“I think she’s dying,” my coworker said.
She was talking about a woman who’d 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, lived through many cycles of death.
Not physical death, of course, but the shudders of cultural death, of death-to-self, that wrack every emotion of someone in the midst of a long overseas assignment. I didn’t know it at the time, scoffed at the idea even, but death was coming for me too.
They don’t 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. But you can’t even imagine 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, wasn’t 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, something to do with death. “Eat my flesh and drink my blood,” he said. “Make death-to-self your daily focus.”
He wasn’t 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. But then 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”. Which… He does. It’s 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’ve died. But you find that you don’t really miss the parts of you that are withered away. A little selfishness gone, a little pride, a little need-to-have-it-your-way.
And in their place a life glorious. A life spanning two worlds. A Savior-defined life.
The next season of self-death you will meet with a little more courage, a little more willingness, a little less resistance.
For who could’ve guessed that good things come from what feels so much like death.