I have been married for 30 years now, and you would think that after 30 you'd have learned just about everything there is to be learned, you'd have perfected just about everything about the marriage gig. And Ann really is pretty close, but I'm probably just a slow learner. Here's what I'm finally coming to understand after 30.
Jesus has a couple of things to say about following him that if we're honest, we really would rather just gloss over and get to the good stuff about peace and joy and no worry. He says, "Greater love has no man than this--that a man lay down his life for his friends." (He then goes on to astonishingly call us friends which is a topic for another day.) And he says "If anyone would be my disciple, [and I really don't like this one] let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me." And then John picks up on this and drives it home in his first letter: "This is how we know what love is, that Jesus laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." Or for our wives.
Now this doesn't just have to do with marriage, in fact doesn't really have marriage in mind here, but I can't get past the idea that marriage is included in being a disciple of Jesus, that Ann is one of the brethren I should be laying down my life for. Which doesn't sound right, but you get my meaning here, I hope. Following Jesus is about denying ourselves, about laying down our lives for each other, about sacrificing our own wants and rights in order to love like Jesus loved.
Denying myself. You don't hear a lot about that kind of thinking in our culture. Fulfilling myself sure. Looking out for number one absolutely. Becoming self actualized...did you hear about the man who went into the bookstore and asked the salesgirl where the self help section was and she said, "Well, if I told you that would kind of defeat the purpose wouldn't it?" No? Well, I'm just stalling anyway. We rarely live in such a way that we are more concerned with denying ourselves than we are with focusing on ourselves. Without going into too many specifics, I have spent 30 years in pursuit of my rights, my wants. Not totally, I'm not a complete slouch on this discipleship thing. But in some pretty important areas I have been more selfish than sacrificing.
And now, probably not for the first time, but maybe for the first time that I'm willing to consider this possibility, I'm being called to deny myself, to lay down my life, and to sacrifice. And I don't like it, because it is sacrifice, and as sacrifice implies, it requires giving up something. It requires a choice to love someone else more than I love myself, or love what I consider to be my rights. For me at this moment in my life, that has to do with my relationship with the woman I have loved for more than 30 years. But there are so many other relationships, so many other ways this needs to be applied. Your kids. Our church family. Our co-workers. Wherever and whoever. the way of the cross is through the path of denying ourselves.
I'll be sure to let you know how this all works out. Next time I'm writing about you.