How to live Lifegiving “Death to Self”: Are you Doing it Wrong?
Death to self –
Unappealing? Definitely (At first glance). Macabre? Maybe it can seem so from the outset. Outdated? Since when does the bible go out of date?
Don’t let fear of “death” stop you from finding this hidden secret you’ve been looking for in your quest for happiness.
Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. – John 12:24
A Hidden Secret
Lancelot smiled his knowing smile as his opponent’s sword flew from his hand, and lodged itself harmlessly in the ground.
“How did you do that?” The man asked. “Teach me!”
Lancelot hesitates for a moment, unsure if the eager lad before him can really learn to master the art of hand to hand combat, but finally agrees to share his threefold secret:
“You have to study your opponent, so you know what he’s going to do before he does it.
You have to know the one moment in every fight when you win or lose and you have to know how to wait for it.
And, you have to not care whether you live or die.” – First Knight
Bear with me as I bring inspiration from all kinds of random places, namely cheesy historical fiction romance movies from 1995. I feel like I do this all the time – especially with movie quotes. But, no shame here. I truly believe He allowed me to latch onto fundamental truths from all kinds of random places in my past, and brings them to light at all the most opportune moments. ( I have a whole arsenal of these beauties. You’re welcome).
In all seriousness though, my stockpile of years of study, travel, reading, and movie watching feels a little Marian in nature sometimes.
And Mary kept all these things, treasuring them in her heart. – Luke 2:19
The point of all this? Our current societal focus on self preservation just might be what is holding us back from the life we were meant to live.
Enter Death to Self
God isn’t a cozy, comfortable kind of God. He doesn’t coddle. He is intense, extreme even. He is a God of battles, of close calls, lavishness, miracles, and monumental tests of faith and priorities.
One who’s focus is primarily on self-preservation, doesn’t stand a chance in His universe. They are those who cry to return to Egypt once they experience thirst on the desert, and those who cry about blandness after they grow “tired” of manna and quail. They are those who stay in the boat (Matthew 14) and walk away sad (Matthew 19:22).
I know, I know. This is extreme, and likely makes you feel uncomfortable. But, someone has to say it. Someone has to speak up in this world that is teaching us to self-care ourselves into oblivion. There is no honor, nor glory in a comfortable, safe life. God never called anyone to that. He said it was fine, but it is not enough. (Matthew 19:17) If we truly want God, we need to follow Him radically. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, like Daniel, like Peter, and all the early Christian Martyrs.
The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church – Tertullian
What does it matter how long you live if you never really LIVE?
Quick disclaimer: These contextless references are certainly not the end-all-be-all of the all important topic of self-care. Please refrain from commenting, defending, or chastising until you have read my post “Is Self-Care Compatible with Dying to Self?” and True “Me Time“)
Death to Self – Clearing up the Misunderstandings
Most people think of death to self as “doing all the things you hate because you are ‘supposed to’ and never saying ‘no’ to anything, especially if it is related to church or ministry”. But, here’s where they go wrong!
It is always important to do what we are “supposed to do”, but how do we know whether or not we are actually supposed to do it? This is why discernment and calling are so important! Really, only doing what God asks of us (as opposed to all the other voices) is what matters. Trust me, it’s plenty.
Love and Burnout
The world tells us a million things we are “supposed to do”, even things under the guise of holiness or religion. But to do everything is actually impossible.
This is why it is critical to pay attention to why we believe we are “supposed” to do it. If we are only doing it because we are trying to be impressive or not to let people down, or because we are striving, then we are doing it for the wrong reasons and will certainly burn out. Like a struck plane spiraling from the sky in a cloud of black smoke, it is only a matter of time. (Read: Self-Care for When Dying to Self is Killing You, and Are you Really Supposed to Die to Yourself)
In fact, you really should never say yes to anything unless love compels it.
