This entry from The Mockingbird Devotional comes to us from Paul Walker:

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25, ESV)

Jesus describes the two realities of human existence (and ultimately there are only two): trust in yourself and suffer eternal loss, or trust in God and gain eternal life. In these potent, descriptive verses, Jesus calls a thing what it is. “For whoever would save his life will lose it.” Trusting in yourself, worshipping yourself, saving and securing your own life may very well gain you the trappings of success in this world. But in all cases, without exception, it will lead to your own destruction.

salvador-dali-metamorphosis-of-narcissus1

The inevitable end of trusting yourself is illustrated in the Roman version of the Narcissus myth. One day while hunting, the handsome and thirsty Narcissus bends down to drink from a stream. He sees his own reflection and falls in love with it. As he bends down to kiss the image in the water, it seems to run away. Narcissus is heartbroken; he grows thirstier and thirstier, but he will not drink for fear of damaging his own beautiful image. He eventually dies of thirst and self-love, staring at his own reflection.

Bob Dylan, commenting on Narcissus, sings, “Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool /And when he sees his reflection, he’s fulfilled.” Narcissus may be thrilled and fulfilled as he gazes into his ephemeral reflection, but in the end, he dies because he loves his image at the expense of himself.

“But whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Trusting in Jesus may very well lead to physical death in this world and will always lead to death of your own petty and narcissistic hopes and dreams and ambitions. This is what Jesus means when he tells us to take up our cross and follow him. Following him can mean nothing else but death to self.

But death to self is a good thing, isn’t it? Death to all that is greedy and addicted and lustful and jealous and sardonic. Do you really want to go on living with those hateful monkeys on your back? Do you really like the incessant chatter in your ear and their pointed nails in your back?

There is pain involved in the removal of the monkeys, because there is always pain in death. And yet, there is also your new life. Trusting in Jesus means trusting in the one who has taken the monkeys with their teeth and claws off your back and placed them on his own. He has taken them to the cross to die with him.

When the day is finally done, trusting in Jesus, in the words of Flannery O’Connor, means, “the life you save may be your own.”