By Erich Wallace
AKA “How to Die (to Oneself) in a Healthy Way (and a Not So Healthy Way)”
When I was in college and was just starting to actually read the Scriptures and to learn more about the life of Jesus, I began to encounter some pretty serious struggles. Up ‘til then, I had been a pretty happy-go-lucky guy with few cares in the world. Outside of when a girlfriend broke up with me, I don’t recall ever really feeling depressed. I played sports, was in musicals, had fun with friends on the weekends, and loved to joke around and be playful.
Then… I met Jesus. Well… who I thought was Jesus.
As I started to take on the challenge of reading one chapter a day of the New Testament, delving into the Gospels, I started to realize some things about Jesus that I had never really thought about before. These things were:
- Jesus never laughed. Nowhere in any of the four Gospels did I read about Jesus laughing, or even cracking a smile for that matter. Yeah, he healed people, preached to people, raised the dead, and even wept, but nowhere did I see our loving God chuckling at any “Yo-Mama” jokes or deep belly-laughing after a good prank. Granted, ain’t nobody makin’ yo-mama jokes about his Mama (our Mama, too), but you get my point.
- Jesus didn’t play sports. I mean, recognizing that Jesus is God and that he could have given himself a frame like LeBron James, a vertical jump like Michael Jordan, a swing like Christian Yelich, and an arm like the GOAT Aaron Rodgers, you think he might have taken advantage of that. However, we never even hear of him having a rock skipping contest on the Sea of Galilee with his disciples. I mean honestly, ya’ll can’t tell me you haven’t wondered if Jesus ever set up a table outside the Temple before the Sabbath and started to make a little extra cash on some arm-wrestling contests… I mean, come onnnn…
So… when I didn’t read about Jesus partaking in either of these things in life, I began to feel like maybe they shouldn’t be part of my life, either. Around that same time, I had also met a guy on the street who was in a very dire situation, having been recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and not having any family around to help him. As a result, I started visiting him to help him out and to give him company… a lot. To the point where I wasn’t focusing on my studies, was losing contact with my friends, and wasn’t doing any type of recreation. Within a matter of a few months, I had basically stopped playing sports, wasn’t laughing and joking around so much, and was giving all of my spare time to helping a person who was suffering. Pretty Christ-like, right? Well, I kind of thought so, but I later on realized that wasn’t totally the case. I was dying to my own desires and putting others before myself, but there was something a little off.
What I failed to realize were a couple important things:
- When writing, ancient Jews would not include mundane details of a daily routine like laughing or light conversation in their works. They would write about the more major happenings like those mentioned in the Gospels: healings, miracles, or important teachings. Everyone knew what happened on the daily, so they didn’t see the sense in writing it down. So, did Jesus laugh? You bet he did. I bet he was a heck of a dancer too. Did he play sports? It’s said that there are singles’ badminton leaderboards inscribed on ancient ruins in the Holy Land and JC’s name is at the top of all of them.
- Just because you’re denying yourself things that you want to do doesn’t necessarily mean you’re growing in holiness. Yes, I was learning how to suffer like Christ and putting those in need before myself, but because of my skewed view of Christ, I was neglecting other things I should have been giving time to as well, like my studies, friendships, and time for prayer and recreation. Jesus cares about those too.
My whole point here is that Jesus does call us to die to ourselves and to surrender to his will, but as a young Christian I have a few tips for you in finding God’s will for yourself so you don’t end up getting too far out of whack like I did and nearly lose yourself.
- Get a good spiritual director, if possible, and listen to his/her advice. I had a spiritual director in college: a very holy priest, who gave me very sound advice. However, because of my lack of understanding, when he told me not to spend so much time helping this man suffering with Parkinson’s Disease and to have more balance in my life, I couldn’t take his advice because I thought God was telling me to spend all of my time with the man going through the tough time because why should someone else be suffering while I’m not? Turns out, though, my spiritual director was right. I should have been more balanced in how I was spending my time, and I would have been much healthier.
- God may call us to give up things that we enjoy at times, but, as C.S. Lewis alludes to in his book The Screwtape Letters: “The man who enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, not caring two-pence about what other people say about it, is by that very fact, fore-armed against some of the devil’s subtlest modes of attack.” Just because you begin to give your life to the Lord, doesn’t mean you have to give up all of the “non-religious” things. Even though they may not be mentioned in the Bible, you can still glorify God through sports and other activities, and they are great ways to connect with people who do not know the Lord.
- Let love, joy, and peace guide you. Dying to ourselves is not easy, but when you make a sacrificial choice and deny yourself, does it leave you feeling joyful or burdened? It may hurt at first, but when we follow Christ and sacrifice for him, we should feel the joy of the Spirit. If you’re overworked and overburdened, and if it is leaving you feeling just empty rather than full, take a look at your commitments. Talk to a Christian friend, and maybe reevaluate how you’re spending your time and energy.
I hope these little tips keep you from giving up things Christ may not want, and that they give you the ability to die to those things he does.
Peace and blessings on your No-Shave November,