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Is There Something More?

March 15, 2010

Is There Something More? Musing on Life III

“The strongest insight you had in Halftime was ‘there is more than one lifetime’.”

— Peter F. Drucker

“The greatest case of mistaken identity in modern society relates to the four marks of public success: money, power, fame, and status.

“Success should never be confused with wealth or power. Rather, success should be linked to excellence and fulfillment.”

— Tom Morris, Norte Dame

There are two purposes in this museletter: 1) brief report on my health status, just the facts plainly stated. 2) My feelings about the new facts of my life – “living within limits” is the way my friend, Tom Luce, put it.

The Facts

Since December 27, I have had an infectious disease (Osteomyelitis) that has been eating away at my spine and bone marrow – very scary, very hard to diagnose in the early going. For the past seven weeks, we have been attacking this bug with three different high-powered antibiotics. The affects of these powerful medicines and additional pain medications put me completely out of action for this period. No appetite – lost thirty pounds. Very diverting, very hard to think. It was a very uncertain period. A bolt from the blue. A sneak attack.

Sooo last week with my friend, Tom Luce going with us (he gave two days of his priceless time), I was admitted to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Perhaps the best diagnostic center in the world. Here is what we found: The weeks of antibiotics had done their work. No further record of infection. None. I felt enormously better. That’s the good news. The bad news is that infection had done its work completely disintegrating the disc between T4 and T5 and as well doing a good deal of damage to structure of both vertebrae. The “fix” is one of two things: the good news is that T4 and T5 could fuse into themselves naturally forming one solid body – very little pain. Life goes on. Much need for prayer that this happens. The other option is not so pleasant: complex surgery to clean up the mess and replace it with rods and screws. Lots of nerves in that region by the spinal cord.

The Feelings

The very minute I walked into my home in Dallas from the Mayo trip, I saw a copy of Radix Magazine which carried a conversation I had seven years ago with  Dallas Willard, who has been on the faculty of UCLA as a Professor of Philosophy for nearly forty years. Dallas has had a profound impact on my faith and approach to life. I find him to be both deep and filled with common sense. If I could pick one person as coach on the deeper things of life, it would be Dallas Willard.

Reading the interview was as if Dallas was speaking directly across time to my present questions. The largest question, provoked by my transitional stage in life has been, “Is the work God called me to do finished? Or is there something more?” Dallas’ reflection, “People feel meaningless if they don’t have either heaven for a context, or a meaningful set of relationships, or a meaningful purpose in life that might relate to their work.

He said, “And if we don’t have some larger context than just the dreary day-to-day facts of life, negative feelings take over our lives, and that will eventually lead to some kind of crash.” That would be true of me.

Dallas went on to say (scientist that he is), “that you could empirically verify the causation flowing from the hopelessness and the disappointment to many of the physical effects you see in people in their later years.”

I asked, “What is it that provides hope and a sense of purpose in life?” Dallas said, “First of all, it has to be tied to something that transcends the individual life. For some people it used to be just being a member of a family or someone saying ‘I want to leave the world a better place.’” The message to me was that I had experienced a wonderful life in Life I and II and that this time of reflection was a period of transition to more serving and giving. I really couldn’t do without it. Contribution is a positive psychological addiction for me.

Does Prayer Change Things?

I have been the recipient of waves and waves of prayer from friends, even people I don’t know across the country. I don’t have words to adequately express the gratitude and encouragement I feel. Thank you.

One of my favorite prayers came from Renaissance Man, Mort Meyerson (he’s Jewish):

“Tom Luce tells me you have had health issues. You are going to get the best treatment and care and I will be praying for your return to perfect health.

It is good to have both sides of the aisle represented in beseeching.”

About prayer Dallas said, “It is now empirically established. We have always said, ‘Prayer changes things,’ and it really does both emotional and physical things. … You know, it’s ironic, Bob,” Dallas continued, “but this actually scares a lot of people.  They don’t have a problem with prayer as some sort of abstract or religious practice, but they don’t know what to make of it when they discover that prayer really does change things in their lives.  But it’s an undeniable fact, and a number of double-blind controlled studies by empirical researchers who were not religious people have demonstrated the affects of prayer.  There is a clear impact when people pray.

“I’m reminded,” he added, “of a medical doctor who was raised there in Texas, Larry Dossey, who once said that if your doctor doesn’t lay hands on you and pray for you, you should sue him for malpractice.”

Success and Significance

How important will they be in this coming Stage III of my life? Is this time to relax?  The answer to that question that Dallas gave me seven years ago was remarkably in tune with the answer Tom Luce provided last week by the example of his sacrifice and his presence. Dallas’ observation, “I think the critical difference between success and significance is that success has more to do with outcomes I’m in charge of, while significance has more to do with outcomes I’m not in charge of. The beautiful thing about significance is that we resign the outcomes to God, and we let a power beyond ourselves take care of them. Success is focused on my action, my control, my outcomes, whereas significance is found in a much larger context. I’m not running that, and the step of surrender is crucial because surrender allows me to release all that outcome stuff.”

Finishing Well

Here is the way we closed our conversation seven years ago. Me: “Let me ask one more question. What would finishing well mean to you?” Then Dallas: “It would mean I would stay with the objectives that I believe have been placed before me by my family, by my God, by my country,” he said, “I really believe that community exists in those objectives.” Me: “What is your prescription for me to give Halftimers?” Dallas: “Very simple. My prescription is that you should devote the rest of your life doing things that you know to be good and profitable for humanity and that means especially for the human beings that live around you. You should devote yourself to advancing their wellbeing.”

I couldn’t say it better than that.

Recommended Resources

Radix Magazine; “Where Christian Faith Meets Contemporary Culture.”  Check out their website

Dallas Willard. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990 (1988).

Bob Buford, Finishing Well: What People Who Really Live Do Differently! , Integrity Publishers, 2004. My fourth book contains interviews of sixty-two people who are finishing well. A good deal of the material for this museletter comes from Finishing Well.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2010 7:19 AM

    Bob, you continue to exercise great influence as a leader by inviting us all into the inner workings of your life. The prayers offered to God on your behalf have come from people into whose life you have made profound investments, and those investments are paying Kingdom dividends as we invoke God’s care and capacity for you during this time. Thanks for your update, and thanks, God, for the progress noted in that update!

    From one of many whose Kingdom fruit (dare I say, significance?) traces back to points of impact left by you in my own formation…

    Peace, friend…

  2. Jeff permalink
    March 16, 2010 12:57 PM

    I appreciate Dallas Willard’s distinction between success & significance. I might never attain significance in the eyes of the masses, but if I do what I’m called to do, please God, and am loved by those closest to me, then the rest of the results are in God’s hands.

    Praying for your continued healing, Bob.

  3. March 17, 2010 9:49 AM

    We continue to pray for your health Bob. You mean so much to my church, my family and to me personally. Your Dallas Willard interview excerpts in this post are priceless.

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