Tuesday, March 02, 2010

laying down one's life...

It always seemed heroic, this idea that "John" gives us (1 John 3:16) that (NRSV) "...we ought to lay down our lives for one another."

Jumping on a hand grenade or giving up one's seat in the lifeboat are the kinds of things I used to think about in this context.  It's stuff we are not often in a postion to do and I am thankful for that.

But it has been opened to me that there are two other levels on which one can lay down one's life for others and those are things that are more likely to happen.

Still in the realm of heroic, there are those who, in hard times, lay down university education to go home to support and care for ailing parents and those who give up on "risky" career dreams to take more mundane occupations for the benefit of their families.  They are not laying down their physical lives, of course, but they are laying down lives they aspired to live for the benefit of those they love.

That kind of laying down of life has never been asked of me, either, and I am thankful for that,

There is a third level of this, though.  I am presented opportunities and calls almost every day.  I can lay down my life as I would lay down my quilting, or lay down a project, or lay down the remote, or lay down a book.  I can be called to lay down what I would rather be doing to lend a hand in the yard, to take a child to choir or volleyball practice, to help with homework, to sit with an ill friend, to attend a business meeting.

Breakthrough:  Doing this (sometimes very grudgingly) I was shown that in those cases I am laying down my life, in the long run, for my own benefit as well as that of the someone else involved.  I am strengthening the relationships (community) upon which my own well being depends and--as it is written--losing my life in order to gain it.

This passage in John is in the middle of a lot of talk about love and context is important in how I read scripture and in this case helps with the other sense that I can lay down my life.   I can be called to lay down my life, in this same sense, for frivolous things that are not at all edifying.  I can be pulled off of the ground from which I should be living to stand in a place of darkness and self destruction.

"My life," then, can mean my "self" and that can mean both the selfishness to which I am prone and it can mean the integrity to which I aspire,  It can mean the structure of the compartments in which my various selves live by quite different rules from one another, or it can mean the condition in which all those walls are removed and Quaker Timothy and lawyer Timothy take a common approach to the problems (among these the people) encountered along the way.

But all this laying down one's life, one's self, is in the context of love of others and so, on this third, "mundane," level laying down my life is not a remote, hypothetical possibility. These choices  are presented to me every day and I have made them, one way or the other, all my life.   I am becoming grateful for understanding the opportunities and the threats they present to me.   I am seeing that key to this may be whether I am doing the laying down for (love of/service to) others  or for (love of/service to) some self of mine that should be diminished rather than magnified, some self of mine that needs to come out from behind the wall and work it out with the rest of the Timothies involved in this process ("perfection," "maturity,") of becoming integrated into a unity.

Underlying these choices all along, then, has been the definition of what I thought my "life" really was. Over time that has become less about a definition I have "thought out" and more one to which I am being led through my experience.

My current understanding of the definition of what it is--"my life"-- that I am laying down was not created and then my choices flowed from it.  It's not that "logical." That definition has been (and still is being) shaped as I go.

Most important in this discernment are the outcomes of what I choose for others and the outcomes in me.  All my life I have "heard" all kinds of voices and I have been led, now,  to a much better ability to tell one from another and to choose which to heed not on what is most appealing or even what "makes sense" or "stands to reason" but, rather, according to the conditions of the pastures into which each of them has previously taken me and the condition in which my obedience to each has left me.

The signal experience is this:  I have laid down enjoyable activities to do things for others, activities that seemed less appealing, and then found that--contrary to reason and to my expectation--I was not laying my life down I was actually picking it up.


Chris M. said...

Thank you for this insightful reading into "John" and what to me is one of the core concepts of discipleship. You've made it seem much more graspable for me, and thus more achievable -- may it be so here on earth as it is in "heaven."

Linda (haven) said...

Well put, Friend, and a wonderful contextual reading of the text, that reflects the true meaning of "ongoing revelation." Thank you.