How Exactly Do You “Choose Life”?

For the life of me, I can’t remember the type of music that they usually play in a souvenir shop in Panama City.  Something poppy, I would imagine.  Breezy.  Upbeat.  I think they would play some light and happy tune to lift your mood as you milled around looking at shot glasses with beach scenes on them or snarky, inappropriate t-shirts.

I should remember the music, as I am no stranger to cheap souvenir shops in Panama City.  PC, after all, was my family’s #1 vacation spot while I was growing up, and we never met a roadside shop that we didn’t like.  As a child, I was mesmerized by the seashells, the beach toys, the brightly colored t-shirts that proliferated in these establishments.  I clearly remember once getting a little jewelry box, lined in red velvet, with little white seashells glued all over it.  I thought it was the epitome of class and sophistication.

The incident I’m thinking of didn’t occur when I was a child, though.  No, I think I was in college when the music in the gift shop stopped.  Maybe I was with my family, or maybe it was that time I had come down with some friends from school.  Perhaps this was the gift shop visit where I bought those shorts with the writing on the rear (speaking of the epitome of class and sophistication), or perhaps I just got a pair of sunglasses or some more sunscreen.  I can’t remember the details.  All I remember is that the song playing over the speakers ended, and suddenly, I heard only words coming out.  The words might have been put to some kind of beat, but all I recall was that I was immediately riveted.  I stood there, transfixed, in the middle of the aisle, holding whatever piece of kitsch I had been mentally mocking, as I listened to a very unlikely message to hear in a Panama City gift shop.  Here are the words I heard:

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a —-ing big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of —-ing fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the —- you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing —-ing junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing* your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, —-ed-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life . . . But why would I want to do a thing like that?

That was it.  No prologue.  No explanation.  Just those words.  Clearly, the speaker’s cynicism reflected his belief that those things were not really life.  Clearly, he felt that these trappings of life were ultimately meaningless.  But…who was he?  Thankfully, I remembered the words clearly enough to relate them to Greg later, and have him identify them for me.  Apparently, those words were spoken by Ewan McGregor in the opening of the movie, Trainspotting, which goes on to give the viewer a grim and unflinching portrayal of drug use (clue:  the speaker doesn’t choose life; he chooses heroin).  For me, though, those disembodied words pouring out of the speaker served as an accidental indictment of the emporium of junk in which I was standing.  It made me think, “What am I doing here?”

That question was not just about me standing in a gift shop, either.  Ultimately, that moment served as a microcosm of many other times in my life where I have been suddenly awakened to the meaninglessness of my actions.  Inevitably, I will get myself all caught up in a situation–maybe the details of a big event, maybe some kind of relational drama, maybe just the minutiae of daily life–and I will let those circumstances take over my thoughts and emotions.  I will let that situation consume me, stress me out, and otherwise distract me from the greater purpose of living.

And then, something will come along to open my eyes and remind me that I’m getting consumed by something that doesn’t really matter.  Usually, though, my wake up call doesn’t come from a Scottish actor playing a heroin addict.

Usually, it comes from Scripture.

You see, when I read the Bible, I find “Choose Life” to be a major theme.  It is stated explicitly by Moses:

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed…

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life

The prophet, Haggai, elaborates on the theme in a different way, when he explains the feelings of frustration and futility felt by the Israelites after the exile:

Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it”  (Haggai 1:5-6).

The reason the people are so frustrated, according to Haggai, is because they are focusing on the wrong priorities; they are building up their own houses while neglecting the house of God.  They aren’t choosing life, and so they are haunted by feelings of futility and meaninglessness.

Jesus drives the point home when he asks rhetorically,

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36).

Jesus’ question reveals the stark and humbling truth that I can go through my whole life, and even be “successful”–and yet miss the entire point.  How sad would that be?

Paul continues this underlying  theme in such commands as,

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is yourlife, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4).

Together, these Scriptures form a chorus.  They tell me

Choose life.  Choose something better than what is all around you.  Choose to spend your precious minutes on things that matter.  Choose a higher path.  Choose eternal significance.  Choose meaning.  Choose purpose.  Choose love.  Choose God.

Choose life.

Every day, I try to choose life.  Often, I fail.  Often, I don’t even know what that means.  (Is doing laundry “choosing life”?  Well, I don’t know, but I do know that someone has to do laundry!)  But sometimes, I do see it.

I will look at my kids, really look at them, and be filled with love and awe.

I will try to help someone.

I will take two seconds to admire God’s creation and to thank Him for it.

I will work at something with all my heart, as working for the Lord and not for men.

And in those moments, I will think, This is life.  Surely, this is what Jesus meant when He said He had come to give “life to the full.”  Surely, life can’t get any more full, more satisfying than this.

