Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into his death?
Paul, Romans 6:3
Have you ever felt a toddler fall asleep while you were holding her? It still surprises me how heavy kids are once they fall asleep. You’re carrying a small human, and suddenly you’re carrying a bag of bricks. Her body just flops over, and it’s your job to hold her up now. She’s done working. She’s dead weight.
I walked in Piedmont Park last week and even though it was so warm, ridiculously warm, it still felt like winter. Winter stillness has a particular quality. Brown grass, empty trees. Everything everywhere is dead.
My mom used to tell me that winter is when the plants rest. The other parts of the year, they are working. Either working at coming to life, or working at producing fruit or leaves or greenery, or working to finish well in the fall and go out in a blaze of glory. In winter, when we say the trees are dead and the grass is dead and the bushes are dead – they rest. Their only job is curling up and sleeping with all the rest of the earth. Underneath the piles of leaves and the frozen topsoil and the ice and the snow, the earth lets it all happen and lets it be, just as it is. It is winter. It is time for rest.
I don’t rest easily, or without a fight. My favorite parts of the Bible growing up were always the “hard sayings” of Jesus. They made me feel like ordinary life could be an adventure novel or a fairy tale – “give all you have to the poor and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. Any man is not willing to take up his cross and follow me, he cannot be my disciple.” And Paul’s hard sayings are the only part of Paul that I think I really loved – “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”
The hard sayings about radical obedience and dying with Jesus draw me in, and I jump enthusiastically to “put to death” all of the unholiness or ugliness or selfishness that I can unearth in my soul-basement. If it’s there, I’ll kill it with rat poison, with grenades, with automatic weapons – whatever I need to slaughter the darkness I see in myself, to “die to self.”
But when I stand in Piedmont Park and look at the wintery death around me, I don’t see anxiety. I don’t feel the anxious urge of the earth to put itself to death. I feel rest.
Maybe when we “die to self,” we aren’t barging into our souls, frantically trying to kill everything bad and worldly in ourselves.
Maybe we are simply called to let our “self,” the anxious, controlling, panicking, controlling, needy little being that is constantly begging us for attention – perhaps we’re called to let her rest.
Maybe instead of running in with weapons to kill our sin, we can quietly let God move us through the seasons of life in God’s own time, from growth to harvest to death to growth again.
Maybe death to self is more like a baby sleeping in the arms of her mom and less like a war.
There’s a time for everything. There’s a time to blossom, a time to harvest, a time for the earth to spring up eagerly ready to work and create, and a time for the earth to rest, breath, sleep – a time to for the earth to die. There is a time to stop working so hard at killing self, and let death be rest from the growing, creating, moving, and acting.
There is a time to let an anxious self close her eyes and become a dead-weight in the arms of a Good Mother who will carry her until spring.