Today, I’m pleased to share with you the lovely work of a dear friend of mine, Marlena Graves, one of the wisest, gentlest people I know. In her book, A Beautiful Disaster, Marlena reflects on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus amid the beauty, wonder, and tragedy of this God-haunted world. She desires to offer a taste of the beauty and goodness and the hospitality of God through what she writes and how she lives. She also thinks about this: if Jesus reserved his harshest words for the religious people of his day, challenging their attitudes, in what way is Jesus challenging her and others within the Church? Here’s an excerpt:
Adapted from A Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves, Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, ©2014. Used by permission. http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com
God is continually calling me, and every one of us, to take up the cross of obedience. In God’s hands, crosses that are considered instruments of death become instruments of life-giving grace and conduits of shalom. Of course, few of us look forward to taking up our crosses daily and dying a thousand deaths to self in the span of a lifetime. Need we be reminded again that such dying is the Jesus way? The wisdom of God teaches us that we must die these deaths so that we might live.
Every time we refuse to die to the godless self, the life of God in us weakens. The process of dying to ourselves takes a lot out of us. We vacillate between following through in obedience to God by putting to death the deeds of the flesh and hanging on to familiar death. We panic, and then we rationalize our decision to cling to the unredeemed parts of ourselves. Sometimes we hesitate and decide we want to keep the godless parts of us alive after all. We don’t like to die even when it’s good for us.
We cling to the unredeemed parts of ourselves out of fear and because doing so is what we know. We don’t have enough of a God-bathed imagination to imagine anything else. We are scared of the uncertainty involved in surrendering ourselves to God. But as we learn to become completely dependent on God, who has always shown himself to be trustworthy, we learn to stop fighting the demise of godlessness in us, like a restless child who finally stops fighting sleep. As we confess our sins and waywardness and put to death the deeds of the flesh, trusted others function as pallbearers at our “death of self” funeral. Together with us, our friendly pallbearers bid adieu to the old, rebellious us. With us, they bid good riddance to what unleashes destruction in the world. We don’t shed any tears.
Because we are at our weakest in the desert, the desert experience almost forces us to practice becoming utterly dependent on God, as we should always be. When we are submissive to him in our dying to self, we can be submissive to him in the ways and means of resurrection life. Yet, we must keep in mind that each death and resurrection is unique. Just when we think we’ve got dying to self down pat, we must relearn mortification. Dying is never easy. Still, after much practice, dying to self becomes easier than it was initially. Maybe it’s because we finally come to terms with the reality that we have to die in order to live. There’s no way around it. John Chryssavgis writes, “The more involved our exposure to the way of the cross, the more intense our experience of the light of resurrection.”
Bio: Marlena Graves is a bylined contributor for Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics and Gifted for Leadership blogs. She has contributed to Christianity Today, Relevant, the Conversations Journal, Rachel Held Evans’s blog, Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, and other venues. She is also a member of Ink: A Creative Collective and Redbud. She is married to her favorite person in existence, Shawn Graves. He’s a philosophy professor. Together they have two girls with another on the way. She’s on staff at her church offering and coordinating pastoral care for their beloved seniors. You can find her blog athttp://marlenagraves.com and her Twitter handle is @MarlenaGraves. She welcomes conversation with you in the name of Jesus.