friends, i come before you today to tell you, among many other things, that i believe i have – albeit unintentionally – egregiously misinterpreted one of Jesus’ statements in the gospels.
Jesus tells His followers that whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake will find it. (see: Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24.)
it’s one of my favorite verses – i even put it on my facebook bio, piously defining myself by the pursuit of losing my life daily.
after some self-examination, i think i’ve found that i may look at it entirely the wrong way. i think i make too much of a command out of it, instead of a promise. i also think that i – again, unknowingly – read it more as, “you must first become positively miserable and be stretched in every direction to find your life in Christ.”
let me give you some context.
at the turn of this year, it seemed like something God was trying to do in my life was to drag me out of my comfort zone, but more specifically, to get me to use my time differently – to more intentionally use my time for others, instead of protecting my personal time. i had a job that was a little demanding in the sense that i could wake up at 6AM to a work text, and then i’d immediately go to work and put out fires, leaving me desperate for some relaxing time at home when i finished up. it kind of made sense that i’d protect my personal time – because i was terrible at balancing work and life. so, i rarely had people over, i rarely poured into friendships, i rarely went out and socialized – i was really focused on keeping hold of my time. i’d give it up when i was ready.
then, one day, i think a switch flipped, and as tends to happen with human beings, i swung to the other side of the spectrum. i felt like i had to say yes to everything and everyone – and i felt bad if i didn’t. i started mentoring a young man, i started making more friends and felt the need to spend time pouring into those friendships. so then i started marking up my calendar with appointments and evening activities, 6am coffee chats and 7pm meals, movie nights, date nights, parties and other social happenings, not to mention three jobs (which don’t even add up to a whole lot of hours, but seems overwhelming when looking at a planner.)
then i started looking at friendship as an obligation. i began looking at mentoring as an obligation. these things i wrote in my calendar were beginning to run my life, even though they began out of a genuine place of goodwill. my life was – well, to be honest, has been – filling up with “have to”s and not “get to”s. i obsessively made a list in the front of my 2018 planner of all of the things i need to get to on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, sitting there in black ink, my little idol. my idol of living a satisfactory, approvable life. my way of insuring that, if anyone doubted that i had priorities, they could look no further. “i write your name down in my planner, you are important to me.” my way of insuring that everyone knew i was living by that phrase – i’m seeking to lose my life, to give up my time, to invest in people.
but, if i can be honest with you (too late!) it’s not made me happy. and what’s worse – i haven’t even really been spending time with a ton of people! for a little while, i’d been meeting with a few guys on a multi-week basis, but that’s sputtered out over the holidays. and that’s kind of the point, actually – because in the back of my head, there’s this voice that says, “this is what you should be doing. you’re not ‘living intentionally.'” i don’t know about you, dear reader, but i live my life by a lot of (too many) shoulds and ought-tos. here are a few of mine:
“i should go to that social function.”
“i ought to make sure i make time for _____ this week.”
“i should visit my parents soon.”
“i should be better with money.”
“i ought to read my bible more.”
“i should do better at remembering who to pray for.”
over and over, time after time, day after day. these voices go back and forth, accusing and condemning and tilling the soil of guilt, uprooting the flowers of grace that are trying to bloom.
you know what just occurred to me upon thinking about that promise from Jesus?
who tries to lose something? i mean, seriously. apart from thinking to put a $20 bill in your jacket at the end of winter so you find it next fall, nobody sets up to lose their keys, their wallet, their cell phone, their starbucks gift card, their social security card. no, you try to find it, but you don’t have to try to lose.
i wonder if maybe we start to lose our lives when we pursue things that bring us deep joy. i don’t mean to sound hedonistic — but maybe if we focused more on letting the gospel run its course in our hearts, then we’d discover that, without even realizing, we’d lost our life for Jesus’ sake.
and maybe that means getting rid of some distractions. maybe that means discovering what’s acting as a misnomer for joy. you can laugh at me if you want, but – i’ve found that for me, that’s stuff like playing video games. i start and don’t want to be interrupted. i’ve actually experienced this time and again over the course of my life…sometimes it’s the things i intentionally seek to make me happy or provide respite from a stressful day – video games, movies, time in solitude, etc – that make me more miserable. it’s kind of like buying flowers for your girlfriend because you’ve been a jerk and now you’re trying and manufacture a good feeling – it doesn’t work if you don’t come at it with a good heart.
i’m not really sure how to land the plane today. my therapist and i talked about this the other day – how life seems dictated by the shoulds and the ought tos and how that’s just a recipe for misery. we often come to resent what we ought to do. we resent the things that push us and pull us and stretch us in directions we don’t want to go (or aren’t ready to go.)
it reminds me of what the Bible says about letting your yes be yes and your no be no. (now, please, exercise discretion here, because sometimes obedience isn’t fun) don’t you think it’s better to say yes to things you actually want to say yes to? don’t you think it’s better to say no to things you don’t actually want to do? to be clear – i believe this criteria is best understood under the premise that the gospel transforms our want-tos – nevertheless, doesn’t that sound like a better life? a life not lived out of obligation and/or fear of what people think if you do/don’t do something? isn’t a friendship best built out of a genuine desire to know a person, instead of meeting a quota for friends?
may we be a people so transformed by the gospel that we say yes to the right things and no to the right things, all in the right heart. God, let us not be pushed and pulled by our calendars, but let us enter each relationship and activity with a full heart and a spirit motivated and animated by Yours.