Die To Self: The Constant Struggle between Selfishness and Selflessness

What does die to self really mean?  When it states this in scripture it seems far away, a distant and vague commandment.   How exactly do I die to self?  What does this mean?

 

As a mother I have begun to experience a form of death.  Not a die to self sort of death, but a death of individuality and personality.  I have slowly given myself over to motherhood, loosing myself in the process.  Has anyone else experienced this, or am I just living in crazy town: population 1?  I for so long have tied my identity to where I am in life.  I was a music kid in high school and one of the “smart” girls.  I was the 17 year old girl engaged before her senior year of high school.  Then I was that weird 18 year old wife.  Then a complexly new identity was born in March of 2011: mother.

 

It hit me like a ton of bricks this morning on my drive home from dropping my oldest of at school; the realization that I was not embodying the commandment to die to self.  When my 18 month old got up at 4 this morning and then again at 4:45 and then again at 5:15 I was exhausted and frustrated and angry.  I am not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, so when I am awoken before 6:00 am by a crying child I am anything but kind and compassionate.  Don’t get me wrong I’m not yelling at the poor little guy who just needs a mommy snuggle.  But I am not racing up those stairs with a happy heart ready and willing to serve and love on my little one.  I am stumbling and stomping up the stairs complaining that it’s freezing and mumbling something along the lines of “this is why some animals eat their young”.

 

In that moment on that long car ride home I realized that dying to self isn’t some elaborate scene where I am martyred for my faith.  Dying to self is refusing selfishness in the little moments of my life.  It is played out when my husband makes a snide remark about the laundry or the dishes after he’s had a really difficult day and I refuse to give myself over to my emotions and instead of attacking right back, giving him some grace.  It is exemplified when I get up at 3:30 and then 4:00 and then 4:30 and then finally give up at 5:00 and get up for the day with my one and a half year old.  Dying to self is reading to my 6 year old when all I want to do is curl up with a good book of my own and be left alone.

 

 

I came across a beautiful passage this week in 1 Corinthians 5:18 “So, my dear brothers and sisters be strong and steady, always enthusiastic about the Lords work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless”.  We are to forget who is benefiting from our hard work and not allow bitterness to creep in.  We are to bring to the front of our minds that no matter what we are doing and no matter who is benefiting, the work we are doing is ultimately for the Lord.  He sees us getting up before the sun to care for our little ones.  He knows that our hearts are heavy when we watch our child navigate a difficult circumstance.

 

See beautifully broken women, we have a choice: a choice that we have to make over and over and over again, hundreds of times each day.  We have to make the choice to love our children and husbands even when it’s the last thing we want to do.

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When Perfect Isn’t Quite Perfect

From the time I was a teenager, people around me have felt the need to declare things like, “It must be nice to have such a perfect life” or “ughhhh I wish I could be get perfect grades like you”.  After I had children it transformed into statements about how perfect my children were or how I was the perfect mother.  It was always said without malice.   It was meant more as praise to my parenting or the accomplishments I had worked so hard for, but it always rubbed me the wrong way.  I would find myself getting defensive and upset with my “accuser”.  Perfect, you think my life is perfect; if you only knew the depth of my self-hate and shame you would never utter the word perfect when talking about my life again.

What I was failing to realize was that I was the one causing those “perfection” comments.  I was manufacturing this perfect porcelain picture of my life to put on display for others to see.  My high school classmates didn’t see me weeping in a heap on the floor two days before a big assignment was due feeling like a failure.  My mom friends didn’t know that I would cry in my husband’s arms at night because I felt like I was ruining my kids beyond repair.    What I had failed to realize is that lack of perfect does not mean lack of worthiness.  For too long I tied my identity and worthiness to other’s acceptance.

For so many years I presented myself in a way that made my life seem like a page out of a story book.  Part of this plasticness came from a place of trying to protect myself from judgment.  I wanted people to think that I had it all together; I didn’t want anyone to see me for the weak sad person that I really am when all the pretenses are peeled away.  A bigger part of wearing the mask of perfection was that I felt that in order to be a “good” Christian I had to act, think and feel a certain way.  I thought had to fit a cookie cutter mold where life was all rose gardens and perfect peace.  That is all that I had ever seen portrayed in my short time as a believer in Christ.  I had never had a deep enough relationship with a Christian to know that we are all a little messy and sin effects us all.

Lack of perfect does not mean lack of worthiness

With the exception of the last four years I have lived a double life.  The way that other see me is just an illusion that I create when I am interacting with anyone other than my husband and children.  This constant act that I had to put on drained me and made me feel unworthy and lonely.  It propelled me into a depression and self-hate that I had never experienced.

The time between my first pregnancy and finding my current church family was a dark and horrible time in my marriage and my walk.  I was falling apart at the seams with no girlfriend or mentor to turn to.  My self inflicted loneliness became my prison.  I was filled with bitterness and anger because of my circumstances which lead me to lash out at the one I felt had caused this circumstance, my husband.  During those years I did irreparable damage to my marriage that I will regret until the day I leave this Earth.  I tore my husband down and threatened divorce.  By putting on the mask of perfection I had robbed myself of true intimacy with my husband.  By the grace of God my marriage stayed together and my husband and I have begun to repair the damage done during that dark time.  My desperate need to appear perfect to those around me had distanced me from experiencing a true Godly relationship with other believers and it almost sent my life in a completely different direction.

This journey of self discovery and acceptance is just beginning for me.  I am still working hard to open myself up and let others in to see me for who I am: faults, failures and all!  God is working in me to show me my value needs to be found in Him, not in the way other’s view me.  This is what he wants for all of us!

My husband and I purchased our first home in the fall of 2012.  This led us to a new location where we had to begin the painstaking search for a new church family.  We tried every church within 20 miles of our new home and we had almost lost hope.  On our last attempt at searching for a church family God opened the door to our current church home.

At this new church that image of a “perfect” Christian was shattered by some amazing women that God put in my life.  These three women were so radically real and different from any Christian woman I had ever met!  I connected with R. and S. through a Beth Moore bible study and I met M. when I joined the worship team.  These women continue to be my unofficial mentors.  When I grow up I want to be just like them: true to myself and accepting of who God made me to be.

These three women showed me through love and grace that I can embrace my identity in Christ.  They “gave me permission” to be my weird, emotional slightly sarcastic self.  These amazing women taught me there is beauty in brokenness that brings us to a place of full surrender to the Lord.  God didn’t create all women to be perfectly submissive, delicate and subdued.  Some of us are loud, silly and tattooed up and that is the beauty of Christ!  We were all made in his image and He desires us to embrace our uniqueness and use it to bless those put in our path.

So this new year I am going to begin the work of getting to know myself.  Will you join me in peeling off that mask of perfection and letting your weird out?  Sweet sister let’s start digging deep and discovering the uniqueness that God hand crafted us with!  Let others be blessed and challenged by you just by being the woman God created you to be.

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