As our quest for intimacy with God leads us deeper into ourselves, we may find ourselves resisting God’s call to us because we fear losing something. Although made in God’s image, we can grow rather attached to the identity we craft for ourselves. We may fear losing our identity, wondering who we will be without the patterns or traits that define us.
Unfortunately, harmful patterns become part of our identity just as healthy patterns do. Who am I if not the one known for her acerbic and stinging wit? Who am I if not the fashionista ruthlessly issuing fashion citations? I may not like myself, but I am the only self I know.
Dying to self is a notion that finds its roots in the Torah. Mikvah immersion, a ritual for purification and cleansing of sins, symbolizes our dying to self and being resurrected as a new creation. The scriptural basis for mikvah immersion includes Exodus 19:10 (God’s command to wash clothing as a symbolic act of purification), Leviticus 8:6 (ritual washing upon ordination) and Leviticus 16:4 (washing before and after ministering the Yom Kippur Holy of Holies). Mikvah immersion is required of converts to Judaism. This is the ritual immersion for purification of sins that John the Baptist practiced, and thus Christian baptism finds its roots here as well.
The concept of dying to self was further championed and exemplified by Jesus: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, Matthew 16:25). The apostle Paul further advanced this concept in his letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, and Timothy; and it has been taken up by countless Christian writers ever since. Despite the millennia of tradition, it’s hard. It hurts. It’s paradoxical.
C.S. Lewis describes the paradox this way in his book, Mere Christianity:
The principal runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
Dallas Willard in The Spirit of the Disciplines encourages letting go of old ways, likening it to letting dried old leaves fall where new leafs are budding. Like nature in changing seasons, our identities are not static but regenerative. Perhaps these verses and breathing prayer will invite you to join God in the collaborative process of re-creating yourself.
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your breath, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground. (Psalm 104:29-30)
Inhale: authentic identity
Exhale: superficial identity
Join the conversation. What old leaves do you need to let fall so that new leaves can bud?
Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.