I’ve been thinking about grieving and loss a lot this year. It was just over a year ago that my gran died; and close friends have lost friends or relatives. I’ve seen families I love be torn apart. We lost our beloved dog in the house; and my much loved VW camper decided to end its stint six weeks into my ownership.
Losing something, permanently, is really, really hard. Yes, it’s easier to stomach a camper burning up than it is to lose a pet, which is easier still than losing a grandparent. But in each of these there is a tangible loss which is felt beyond the moment of loss itself.
Loss, ultimately, is a painful experience.
Yet Jesus says to us, according to Matthew: “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it”.
Wait, Jesus – who loves us – is asking us to go through what is a painful process.
A brief bit of theology: Jesus isn’t saying that we must literally die for him (though that does happen) – otherwise how would the opposite (finding life) happen? Rather, Jesus is employing a common tactic of comparing extremities to make a point. He is asking us to give up the pursuit of our own self-fulfilment and instead find fulfilment in God and in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Whoever finds their life will lose it – similarly, if we store up treasure on earth then that is where our reward shall be. If we publicise our good deeds, we have had our reward in full. If we seek our own pleasure out, that is the pleasure we shall have.
But if we choose to leave that behind, we shall experience life in a whole new way. That’s what Jesus is really getting at, here – and it’s going to be painful.
But it’s worth it.
Recently I have been struggling with my singleness – it’s something I struggle with often. So I’ve been thinking about all the ways around that that I could find. There are many obvious answers the world provides – many of which are indeed only temporary and limited in their life-giving value. Instead, I must trust in God that if I follow him I will be happy – single or otherwise.
That’s what Jesus is asking us to do.
He’s asking us to surrender the idolatries that we pursue in his place, the things which only provide temporary leases of life to our otherwise dead selves. Instead, he beckons us to pursue a way of life which is abundant, full, and totally, absolutely good for us.
But it’s not always easy. Sometimes the things we are asked to give up are things very dear to our hearts. The rich young ruler knew all about this when he went away with a heavy heart upon hearing Jesus tell him he needed to sell his possessions. Worse still, he experienced the grief without following it up with finding life.
We must try not to be like the rich young ruler. When we hear the call of Jesus to give up that which distracts us from our true source of life, we must heed his words and remember, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”.
And then we can truly discover what it means to be alive.