When David Philip Vetter was born on September 21, 1971, doctors immediately placed him in a plastic sterile environment. From that moment on, everything introduced inside his artificial world (air, water, food, diapers, and clothes) had to be sterilized. This process involved placing items in a chamber filled with ethylene oxide gas at 140 degrees (F), then aerated for up to seven days.
Little David Vetter could not so much as feel his mother’s touch or breathe the outside air. Any pathogen (virus, bacterium, or germ) could be fatal to David. He was born with Severe Combined Immuno-deficiency disease (SCID). The gene which contains the instructions for building the human immune system (X1) was mutated in David – as it is in hundreds of other children afflicted with SCID-X1.
Therefore, for the next twelve years David Vetter was a prisoner to his bathroom-sized plastic world. A special suit was prepared for him by NASA which allowed him to venture beyond his confines. But even this suit was tethered by a hose to his plastic environment. The medical technology of the time could offer no hope of a cure or freedom to David. And though his parents and medical professionals worked tirelessly to make his life as interesting and comfortable as possible, David remained a captive to his sterile world.
At the age of twelve David was removed from his plastic domain to undergo a bone marrow transplant with his older sister as donor. Unknown to the doctors, however, was that his sister’s marrow contained the Epstein-Barr virus (which causes mononucleosis). This virus led to David’s death on February 22, 1984, just fifteen days after the operation.
In a way, all of us are prisoners to an artificial environment. This artificial world consists of things we’re convinced we cannot live without. Without them life will become intolerably dreary to us. They may be smartphones, computers, the internet, Netflix, and videogames. They may include material wealth, toys, and the latest gadgets. Our happiness and contentment may depend on earning academic degrees, titles, and other adornments for our egos. And without the love, acceptance, validation, and approval from other people, life may not seem worth living to us. In fact, most people require a certain set of favorable circumstances before they’ll ever find contentment.
What a shaky existence is our life! And even if we get everything we crave, what will it have proved, except that we are prisoners? Yes, like David Vetter we’re tethered to an artificial life-support system – only ours is far more cumbersome than his. All the prerequisites to our happiness make us dangerously dependent upon bound-to-fail people, breakable things, and ever-changing circumstances. The foundation of our happiness and contentment is nothing but a house of cards.
If you’ve been among the many Americans without power and heat from recent winter storms, then you know what I’m saying. Life was going merrily along until the jet stream carried arctic temperatures as far south as Mexico. A series of snow and ice storms plunged millions into cold and darkness. No internet, TV, Netflix, or hot showers – for days. It rattled lots of people.
But someone – with at least an operational smartphone – posted on social media, “Five days without power and heat and we’re still praising Jesus.” I also happen to know that this person has had more than her share of troubles. Yet, she’s still praising Jesus. Why? Because only Jesus Christ can satisfy the human heart. His presence and friendship bring a contentment that this world cannot understand. Walking hand in hand with Jesus, soaking in His love, and living under His smile are all the soul needs to be content.
And isn’t this the true freedom that we all yearn for – to have a contentment that doesn’t depend on a fragile set of circumstances? Isn’t true freedom being independent of other peoples’ approval and acceptance?
Paul the apostle understood this freedom. In the mid-1st Century, Paul had been imprisoned for four years. And from jail he wrote a letter to the Philippian church, expressing his excitement to die for the name of Jesus – or to go on serving Christ in this life (Philippians 1:20-23). Paul went on to say this. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13). This is a free man – one who can be happy and content in both the worst and best of circumstances. His life-support-system was Jesus Christ – and nothing could ever take Jesus away.
PRAYER: Dear Father in heaven, I yearn to be free from my dependence on the fragile things of this life. I yearn for a faith and relationship with Jesus that satisfies my soul and meets the needs of my heart. People, things, and circumstances will always fail and turn sour. But Jesus will always love me and fulfill all His promises to preserve me through the storms of this life. And finally He will carry me safely into His heavenly kingdom. Draw me nearer to Him, dear Father. Help me to depend more and more on Jesus and less and less on everything else. In Jesus’ name, Amen.