Usually, if you have a well formed conscience, it will be something you feel strongly in your heart and in your gut that you (of all people) HAVE to do this in order to look yourself in the mirror for the rest of forever. Although you might not recognize it in the moment, making the right choice that lies before you, even if it is inconvenient or illogical (according to the worlds standards), despite exterior or emotional inconveniences, in the end will actually make your soul come to life.
Dying to self that flows out of real love never leaves you feeling dead – Kris Gnuse (The Good News Family)
Manliness and Death to Self
Let’s talk for a second about something you may never have heard of in these terms…And you might be tempted to block it out if you are a woman, but please hang on for a second.
In our gender sensitive culture something critically important is being lost – the virtue of manliness – or at least talk of it and understanding of it. Its not about rubbing dirt on wounds or stuffing emotions.
The virtue of manliness is the virtue by which a person (yes, any person – it doesn’t have to be a man) chooses to do what is RIGHT over that which is easy, or appealing (ie. “what you feel like doing”).
Ie. When I decide to work out instead of sleeping in, that’s “manly”. When I choose to take a deep breath over losing my temper, that’s “manly”. When I choose God’s will over my own plan, yup, you guessed it, manly.
Why is it called “manliness”?
Essentially, it is named after Christ, true God and true man.
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. – Phillipians 2:5-8
Christ, the new Adam, practiced this virtue to the point of literal death… and told us that we would have to do the same
Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. – Matthew 16:24
Hence, Death to Self
Thus, “manliness” in other words, is simply imitation of Christ, or Christlikeness. (More of You and less of me)
And Christ died.
This was the crowning achievement of His life and the purpose for which He was born.
If we are called to imitate Christ, we are also called to imitate him in his journey to Calvary, his death. There is no sugar coating it. There is simply no resurrection without first death. Yes, there is baptism, (“we are baptized into his death”) but that’s not enough.
Its going back to Eden and we ourselves making the choice opposite of Adam and Eve – choosing obedience over wanting to be like God. It is offering my plan back to the Most High and letting Him do with it what He wills.
Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done. – Luke 22:42
All things are possible with God.
Cliché? Ok. But seriously, yes. Surrender is an almost impossibly hard feat, and it legitimately feels like dying. The battle is immense. You will sweat blood just thinking about it and you will absolutely need some divine assistance. But with grace, intentionality, starting small, and practice… we can truly, gradually build the virtue of “manliness” over time.
Practically speaking – Death to Self: How do we do it?
1 – He calls, I respond, No excuses.
2 – Seek His voice – Be open (you might have to learn how he speaks)
Do whatever He tells you. – John 2:5
This seems kind of obvious, but it is harder than most people realize. This is the place where “death to self” begins. It requires making room in our lives for silence and for prioritizing prayer until it becomes as natural as breathing.
3 – Start small but START
We must ACT. Our lives must become focused, intentional, purposeful. Even rest becomes purposeful. But do not expect to understand everything all at once or have all the answers overnight. He rarely tells us more than the next step, but that’s enough. As Emily P. Freeman says, just do the Next Right Thing in Love.
Encouragement when you feel like you are Dying
I wish I could tell you that once you do this once you never have to do it again, but I’d be lying.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith – 2 Timothy 4:7
Essentially this life is one long marathon of tiny little deaths, surrendering my plan to His. But, there are DEFINTELY perks. Remember, resurrection follows death. Once you die once, you get better at it. God does not abandon His faithful ones or leave them without consolation for too long. Ok, maybe sometimes He does let it feel like that if we are talking about Mother Theresa or John of the Cross, but for us normal people, He would never do that without a purpose. Yes, part of our “death” will be feeling abandoned for “no servant shall be greater than His master” but, truly, your intimacy with God grows as the gap between Him and us closes (as we grow in “manliness”). Prayer becomes more fruitful and more clear. Trust increases. Love increases. Boldness ensues and Miracles become commonplace.
Take heart, death is not the end, it is the beginning.
In this world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have overcome the world. – John 16:33