… Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it…” Matthew 16: 24-5
I suppose it’s natural for all of us to seize upon a particular piece of religious instruction that reinforces our preconceptions, and to consider ourselves more righteous in the process. In my case, this happens with Jesus’ entreaty to take the seat at the end of the banquet table, rather than presuming to seat oneself at the head of the table. It is tempting for me as a Scandinavian Midwesterner to focus on this verse and my dutiful observance of it, when it’s just naturally how I roll. Like the good folk in Lake Wobegon, my people don’t self-promote, preen, or take the best seat. We’re quietly trained to be good at what we do, while not acting like we know that we are in fact accomplished. Be demure, self-effacing, and complimentary. And always leave the last bit of food in the serving bowl (until the host prevails upon you to finish it).
But what I’ve been experiencing lately is not the heroic, selfless losing of life, but the accidental kind.
Over the past year, I’ve spent many late nights working on the drywall or floor or paint in our new bedroom, thinking all the while, “Oh, I’m gonna sleep so well in here.” And I do sleep soundly, but that’s not nearly as life-giving as checking in on my girls before I go to bed and seeing their blissful slumber in that room (where I did a lot less work).
And now that we’re moved in, I’ve also come to the realization that the reason my dad made Swedish pancakes on Saturday mornings during my childhood was probably because of the joy he found in watching his kids eat them.
Of course it’s not selfless for me to remodel my own home, or to make my favorite breakfast. But I learn something about what I gain by giving as I find that unexpected pleasure and am reminded of what Jesus said so many years ago. And as I do, I find myself slowly shifting my view of God from judge to sage. And I’m seeing Jesus less as a lawgiver and more as a teacher for life. Which alters my response to Jesus from obedience and (Scandinavian?) stoicism toward recognition and gratefulness. Not to mention a certain fulness of life.