In such moments, I am reminded that I don’t want to spend my life in the equivalent of a Panama City gift shop, thinking about useless junk that doesn’t even matter.  Life has so much more potential than that.  I want to choose life, and choose to live it to the full.

How do you choose life?


I would edit that word, but I’m pretty sure that it means “drinking,” when used across the pond.

9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tim on April 12, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Kim, your description of the gift shop brought to mind the tacky touristy stuff sold in the gift shops on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Just substitute tin cable cars for plastic palm trees and I bet the shops are almost indistinguishable.

    I love the way you point to some of the most ordinary things as being the things that show us the life Jesus has to offer, because these are the same things we see him doing in the gospels: walking down the road with friends, accepting a dinner invitation, visiting someone who’s sick. This is the life he lived, and it’s the life he longs to live through us.

    Jesus living in us?Life can’t get any fuller!


    P.S. Is it bad that whenever I hear or see the phrase “Choose Life” I inevitably think of Wham and these T-shirts?
    Whatever. Just wake me up before you go-go, ’cause I’m not plannin’ on goin’ solo.


  2. “Jesus living in us? Life can’t get any fuller!”
    Yes, that. Exactly!

    (Also, nice picture:)).


    • Posted by Tim on April 12, 2012 at 10:39 pm

      Re: the picture. Gotta hand it to George Michael and … and … and that other guy who was in Wham. They knew how to make a T-shirt slogan popular. There was more than just T-shirts though. I bought a sleeveless sweat shirt with Choose Life on it back in the 80s. It was teal colored. I wore it a lot for a while. We all make mistakes.


      • Posted by bekster081305 on April 12, 2012 at 11:01 pm

        “We all make mistakes.” LOL. Just out of curiosity, Tim, when you bought the shirt, did the phrase “Choose Life” actually mean something to you, or was it just a fad?


        • Posted by Tim on April 13, 2012 at 8:04 am

          I wore it as a new-ish Christian, Becky, and meant that people should choose life in Jesus. The original designer, Katherine Hamnett, says “The CHOOSE LIFE t-shirt embodies an all-encompassing statement about ideal behaviour” but I think her philosophy is based on humanism. It’s amazing how words can mean different things to different people.


          • Posted by bekster081305 on April 13, 2012 at 11:00 am

            That’s cool. Yeah, even beyond just words, it’s interesting how different perspectives applied to the same thing make a huge difference.


  3. Posted by bekster081305 on April 12, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    I love the imagery of the gift shop as a metaphor for all the meaningless things we fill our lives with. In places like that (or wherever there are “shiny objects”), I feel simultaneously attracted and repulsed. I think the thing is that all of that junk appeals to our flesh, when really we need to focus on satisfying our spirit. However, sometimes it is really hard to distinguish between the things that feed our flesh and aren’t important and the things that feed our spirit and are important. Actual objects aren’t so confusing, but various artistic works (songs, books, movies, etc.), relationships with people (are we actually encouraging each other or are we just looking to steal attention?), or other ways that we spend our time can be tricky to evaluate. I guess the key, though, is in the Colossians passage. It is not so much about the actual specific things (what material things we do or don’t buy, what things we actually do) but where our focus is. Different people buying the same thing in a gift shop may do so for different reasons, one being earthly and the other being spiritual. (It’s the same with, for example, listening to a song; what matters is our mindset when we listen to it.) Still, when we can’t avoid dealing with the physical world, trying to make the decisions that constitute “choosing life” can be overwhelming. (At least for me!) Anyway, yet another great post, Kim. 🙂


    • I totally agree about the complexity of the issue, Becky. My problem is that I tend to consider any kind of material item or mundane task as “bad.” And that is just not true. It is so easy for me to resent doing laundry b/c it is not making a splash in God’s kingdom (whatever that means), but I ignore the fact that it is an act of service to my family and an opportunity to die to myself. I also tend to resent financial matters as being somehow “beneath” my spiritual concern, when nothing could be further from the truth: it is only through good stewardship (which, unfortunately, includes budgets and coupons) that I am able to give the way that God has called me to. Thus, even though I’d like to believe that laundry and budgeting should not be a part of my “life to the full,” I’m pretty sure that they are actually fairly important parts.

      As for people, I tend not to question anything that builds relationships, but you are right that we can be a negative force, as well. So yeah, it can be tricky even in that realm.


  4. Posted by John Sparrow on April 12, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    To Jesus, washing someones feet was a sacred act; the “religious” folks thought it was mundane. If we are children of God, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, then there is no mundane. Our whole life is “spiritual” and “sacred”. The life we should choose is spiritual; living as a spirit or soul not as a body. The Spirit is life. It is crucial for us to evaluate the significance of our actions. To me, there is nothing more holy or sacred than loving and caring for our kids (even changing diapers) and looking at them with love and awe.Great thoughts, Kim. Thanks for keeping us thinking spiritual thoughts!


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