“I think she’s dying,” my coworker said.
She was talking about a woman who had been living cross-culturally for several months. I was brand new, still full of excitement and joy and the sense of adventure. My coworker had been there for years and had lived through many cycles of death.
She was not talking about physical death, of course. It was the shudders of cultural death, of death-to-self, those shudders that wrack every emotion of someone in the midst of a long overseas assignment. I did not know it at the time—I even scoffed at the idea—but death was coming for me too.
They do not tell you that when you sign up to go live overseas. They try to warn you that the “honeymoon stage” wears off in the face of brutal poverty, unfathomably endless cultural differences, and daily frustrations that build into ear-popping pressure. You cannot even imagine, though, that the “end-of-the-honeymoon stage,” which sounds like such a gentle letdown, feels so much like dying.
If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me, Jesus said.
Jesus, it seems, was not interested in a following as large as could be conjured up. Just when the crowd around Him reached a tipping point, He had a habit of saying something crazy that sent them scattering. Usually, it was something to do with death. “Eat My flesh and drink My blood,” He said. “Make death-to-self your daily focus.”
He was not necessarily talking about physical death, of course. He was talking about a decision to no longer consider yourself the primary concern. He was talking about a love for Him so passionate that all other attachments look like hatred. There are those for whom faith has meant physical death—and they died that death too.
We tend not to tell people this when they sign up for the Christian life. We advertise the honeymoon stage, the “God-has-a-wonderful-plan-for-your-life” aspect. Which…He does. It is just that the “wonderful plan” involves a lot that feels so much like dying.
On the other side of death, there is resurrection.
We dunk under the waters in baptism, but—oh!—we also bring you back up.
At the end of the letdown, there is a commitment stronger and more refined than the most passionate honeymoon stage.
You have died. You soon find, however, that you do not really miss the parts of you that are withered away. Gone: a little selfishness, a little pride, a little need-to-have-it-your-way.
In their place? A life glorious. A life spanning two worlds. A Savior-defined life.
In the next season of self-death you will meet with a little more courage, a little more willingness, a little less resistance.
Who could have guessed that such good things come from what feels so much like death?!
Question to consider: What good things have you seen come “from what feels so much like death?”