When you say to someone they must lose their life in order to save it, they look at you like you are crazy. And yes. I speak from personal experience.
We don't like to think about it. We don't want to accept it. But it is the absolute truth. We hang onto things and to people and to tasks and to titles and to God knows what else, just to feel secure. We do not want to lose anything, because so often, letting go, means loss of control. We desire to put it all in His hands, but we really don't, do we?
I have been walking through my yard a lot lately.
Being that this is our first year in our farm house, every new day, every changing season, is like a new birth. Christmas day. A total and complete gift that I can say, in all honesty, I never fail to remember this is all His grace, and thank you is glued to my lips. I do not deserve this home, this yard, this beauty. And not because it is a thing that I love, but rather, it is because Gods presence in this space has never been more clear to me. And the irony in the idea that each day here is a new birth, is that in just the same way, it is also a new death.
The trees here are slowly letting go.
Letting go of leaves of once green.
Letting go of leaves now orange and yellow-a vibrancy and color scheme that only God could paint.
They are giving up what they have held onto for so long, allowing them to drop to the ground, and taking on an entirely new appearance; branches bare, out in the open, completely exposed. You can see our house from the street now. There are no more bushes and ferns to hide it. It is amazing, really. The yard and the house have taken on an entirely new appearance! There has been obvious death, and evident change, and it is glorious. My husband has a date today without about 500,000 leaves, because it is important to clean up, and sweep up what is no more, and to embrace the reality that a death has occurred, and a new season is upon us. And while it is hard work and takes manual labor, there is such grace in all of it, isn't there? Ridding our yard of what clutters, to make room for new growth-it is a lesson not to be ignored.
My own life seems to echo this pattern. In ministry, in my family, in just my being, I am feeling the pain of needing to let go of my own ways, the pain of accepting the change God is asking of me, the pain of emptying my hands of what I so desperately believe I should be in control of, the pain of dying to myself. My heart, like the yard, feels cluttered. Things need to be cleared out, things need to die. And I am resisting the temptation to allow these small deaths to cause me sadness, or self pity. Because when I do that, my focus is on me, not Him, my desire is for me, not His Kingdom.
When I start to over think things, and when the work I do to serve my God turns into doubt and confusion, it is time I take a step back. This is such a dangerous spot to be in-feeling confused and doubtful- because I know that confusion and doubt to not come from God; they come from the devil. If I am to cheerfully go where ever I am called, what could there possibly be to doubt? If my eyes are focused on God alone, as my lips proclaim, than all that other stuff that clutters my heart wouldn't stand a chance, would it? When service to my King becomes about how it makes me feel, and not how am I bringing others closer to Him, there is a big problem.
Father Tadeusz, a polish priest and professor of theology in Warsaw, wrote about how we can not serve God and mammon. Because truly, that is what happens when we refuse to let go and allow God to take the wheel; we serve two masters, divide our hearts. This is what he beautifully wrote, and what God needed me to hear this morning:
"An obvious sign of attachments is also your sadness in situations when God takes something away from you. He will, therefore, take that by which you are enslaved-hence everything that is your greatest enemy, that which causes your heart not to be free for him. It is when you start to accept this and do it cheerfully that you will become more and more free."
What beautiful truth. What a beautiful, yet painful reality. Whatever it is I hold onto-things, people, emotions, are they freeing my heart, or just feeding my pride? Do they fall out of my hands, allowing me to be bare and vulnerable, open to His love, or am I tight fisted, and stubborn, only willing to serve Him in those ways that allow me to still feel in control?
The trees have the right idea.
Bloom where planted, let go when asked, die to self, accept the seasons, and continue to grow.
And do it cheerfully.
Because a cheerful heart is what fills us up, over flows, and spills out to those around us.
This is how we are to serve.
This is the beauty that is born out of each small death.