Put on your clothes… and other kinds of death to self

24 Dec

Do you ever feel like not putting on your shirt? What about your pants? Has your husband/parent/friend ever knocked on your bedroom door and told you to get dressed and hurry up while you’re at it? Then, did you shout and refuse and pull out a pair of pajamas and loudly shout “Nooooooo!” so that everyone in the house could hear you? Ok maybe you’ve never been in this exact situation but haven’t you ever felt like not doing what you are supposed to do in exchange for what’s comfortable and convenient? Rather than get up and face the day with all its troubles, it’s much less of a hassle to just refuse to put on your clothes and crawl back into your warm bed with your warm pj’s and just do nothing.

For me, this exact scenario has been happening in my home almost every day for the past month. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized that Emma wasn’t the only one refusing to put her clothes on. Through a series of frustrating, disheartening, and ultimately humbling set of situations, I’ve come to see that I too have been acting like her when I’m called to do what I don’t feel like doing at the moment. We’ve both been stubborn and as a result, lots of frustration has ensued on both sides. But since I’m the one with a few more years under my belt, I have to take most of the responsibility for not seeing the role I’ve played in encouraging the same behavior that I’ve easily become angered at. By the way, I do literally put my clothes on; I was just trying to make a metaphor (yikes!) so bear with me!

One of the most common phrases I’ve been hearing these days is “No mama, I do it. Emmy do it”, followed by a lot of not doing it. After breakfast, I will bring her into her room and tell her that we need to put on daytime clothes and as soon as I begin take off her pajamas, she informs me that she does not need my help and would rather do it her way. Her way involves lots of slow-motion distracted movements and folding the clothes and returning them to their drawers. The pajamas are off, but the clothes she needs to put on lay sadly on the floor. Many days I’ve tried to muster up as much patience as I can, and often I get frustrated and leave the room or we end up in a sort of battle for supremacy.

The refusal to put on clothes probably has no deep meaning to her, other than that she wants to be the boss and wants to obey when it’s convenient. Rather than follow my lead and trust that I have good plans for her such as going on a fun outing to Starbucks or taking a walk to the park, she trusts in herself and has other plans in mind- ones that often don’t lead anywhere. But, because of the delays and refusals to do what she’s called to do, she unknowingly misses out on time and opportunities to enjoy herself. There are tears and shouts and a whole lot more drama than need be at 9:00 am. Sometimes we can’t even make it out the door.

After these situations are resolved, I have found myself puzzling over how crazy toddlers can be. There are so many times when, if they only trusted your leading, they’d be much happier than they are. There are times when the tears instantaneously break out for almost no reason at all. Someone is playing with the toy guitar you never play with. Your dog licked your face. The drink was too slow to arrive at the table. And on, and on and on.

But before I get all high-up on how mature us older people are and how crazy those little half-sizers can be, let’s just take a quick look in the mirror. As a mom, there are about a thousand moments everyday where you are faced with choices to make about how you act in response to your children’s actions. When they are upset, irrational, unkind, disobedient, impatient, or rude, you can respond in a variety of different ways. Maybe, if they’ve caught you at a patient moment, you can talk to them in a quiet tone with kind words. But what if you’re in the middle of making dinner and you have no time to deal with their behavior? Isn’t it easy to just throw back at them exactly what they’re throwing at you? “You’re hungry? You want to eat? Just wait and stop complaining!!! I TOLD YOU, YOU HAVE TO BE PATIENT!!!”

In all those times when your patience is tested (and trust me, one thing I’ve learned is that I am most definitely do not have as much patience as I once thought I did- having a child will prove that to any doubter), you are also being tested for obedience. Are you as a parent, willing to die to your own desires for peace, ease, unquestioned obedience, comfort, sleep, etc., and respond to others with actions and words that are fit for the moment? These questions don’t apply to just parents- they apply to us all. As soon as your child (or husband, friend, co-worker, whoever) does something that upsets you or offends you, what is your reaction? Too often, I’m sure if we’re honest, we want to demand our rights and feel offended or upset that the person has done something that makes life more difficult for us. We dig our heels in and get our backs up against the wall and feel that we need to shout a little louder so that they can hear how upset they’ve made us, because obviously, shouting is the way to make people listen to us. But how often does our natural response, our first response to trouble work? Probably not so well. Anger, impatience, harsh words compound our difficulties and rather than quieting a situation, they enlarge it.

