and live an exceptional life, and to do that, I’ve worked nonstop, but not only have I failed to live the good life I wanted, I’ve actually made myself sick. The money I’ve earned isn’t even enough to pay for the treatment my husband and I required every year! Is this all my life will ever be? Why does life have to be so difficult? What’s the reason for living at all? …” Ai felt extremely dejected and depressed. Teardrops streamed silently down her cheeks. She felt like a little child lost in a huge forest, unable to find her direction, confused, helpless, and terrified….
Reviving Her Old Dream, Falling Into Decadence
In 1996, the lost and confused Ai received the Lord Jesus’ gospel. The Lord cured her and her husband’s illnesses, Ai was deeply moved by the Lord Jesus’ love. She felt she had found something to rely on, and that there was new hope in her life. She longed to gain the eternal life granted by the Lord, so she threw herself into expending for the Lord, traveling and busying herself with all her strength to spread the gospel of the Lord Jesus. Now, she felt a sense of security and peace she had never before experienced.
Time flew by. More than a decade passed in the blink of an eye. Now, Ai’s child had grown up. Ai’s coworkers and friends had been working all these years, and with some success. They had bought houses and cars, often went on vacations or went traveling, and they all had money to throw around. Ai envied them when she saw this, and when her husband saw these things, he complained that she hadn’t worked hard enough in the past few years to earn money, so now they didn’t live as well as other people. Although Ai answered her husband with the Lord’s teaching that one should be content to have sufficient food and clothes, a voice in her heart would always mumble, “It’s true! I’m no more of a fool than they are! If I’d done business over the last few years, maybe now….” The seed of her desire to live an extraordinary life began to sprout and flourish in her heart again. Ai remembered that her child needed money to attend school, and when compounded with the disdainful looks of her neighbors and relatives, she couldn’t help but fall for Satan’s temptation. With her old dream revived, she bought her younger sister’s restaurant, and again began operating her own business … Each time she remembered that the Lord taught we shouldn’t pursue worldly trends, but instead should pursue the words of life, Ai felt insecure and guilty, but when she thought of the extraordinary life she desired, she resolutely plowed herself back into her business and continued to work with all her strength …
Through Ai’s painstaking management and hard work, her business flourished and grew, but Ai, who was obsessed with the thought of profits, wasn’t satisfied. She began to yearn to buy a house, and set aside some funds for her son to open a remodeling company. Her ambitions and desires grew with time, her desires led her heart astray, and soon it was impossible for her to stop. Slowly, she became so busy she had no time to read the Bible, pray, or go to meetings, and she grew ever more distant from the Lord’s requirements …
Sudden Disaster, Hopeless Desperation
One day in late 2010, Ai was busy with her business when she suddenly learned that a designer at her son’s company had gotten into a car crash and killed another driver. This sudden disaster was a heavy blow for Ai, who faced having to pay a huge sum in compensation, possibly even closing the company. Ai didn’t know how to turn her situation around, and she lacked the ability to do so. In her heart, she trembled as she called out, “Lord! Lord! …” She didn’t know what to do, and didn’t have the words to explain how she felt. Silent tears streamed down her face. The only way she could think of was to sell her house to pay off the debt, but because her house failed the safety inspection, it remained on the market for a year without even an inquiry. Ai was left utterly hopeless. Late at night, when everyone else was asleep, Ai fell to her knees and called out, “Lord! Where are You? Lord, I was wrong! I shouldn’t have lusted for worldly things. I shouldn’t have been like Balaam and gone down the wrong path for the sake of gain. I’ve run farther and farther away from You, and I live in torment. Lord! I beg You for mercy. Save me! Help me escape this misery….”