Jesus says, “Whoever loves their life will lose it.” I don’t think he thus intends that we should refuse to love the gifts of this marvelously created world, the people we are privileged to have in our circle, or the grand adventure contained in our brief span on this earth. We are here to savor and fully live the life we have been given, appreciating and using the gifts and graces God so abundantly pours out for us.
Perhaps Jesus’ saying reflects more on our human tendency to grasp and control this life, essentially “loving” it in the wrong way. We want to be the masters of our own destinies. We assert that we can do anything we set our minds to, and that if we just believe strongly enough and work hard, we will be healthy, wealthy, wise, and die with our full mental capacities intact, surrounded by our large, grateful, and loving family. We want to be in charge of what we love and have life unfold as we choose.
But what happens when it falls apart, either partially or completely? What happens when I get laid off, or a too-young family member dies, or my home is destroyed, or the business fails, or my child is born with disabilities, or I am confronted with a serious diagnosis? At some point, I will be smacked in the face with the reality that I am not in control at all. Everyone I love and everything I have could quite literally disappear in an instant. In addition, if I try too hard to control the people I love, forcing them into my vision for who they should be instead of discovering their vision and supporting that, they will ultimately turn away and I will lose them anyway. No matter what I do, I am not in control despite my best efforts to be.
And so everything is a gift. Some of what I have can be traced to hard work, determination, and talent. Yet much of what I have, achieve, and earn is more profoundly influenced by the circumstances of my birth and the opportunities I am given as a result. It is simply not true for a large portion of the population that they can do or be anything they want. Through no fault of their own, they lack the resources, opportunities, wealth, or mentoring to get there.
Situated as it is in a Gospel pericope focused on serving others, the context of the phrase describes how to reconcile these realities. According to Jesus, I have no right to grab what I have for myself, “loving” it too much to let go of it. Instead I need to be a cheerful giver, willing to share my time, talent, and treasure for the good of all. I need to keep ever before me that it is not “my” money, “my” success, or even “my” life. I need to be tremendously grateful, but I need to hold it close with my arms wide open, freely and generously sharing my many blessings.
This is an immense challenge. I gain a tremendous feeling of security from knowing I have a home, a bank account, good clothes, a loving husband, and a job. My life is good, and I want to keep it that way. In other words, I love my life, and I cling to that. The fact that I am only one phone call away from finding out that something or someone I love is gone only increases my fear and desire to cling.
So pray I must. I pray that God loosen my tight-fisted grasp, so I gain the grace and generosity of heart to give unconditionally and with abandon. I pray that I learn to place my security in divine love and grace rather than in my possessions and abilities. I pray that I consider the welfare of others with at least as much concern as I consider my own and act accordingly. I pray that I may die to all that is holding me back from discipleship and service.
It’s a tall order, and the words still get stuck in my throat as the fear and desire to cling rises up within. I want to be better, God. I want to let go. Help me get started.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.corgenius.com/.