What?! Well, that’s what I heard in the Gospel reading for Thursday.
“whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world
yet lose or forfeit himself?” (Luke 9)
You have to lose your life to save it. If you lose your life, you don’t forfeit yourself. Again, huh? Won’t you have lost yourself if you lost your life? As I consider this, two nuances on losing emerge for me.
(1) “Losing” your life is not a losing – it is a deliberate choosing and, sometimes difficult, releasing of what seems to be mine or fair or about my prestige, achievement, putting myself forward. Yes, it is a denying myself the limelight or the best seat or the time or treat I’d hoped for or promised myself – for another’s sake, for love, or just to wean myself from the lack of self discipline we all often fall into, and exercise other muscles. But denying myself is not denying my self. In fact, it is a re-finding of my true self (read Thomas Merton, or James Finley on Thomas Merton, or John of the Cross, or some of Richard Rohr).
(2) “Losing” your life may also be reframed as giving your life away. Like Jesus, who “though he was in the form of God, did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at – rather, he emptied himself” (Phil 2). God – in the Trinity – gives life away. Each person pours all of their life into the other: Father to Son to Spirit to Father to Spirit to Son to Spirit to Father… on and on. Like a water wheel, they pour themselves entirely out into one another, reserving nothing. And so love is. And so creation came to be. And then Jesus entering this world is another giving all away to come to a womb, to a stable, to live a life with and for others, to pour out all in deeds, in words, in healings, in tenderness, in praying, in feet washing, in bread breaking, on the cross, and in hope and peace giving. And the Spirit is given entirely to us and for us to remind us of all we have been taught by Jesus’ giving (see John’s Gospel). Of course we will be happiest when we live in the pattern in which we are created and give our lives entirely away too, as we lay down our lives freely. Meantime we receive over and over again God’s life and grace in us as we give. We are hardly impoverished. Our emptying makes room for more richness of life.
To give our lives away we find our true self. And this is a truth to hold on to. A truth that brings life. Because this is so, we are encouraged:
Choose life, then,
that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God,
heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.
For that will mean life for you… (Deut. 30)
Importantly, if we don’t find a way to give our lives away, we run the risk of losing our very selves. Why? Because we’d never grow into who we are! It would be like a fish refusing to learn to swim, or a tree somehow refusing to reach very far out with its branches, or an artist refusing to enact their art.
We are patterned to give, to pour out, to love. We don’t have to fear the cost of doing so. The cost of not doing so is much much greater. Joy and peace and the celebration of being who we are created to be lie in the losing, the giving, the practicing, the releasing, the reaching, the loving, and – through all this – the true living. May Jesus’ life and, even more, his close companionship with us this Lent help us to learn and relearn this truth, and have the heart (by grace) to enact it in our moments and days.
Find your self. Give your life.
And, as we wander through these Lenten learning days, let’s hold fast to him, for that will mean life for you and for me.