I always talk about following Jesus as the way to life, and I believe that deep down in my bones. I also know deep down in those same bones that the way to this life often starts with death – as annoying as that can be. The last couple of years of my life have been a season with much dying for me. I’m not talking about the death of loved ones, but the death of things that distort the true purpose of my life. Ironically, even though they are things that harm me, they are things that I often hold very dear, and letting them die is not always easy.
Dying to Proving Myself
For example, one thing that I had to die to in recent years was the idea that I could do everything myself. When my husband, who had been my co-pastor for ten years, started another job, we didn’t hire someone for his position right away. And you know what I said about this? (I laugh as I remember): “I am really excited at this opportunity to prove that I can do this on my own.” And I meant it! I relished the challenge of showing what I could accomplish all by myself.
This was not how things turned out.
Instead, those months involved a whole lot of me learning that I need help. Things didn’t always go well. I was not always equipped. I did not have all the gifts and skills on my own to make everything work. It felt awful – because I was dying. Slowly, God was inviting me to die to the need to prove my independence. This was not so that I could be humiliated or feel insecure – it was so that I could live! The reality was that trying to prove how competent I was all the time was not fun. In this season, God invited me to die to my working so hard to prove my worth, and live in something better: dependence on God, and shared life in a community of people that are God’s gift to me. When I stopped grieving not being able to do everything on my own, I saw and rejoiced in a better way – dependence, trust, and life.
This brings me to today, and the ways I’m still learning to die, which is particularly fitting to consider this time of year. On the church calendar we are in the season of Lent. Lent is the time leading up to Good Friday and Easter. Traditionally, it is a time to contemplate our own deep need for God, and to name and lament the things in life which cause us pain and death.
One of the ways we can live into this truth during the season of Lent is through giving something up. In the past I have given up meat or soft drinks. Some people give up chocolate or social media. This year, I asked myself an honest question: To what do I need to die? And I decided that for the 6 weeks of lent I would not wear jewelry.
This is going to sound like I have very valuable or high end jewelry, which I don’t. It may also sound like I’m really into jewelry, which I’m not. However, I do wear jewelry most days. I like to wear big hoop earrings and chunky necklaces. In fact, most mornings, after I get dressed, I take a few moments to “decorate” myself in jewelry. Since the first day of Lent, I have skipped this phase of getting dressed each morning, leaving on only my watch (which I generally need for work) and wedding ring (I mean, I don’t want to get the hopes up of single men who may meet me and see me without one… It’s important to be considerate).
Why would I do this? Because of something to which I think I might need to die. In the last few months, as turning the big 4-0 draws imminently closer, I realize that I am growing overly anxious about my changing looks. Those deepening wrinkles and stubborn grey hairs bug me. I find myself missing the careless ease of how I looked in my youth, and putting more work into my appearance. A little more make-up. A little more time choosing what to wear. A little more money on creams and lotions. A little longer picking out the perfect jewelry.
I decided that removing this one small part of my routine would remind me each morning that my looks do not need to be an identity marker for me. It would remind me to remember that God tells me I am “wonderfully made.” I admit that over the last four weeks, there are times that I feel incomplete. I put on a certain shirt and think: “This looks so BARE without a necklace.” Then I remember that it’s okay. I pause and thank God for my healthy, useful body just as it is. I look at the wrinkles and the white hairs spiking out at weird angles (Question: Why are the white ones so CRINKLY???). I let them bug me and then I let them go. I am trying to die to the lies that tell me youth is more beautiful, that tell me wrinkles should be fixed and that tell me I need to decorate myself to look more presentable. They aren’t true. In dying, I am seeking, and finding life – life that is free (er) from worrying about how I look.
This doesn’t mean that I will never wear jewelry, or nice clothes, or put on make-up. This hasn’t been about jewelry; it’s been a practice to remind me of something I was forgetting about who I really am. For that reason, on Easter Sunday I will select some lovely piece of jewelry (even though likely bought from a yard sale or thrift store), and wear it with joy because Christ is risen and I live in life, not death. I will remember that with or without jewelry, wrinkles, or my original hair colour that I am still God’s. I will celebrate that my life has value because of whose I am, and be glad that I can wear lovely things without relying on them to make me lovely – or loved.
I will celebrate that my life has value because of whose I am, and be glad that I can wear lovely things without relying on them to make me lovely – or loved.
I also know it won’t be the end. Yeesh, this dying thing can grow a little tiring, I admit. I will have more seasons where I realize I am holding something too closely that is not a way to life, and I’ll have to die again. The good news is that, while we pause and remember the alternative during lent, we are Easter people. And Easter people LIVE. Jesus promises us that death is not the story – it is always life.
If you are wondering if you are living into something that does not lead to life for you, I ask you to consider where you feel despair, or hopelessness, or inadequacies. Where do you say: “I’m failing at this!”? Where do you say: “I wish I was more like…?” Where do you hear voices say: “You’re not good enough…”? Those may be areas where you are not called to push and pull to hold something more tightly, but actually to let something go. And it may be that in dying to them, you find life in something so much better.
Even if it involves taking off your engagement ring.