I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12:24-25
We always seemed to exchange loud angry words in the hallway of our home. I can still picture the furious gestures of my red-faced, teenage son, Bryan,* as he stood beside my bedroom door. Our battles were never confined to the current offense; they always included grudges–past betrayals and hurts that he had held deep inside for long periods of time.
My poor husband Howard could never understand what caused the tension and outbursts of anger between us. He felt caught in the middle, not having the freedom to side with either of us. To be truthful, his neutral position made me mad at him for not taking my side and dealing strongly with our son. To make matters worse, sometimes he tried to make me understand why Bryan felt the way he did.
I told Howard, and tried to convince myself that we just have abrasive personalities. As the number of confrontations increased, however, I became more and more burdened for Bryan. My position had been that I was the adult, his mother, and I should and would demand obedience. But it seemed that discipline only added to the problem. There certainly was no repentance and Bryan was a ticking time bomb.
The truth is that my own attitude was less than godly. I was angry and hurt that Bryan could accuse me of things that I thought sure I had never done. I felt that I was always the “bad guy” (so to speak), and Howard was looked upon as the good guy due to rarely ever having a problem with Bryan. It made me feel like they believed that I was the problem. Of course, that wasn’t really the truth, (Howard just isn’t like that) and no matter what he did, he was in trouble with one of us. Out of my burden and desperation I began to pray, not only that God would deal with Bryan, but that He would also give me His insight and understanding.
God’s insight and understanding came through an important life principle that my husband shared with me in a teachable moment. His exhortation centered around the word “perception”. He explained to me that Bryan really believed what he said, even though it could be untrue. His perception was what it was, and it was truth to him. Of course, I too, had my own perception, and I believed just as strongly that I was right in the way I perceived these issues. Bryan wasn’t lying; he hadn’t made these things up. Something caused him to be bitter and angry over what he perceived was very real to him. My son was hurting deeply.
Howard was right; Bryan had no pattern of lying. I began to see my son as a hurting person and my compassion for him was growing. I also realized that there could be a seed of truth in what he said–after all I too have a sin nature. I begged God to help me and give me wisdom for what to do.
A few days later, an explosion of angry words and emotions erupted into accusations from the present and the past, again by my bedroom door. This time I prayed before responding and amazing words came out of my mouth. “Bryan,” I said, “I don’t remember doing those things, but I know I would never have wanted to do that. I love you so much, will you please forgive me.” I wish you could have seen the look on his face. Probably my expression was quite interesting too! For the first time, there in that hallway, a remarkable healing began. There was nothing more to fight about. I had refused to fight. Before we had always spoke our ugly words and we parted, thinking we each had won, and both making sure to get in the last word, at least under our breath. Actually, neither one of us ever “won” until now.
There were more meetings in the hall, but in the Lord’s strength I continued to humble myself and die to my own rights and perceptions. I noticed two things from this journey.
- When I was willing to not fight, whether Bryan forgave me or not, he could no longer deal with his own hurt through taking it out on me. When I asked him to forgive me, I was free. Since the hurt was still there in his heart, he had only one Person he could be angry with and that was God Himself. As long as I was willing to fight, Bryan didn’t have to face God with his problem.
- If you think it was easy to obey this principle, I want you to know that it was the hardest thing I have ever done. It was the best thing I have ever done. There had been no desire to die; I liked thinking I was right and I wanted my way. My emotions were totally against such an act of obedience. As I saw the change in Bryan, the gradual softening of his heart toward me, and the opening of communication between us, I began to value this dying very much. That didn’t make it any easier, but it made it worth it.
Jesus was our model of this death-life principle—He died that we could have life. Yes, it is true, when you choose to die to yourself— spiritual life is produced.
When Bryan was finally able to share his heart, he revealed that he had begun to doubt his salvation. A time of study on assurance from the Word and prayer assured him of God’s faithfulness and his eternal life. He was free. We were free.
Acting on this principle never fails to produce life. Like the planted seed, it is in a dark, earthy process that is not seen until the green shoot pokes through the ground on a sunny spring day.
The seed sprouted and our young man, who at one time couldn’t wait to get away from home by going away to college, fell into my arms. As our warm tears mingled, he assured me and his dad of his love before he drove away. It was sad to see him depart, but satisfying to see him spiritually healthy and headed for Bible College.
Often when God teaches us such a deep spiritual principle, it is a rehearsal for another painful challenge with an added dimension to encourage further growth. In a way it is easier to die to our perceptions and perceived rights if it involves someone that we love as much as we love our children. What about those whom God brings into our lives that we have no bond of emotional attachment?
Many years ago I was involved in a very successful ministry with women. It was very demanding and I began to pray for God to send someone who could partner with me in the work. He sent someone I thought was just right. This person was gifted differently from me and also had a different personality. She brought to the ministry a unique perspective, and I enjoyed the enhancement she added.
After some time, she suddenly announced that she was not going to be involved in the ministry with me any longer and we went our separate ways. At that time I didn’t understand why she left. I had noticed that it made her extremely nervous at times to perform her duties, so I thought it was because she was interested in another kind of work.
Over the years I noticed that our paths didn’t really cross, and when they did, our fellowship was not what it once was. I thought it was because our ministries just took us in different directions.
Many years later, through a very hurtful comment she made to me, I finally realized that something was very wrong. Others who heard her also suggested to me that I needed to talk to her about it.
There are no words to describe how I agonized and prayed about this meeting. God brought to my mind the death-life principle many times, but my heart was in a great warfare. My flesh was very vindictive and my tendency to defend and justify myself repeatedly plagued my mind day and night. I finally prayed, “Lord, I want to want to forgive.”
Lord, I want to want to forgive.
Finally God brought reason. How could I defend or justify actions that took place so long ago? I knew there could be a seed of truth in any charge she brought. I decided to die. I would have no agenda and would ask her to forgive me for everything she mentioned. After all, they were all past, and I couldn’t see any profit in defending what I couldn’t remember clearly. We had both grown and much had changed in our lives.
A very long list of charges was brought against me. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, I assured her of my love, told her that I had no list, and admitted that I could have done what she charged and only asked if she would forgive me. She did. Healing had begun.
I can only express my feelings after that meeting as those of complete freedom. I couldn’t stop praising God for His faithfulness. It was not long before I was tempted with bitterness and resentfulness as I played the whole scenario over and over in my mind. This was one of the hardest battles I had ever experienced. At the same time, God kept reminding me of His love, His Word, and His support for the death I had chosen. Repeatedly, I fell at His feet confessing my sin, and over and over again cleansing took place.
Still in process, I am noticing a new kindness from both of us. I don’t dread to see her anymore. I can’t say that our relationship is or ever will be what I believe it could have been if we had both chosen to die to ourselves many years ago. I am definitely seeing new life in the form of mutual respect and acceptance for each other. Yes, at times, I still have to deal with a fleeting thought when it pushes its way to the forefront of my mind, but like Paul, …one thing I [try to] do: Forgetting what is behind…, I am straining toward what is ahead (Philippians 3:13).
When I think of Christ dying to forgive me, a most wicked sinner, and giving me eternal life, I know that there is never a reason to not forgive. Colossians 3:13 states, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
There are not many opportunities to sacrifice something to God that costs so much as death to self, and nothing more fruitful. I think this is what Paul meant when he wrote about, sharing in [Christ’s] sufferings, becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3:10). Dying can become a privilege.
*name changed for privacy