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John 21:17

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."

November 30 , 2000

Too Much Blood

I have learned that it is possible to give too much blood—with the best of intentions, for a good cause, and while experiencing tremendous joy. But unknowingly damaging my health the whole time.

I had a routine annual physical exam last summer. A few weeks later, when the blood work came back, my doctor circled a high platelet count and gave me a referral to a hematologist. I learned it is a rare condition and could indicate anything from dehydration to leukemia.

The hematologists asked me a series of questions. Had I been feeling fatigued? Did I bruise or bleed easily? And so forth.

None of the questions checked out. I appeared to be healthy, and the cause underlying the platelet count was a mystery. They told me to come back in a few weeks after they'd run the blood work.

On my way out, I had a question for them. I was a blood donor, and was scheduled to give blood the next week. Should I cancel the appointment until we knew more about what was wrong with me?

They sat back down and picked up their pencils.

How long I had been donating? they asked. About two years, I said.

You may have a severe iron deficiency, they told me.

That didn't make sense to me. The donation center runs a routine iron test every time, and I'd never come up anemic.

There are two kinds of anemia, the doctors explained. The most common kind shows up on the iron test. It's easily detected.

But some people's bodies keep their blood iron content normal by syphoning off the iron reserves in their bone marrow. The blood itself looks fine. But there's something wrong deep down in the bones.

Over time, if the iron is not replenished, the bone marrow reserves get depleted too. Then you have no iron anywhere. The main symptom? Your platelet count starts going up.

Giving blood exacerbates things, sucking the iron out of your bone marrow faster when your body makes new blood to replace what you've lost. The more often you give, the worse you get.

I learned I'd been this way for at least two years. And I hadn't even known. Now I'm taking 200 mg of iron a day to build up the reserves—13 times the recommended daily allowance. Even at this large dosage, the doctors tell me it will take at least six months to build the iron levels and drop the platelet count back within normal parameters.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about the implications of this for the way I live my life. I've come to the conclusion that it's possible for Christian leaders to give too much blood.

Like my physical condition, it can happen even though we have good intentions, are working for the King, and are experiencing tremendous joy. We fall into it for any number of reasons. The shortage of laborers for the harvest, our own feelings of guilt, driven personalities, sincerely wanting to make a difference and trying to prove ourselves worthy to God are just a few of them.

Michael Sabo, a teacher I greatly respect, told me there's a problem with the popular Christian living slogan "J-O-Y: Jesus, Others, Yourself." The formula teaches that you should put Jesus first, others second, and yourself last.

That's a recipe for burnout, he said. And, I reflected, it leads to resentfulness in service, and brings us dangerously close to thinking we can earn our way to heaven.

Sabo said the slogan should actually be "JYO: Jesus, Yourself, Others." How can we serve if we're not taking care of ourselves first by spending time with God, being serious about Sabbath rest, and drawing our strength from abiding in Christ? God's spiritual resources empower us first, and then pass through us as we share what we've been given with others.

Throughout his ministry Jesus taught that we can do nothing by ourselves, that only what flows through us as a result of our connection to him will be good. We can do nothing on our own. We're to stay attached to him—to the vine, to the source of the living water so that we are constantly refreshed and strengthened as we serve. It's always Jesus and us in partnership, never us doing things on our own for Jesus.

My iron deficiency developed because for years I didn't take in the mineral I needed to be able to safely give my blood to others. Now, not only has my own health been compromised, but I no longer am fit to give blood.

It's possible to appear OK on the surface, but to be depleted deep down in your bones. If we don't live as Jesus intends and instead give without taking in ourselves, one day we will find that our service has drained us. And then not only will we be exhausted, but we won't be able to serve, either.

How much better to follow Jesus' advice and live with streams of living water flowing from within us.



Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
—John 15:4-5