If You Want to Live Truly, Learn to Die Daily
All year round the thorn of the gorse bush has been hardening and sharpening. Even in spring, the thorn does not soften or fall off. But at last, about halfway up, two brown furry balls emerge. They are small at first, but then they fully break out of last year’s thorn to flower into a ray of sunshine. The hardness gives way to a delicate beauty. The death of the thorn splits open to produce a blossoming resurrection of life. Death and resurrection.
We find the same pattern in our own lives.
I noticed this death-and-resurrection pattern when I became a mother. I had a traumatic birth experience, my full-term baby had to be admitted to the NICU, and he wouldn’t nurse. I battled through the difficult nursing experience I had with him for two weeks, was just about to give up, and then it worked out. When we got home from the hospital he would cry all night, and not go back to sleep, even when he was just fed. I would usually cry with him.
When evening time would come, feelings of dread would make my stomach sick because I knew what night would bring. On top of this, my body was trying to adjust to this new transition. My hormones launched me into depression. I would cry a lot for no reason, and I felt a constant loneliness and then guilt on top of it all for feeling like this when I had a new baby.
This was supposed to be a joyful time. But I felt like I was dying.
I was being stripped of my independence, learning about true sacrifice and the strength of a selfless life. All I felt was the thorn of the gorse bush. I was being given a new identity as I transitioned into motherhood, and the death of my old life was painful.
But God redeems death. Death is a curse brought into our world through the sin of Adam (Genesis 2:17), but God brings good out of the bad — he brings resurrection. And resurrection does not depend on circumstances changing. It’s a work of the Spirit in our hearts giving us peace and joy regardless of our circumstances. It’s a place we come with Job when we say, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth” (Job 40:4). This is fertile ground for resurrection.
Though death is part of the curse (and it certainly feels wrong in all its forms), God reshapes death into a gateway to life. Spiritual death-to-self is now the only way back to God, and physical death is the way back to paradise.
But we don’t like to talk about death. It makes us feel uncomfortable. And if the anti-aging industry proves anything, it’s our struggle to embrace our own mortality. Theologian Carl Trueman backs this up with his own theory of death borrowed mainly from Pascal, with twists of Augustine: “Much of life,” Trueman says, “can be explained as an attempt to deny or escape from death.”
Because of our death-denial and escapism, we try our best to circumvent all the little daily deaths and big deaths of life, and achieve resurrection benefits on our own. We take cheap, shallow ways to an ingenuine feeling of resurrection. Addiction is a prime example of this. In an article for Psychology Today, Stephen Diamond writes, “In some ways, addiction is an extreme example of an existential challenge we all wrestle with every day: accepting reality as it is.” Even if you’ve never attended Alcoholics Anonymous or drug rehab, we can all relate to the struggle to accept reality as it is.
So, we grasp at our own designs of resurrection by losing ourselves in shopping, alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, social media, sports, and much more. We’re obsessed with resurrection, but avoid death at all costs. Yet, true resurrection is preceded by death. It’s no wonder avoiding death and trying to get to the resurrection benefits on our own proves fleeting and leaves us unsatisfied. It’s a vicious cycle, unless we take up our cross with Christ (Luke 9:23) and crucify ourselves with him (Galatians 2:20).
Embrace the Way of Christ
Jesus shows us that we will never experience resurrection without embracing death. This is the cycle God has designed for us; he wants us to die so we can live.
This is how we come to Christ, but it’s also how we continually grow and flourish into Christ’s likeness until we physically die. Christ came to bring abundant life for us (John 10:10), but he purchased that life by walking the road to Calvary to its bitter end. He calls every one of his children to walk this same road (Mark 8:34). He gives us tastes of the abundant life of resurrection when we choose to walk this road.
So, let’s embrace the change, embrace reality, embrace that huge life transition, and embrace what God wants to teach us through adversity. Because through the deaths in our obedience and submission, God will work his resurrection.
When I saw my daily acts of self-denial as a mother as following in the footsteps of Christ, I felt glimpses of a resurrection. Motherhood humbled me. I finally realized just how weak and needy I was, and this made me cry out to God for strength and help. He then gave me tastes of joy in the mundanity of motherhood. When I had my second son, my experiences were completely opposite in every way. Why? Perhaps I had already been stripped of myself in this way before. I had already died that death, and now I was experiencing the peaceful fruit of resurrection.
Invited to Live Through Death
Talking of death sounds so morbid, but what God is really calling us to is life; he just desires to walk through death as a means to that end. Jesus told us, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).
The fruit of Jesus’s death was the resurrection of God’s people to true life in him. The fruit of his death has covered the globe and continues to grow wherever the gospel is spread. If we, like the grain of wheat, let ourselves be buried and die, we will have an abundance of fruit for ourselves and others. If we did more dying, we’d probably feel more alive than ever. Because, like the gorse bush, the flower will blossom from the thorn.