I get so tired of hearing that "health and wealth," Joel O'Steen, namby-pamby crap about how life with Jesus is a cake walk as long as you believe he'll mow down all the trials standing in the way before you even see them in the distance. Sometimes I wish it were that way. Actually, I always do! How nice would it be never to experience pain or frustration or loneliness or melancholy ever again?
Note: this is possible. But you have to die first.
Let's face it; we will never be satisfied this side of heaven. Not completely. There will always be things we have to do that will test us and make things trickier. This week is not letting me float freely as I please, without a care in the world. I've dealt with the grip of anxiety before and it's beginning to creep back up on me. There are so many books I have to read, so many people I want to talk to, so many expectations I want to fill and jobs I want to do, so that I'll be superwoman like I always am -- or at least, feel like I'm supposed to be.
These titles that I want to wear are tearing my soul. I keep thinking if I take one more step upward on the stairs of my life (stick with the corny metaphor please), I'll have made it to the top, and have nowhere else to go. Thus I would finally be satisfied in having conquered it all. But it's never the last step. There's always another. Y'all, I have climbed some stairs in this lifetime -- St. Paul's Cathedral is not a comfy trip -- and you get tired. Your hamstrings start to burn. You start to pant. You begin to wobble in your steps, and if you've ever been up really old stone spiral staircases before or those wire ones where you can see down, this is not good.
I'm basically trying to say that it will kill you, or at least wear you the heck out.
I am well-acquainted with the feeling. I took 9 AP classes in high school so that I would look really smart. I took the SAT twice so that maybe I could get into an ivy league school. I interviewed to be a leader in the Volunteer Office so that people would look up to me as some kind of philanthropist -- and "in charge" too. A lot of the time when I go to Cru things, I just want to spend time with everyone so I look popular and like a good friend. When someone asks me to do something, I say yes, even when I don't have the time or energy, because I want to appear to be someone who has a lot to do and gets it done right. I've gone down these little lanes of my personality before, really. But it's like each of these is a medal being placed around my neck. I like the awards and recognition, and probably feel like I look so legit, but they get heavier and heavier and eventually become too much to bear.
Bearing such burdens makes the little things so hard to face. I about collapsed from anxiety earlier just thinking about the three or four promises I made to people today about spending time with them. This, in and of itself, is scarcely an issue, and I know I'm blessed to have friends to hang out with. Why on earth would I feel crippled by such little obligations that I made? It has to be because I put all my value and worth into meeting those things, and when it's hard to do or if I mess up, it sends me tumbling backwards down the stairs having slipped up a little bit.
It's all boiling down to how much I think of myself. What people think of me. Me, me, me. It really disgusts me just how much hope the world revolves around me. You'd think this whole self-centeredness thing would really make life better and improve how I feel, right? But it just keeps disappointing, because it's been established for us since the beginning of time: we'll never be 100% content with the way things are, or ourselves. There must be a way to throw off the chains of these expectations to be perfect in one way or another and be free for once.
Note: this is possible. But you have to die first.
"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man exchange for his soul?" -- Matthew 16:25-27
Mark 8:35-37 say the exact same thing. If half the gospel writers chose to discuss this part of Jesus' teaching, it must be noteworthy. And Paul only continues to lay this out for us in his letters. The point of everything -- gaining all the abundance of life in full -- is to die to self. I have to wake up every morning and realize that my life is not mine.
"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." -- 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
I was created for a purpose, and living for any other is not only an offense and tragedy in the eyes of the Almighty, but is also a tacit agreement to let life bog me down. I'd be allowing the glittering things of this world, even things that are not innately bad, draw me away from the plan of the Lord God, who sees beginning from end and knows how many hairs are on my head. Any other life is a waste other than the one he hopes and desires for me to take.
I'd throw my lot in with the Omniscient One.
If that means I have to tattoo the words "die to self" on my arms or the inside of my eyelids, then so be it -- I don't want to let anything else tear me away from the mission there is in knowing Christ, what he's done for us, and what it all means: eternal life and meaning.
Life doesn't get easier. But it is so much more blessed, and ensures a great reward beyond it. The lyrics of Tenth Avenue North sum it up better than I can:
"So many questions without answers
Your promises remain
I can't see but I'll take my chances
To hear You call my name
To hear You call my name."
May your death to self give birth to a life not possible when the self is on the throne.