“Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Lk. 9:24).
How do I lose my life for Jesus’ sake? I don’t do this willingly, I admit. There is always that interior battle at stake, the one St. Paul explained to the Romans: “I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” (7:19). Always a battle. Life is a battle. If only my mind were given to Jesus. If only I could die on the battlefield of my mind, then all would be well.
I never truly understood the power one’s mind possesses over emotions, the will, and behavior. If I force myself to see the world through rose-colored lenses, am I viewing the world accurately? Or is joy preferable to accuracy? As a realist, I’m not sure of the answer. I’ve always preferred reality over fiction. Facing truth, however hard and cruel and difficult it may be, has always led me to change. A change of heart.
Maybe that’s where losing my life for Jesus begins: in my heart, not in my mind. I believe that He can conquer my mind if only I give Him my heart. Yes, it must begin as an act of the will. This is more than surrender, resignation, or acquiescence. It is courageous, bold love.
It is difficult, if not humanly impossible, to love when affinity is absent, though. Who has affinity for cruelty, persecution, loneliness, and rejection? Who has affinity for the cross? My affinity is for what gives life, and to my petulant, undeveloped senses, that would include laughter, affirmation, health, and prosperity. Yet what gives eternal life is death. It is death to self, to will, to comfort, to luxury, and sometimes even to necessity. It is detachment, abandonment, and denial of the world’s enticements.
Losing my life feels like death every day, because it is. It means I am no longer my own. My life no longer belongs to me. It is not my exclusive right to do with it as I please. I have handed over myself and my entire being to the One who handed Himself over to those who chose His fate. Who am I to do less than that? But it is a cruel, crushing sort of death from the inside out. It is an invisible, but total, loss – of direction, identity, and certainty.
There is a poverty in losing one’s life, in risking it all for Jesus’ sake. This is because the only guarantee we have of the ultimate outcome is everlasting life in Heaven. But the process of dying is yet to be written through God’s hand, in His way and time. And this is what’s most frightening to us – not knowing what we must endure or how we will suffer. It’s the process of death – unknown and cruel – that repels us from giving all we are and have to Jesus. If we only focused on the promise of resurrection, would losing it all really matter so much anymore?
Those little deaths each day – killing our pride, wounding our need for validation, overcoming our body’s cry for comfort – they add up to our crucifixion. They prepare us by breaking us of all we know and want and understand, so that our final death – the expiration of life itself – is only the last step toward reaching the promise.
If the promise were everything to us, then nothing in between would matter all that much right now. We wouldn’t need the ephemera in order to get by each day. And we’d have the strength, the fortitude, to withstand whatever comes to pass through God’s hands, knowing it is all for our benefit, all for the sake of this paradoxical love. Love, in the end, must vanquish all false loves. Love must prevail over self and even over affinity. We must be crushed like the wheat, pressed like the wine, and bruised like the reed before our true, full beauty can be revealed for Jesus’ sake alone.