Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)
The full transmission of divine life cannot come through and be fully heard if the static of the false self is too loud. – Thomas Keating
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Here is the great paradox. We’re called to lose ourselves in order to find ourselves. In fact, the great wisdom of Jesus is that only those who are lost can be found. Loss is required. Lost coins. Lost sheep. A lost son. It seems that real maturity is dependent upon stumbling, falling, unburdening, releasing, losing.
But what is this ‘self’ we’re losing? Many interpret this as a patriarchal God’s power trip, a strong-armed call to relinquish one’s rights, one’s voice, one’s body. However, the self we’re relinquishing is nothing other than the false self, that fig-leaf covered part of us that serves as imposter, protector, schemer, reputation-maker and power-broker. As Brennan Manning adds, this false self is “preoccupied with acceptance and approval, (the) suffocating need to please others.”
If this is the case, then our Lenten discipline of “taking up the Cross and following Jesus” means discovering and shedding parts of ourselves which continue to live as if we could control our world. Lent, then, is not a burden. It doesn’t add pressure. It actually unburdens us from the false self and all the baggage it carries – the relentless need to please, to perform, to succeed, to get attention, to figure it out, to be secure, to guarantee pleasure and satisfaction, to win a battle. Lent, in the end, is not ultimately about going off of chocolate or beer or television. It is about surrendering your false self, and claiming your deepest and truest self, which God calls ‘beloved.’
For some from religious backgrounds, the words of Jesus seem burdensome and duty-driven. We’ve got to be better, stronger, faster. We’ve can’t mess up. And yet, Jesus would say that it is precisely the parts of you that carry these emotional and spiritual pressures that need to be shed. The true self that remains is free, unhindered, unburdened. It delights in living and loving. It follows with reckless abandon. It is loved. It is because this true self is really God himself dwelling in us, perfectly united to us (Gal. 2:20). Turns out, it wasn’t up to us anyway!
There is great freedom in this simple invitation to lose oneself. What you might find, in the end, is a pearl of great price.
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For more from Chuck, read Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places