The ironic thing is that, when we refuse to obey in certain situations by responding to others with patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control, we are the ones who suffer, maybe more than the ones we are trying to hurt, or unintentionally end up hurting. Sometimes we think that if others see how upset we are because we give them the silent treatment or we respond to their questions with one-word answers, they’ll definitely know they’ve wronged us and then they’ll come begging for forgiveness. We want to be sure to have all our needs met and feelings pacified. We want the world to know that how we feel and what we want supersedes everything.

This way only leads to a certain type of death, and it’s not the kind that Christians are called to. Luke 9:23 says, “And he [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Jesus is speaking to everyone about what it takes to follow after him. The picture here can’t be missed. The road of discipleship is a bloody one. You can skim over these words and miss the significance. Deny yourself? Take up a cross? Daily? This is radical, if you really understand what it means to be a follower of Christ. You are literally called to go against your natural fleshly desires, in obedience to Christ, and die every single day to your rights, your demands for supremacy, your comforts, and your life. It is no longer yours- it’s His. I know there’s a lot more that could be said about this passage and I’m not an expositor, but one thing I know is that death is no pleasant or easy thing to succumb to. The image of dying on a cross is even more graphic. That type of death, one of real suffering and pain, is one that a Christian is called to partake in.

But why? Why would Jesus call his followers to this? Here is the answer right from the Savior’s mouth. “He who would find his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39.  This path of following Christ involves a kind of bloody death to self, where everyday we are called to put to death the sin that lies within us, to crucify our desires, and to follow after Him. In obeying Him, by keeping His word, we will find our lives. Obedience to scripture is not burdensome but is the way to joy and fulfillment for the Christian. This death is not a kind of drudgery and sad one-way exchange where all we get in return is a pat on the back. No, God graciously promises us that in obeying Him and following after Him, we will find life! Life in peace with God, freedom from guilt, freedom from enslavement to our sin, freedom to love others generously and freely regardless of how they treat us because we realize how much we’ve received and we are able to say that our lives are not our own. In loving others and preferring their good, their joy, above our own comforts and ease, we are displaying death to self. Not lashing out in anger to your husband’s insensitive actions or your toddlers defiance are a part of this obedience and humbling that we are called to. As Christians, we will most definitely fail to obey many times, but one first step in dealing with our sin is to realize that rather than refusing to do what we’re called to do in any given moment, we must “by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the flesh.”

One huge eye-opener has been seeing that my response to my daughter, especially when she upsets me, is an opportunity for me to show her an example of how easy it is to die to myself. If I want her to follow my lead, then I need to die. I need to exemplify clearly that I am going to do it first. I can’t ask her to obey or to be kind or patient, when I myself am not willing to do the same. That line that says, “Some things are caught, rather than taught” is very true especially when it comes to children. The way you live must be in sync with what you say; otherwise your words will have no weight to them.

As Christmas comes tomorrow, and we rejoice in the fact that Jesus came into this world as a little baby, was made a man just like us, born into a human family, and faced the same trials and temptations that we do, and yet lived a perfectly righteous and holy life in our place so that when He went to the cross on our behalf, He could take our place and be punished for our sins, we can also rejoice that He led the way first. He showed us how to die to self. God does not require our obedience without first enabling us to do what He’s called us to do by His power and His example. The writer of Hebrews says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” And in Jesus’ death, the story did not end there. It culminated in His resurrection and life from the grave, and that is where the hope of the Christian lives. We don’t die to ourselves hopelessly. We die, knowing that in Christ, we will find true life and true freedom from death and our enslavement to sin. There is the hope of the world, and the reason why we have so much to celebrate and anticipate each Christmas. And there is our power to fight that daily temptation to refuse to put on our clothes, or whatever else we’re called to do that requires us to submit and obey.

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