That verse — it’s in all three synoptic Gospels (not in John?) — about those who try to keep or gain their life will lose it, and those who lose it (for Christ’s sake) will gain it.
In a comment discussion with Longing for Holiday, she mentioned the saying that when we lose ourselves for / in Christ, we actually become more truly ourselves.
That’s appealing on one level. It’s reassuring that what makes losing my life so terrifying (obliteration — loss of identity — loss of self) won’t happen at all.
But then, how exactly am I losing my life?
Is this verse an admonition to try to lose my life? Is it, in other words, a practical commandment?
If it is, how is it done? Not by suicide — and I am fairly convinced not by becoming a non-self, either — a doormat, robot, clone, empty vessel.
Perhaps by being always willing to sacrifice — as Jesus, who finding crowds waiting in the place he was retreating to for a quiet prayer, taught and fed them before having the prayer he sought.
Joe, my main therapist, showed me this example, encouraging me to always make arrangements for self-care whenever deciding to make a sacrifice.
And yet, again, a line must be drawn, yes? Being literally always willing to sacrifice would mean absolutely nothing left for me. There would always be someone needing something, somewhere.
How much sacrifice is enough?
I think about the Good Samaritan — he wasn’t going around purposely looking for people to help at all times. He encountered someone in need as he was going along pursuing his own purpose, and stopped to help — he didn’t become the victim’s guardian or best friend — he did what little he could, took him to someone who could help better and longer, paid for it, and went on his way.
Again, though — how intentional do I have to be about looking for someone along my way who might be in need? Surely if I look anywhere I’ll see something I could be doing instead of what I want to do.
I suspect the verse I mentioned is not a practical commandment — it perhaps should be read and responded to in some other way? Or am I just looking for excuses? (*edited to add* — not a commandment, something to try to do, but a “how to respond when it happens” or “have this attitude about your life.”)
What I suspect is that it’s about holding on — self-protection. If I am so afraid of obliteration that I hold too tightly to myself, I will miss out on the abundant life (*edited to add* — abundant meaning full, which includes the negative and not just the positive, and has little to do with financial prosperity) — I will have problems with trust and intimacy, with God and with others.
Maybe it’s that if I can let go of the total burden of responsibility for my self, I will be more free to actually live.
Edited to add:
On re-reading this verse and its context in Matthew the other night, it occurred to me that it could be about salvation.
If anyone wishes to save his life — that is, to earn his own way into the kingdom of heaven — he will lose it, because no one is able to satisfy the requirements of the kingdom on his or her own power. If anyone loses his life for Jesus’ sake — that is, gives up the lordship over his own life to submit to Jesus’ Lordship, and to accept the salvation Jesus provides — he will gain it.
To take up one’s cross (the preceding verse) is perhaps then primarily about being identified with Jesus in his death, and not necessarily about searching out ways to suffer more. And to deny oneself, then, could be primarily about denying one’s self-lordship and imagined ability to save oneself.
Then the following admonition about what does one profit if he gets the world but loses his soul, makes more sense.