As part of the slide into slow this new year, I ran away. Actually, I drove away with my husband to Door County, the thumb of Wisconsin separating two bodies of water—Green Bay and Lake Michigan.
We strapped on our cross-country skis and headed into the woods. Sun shining. Not a bit of breeze. Every dead leaf dangling from branches. Stillness surrounding.
A chickadee chirped. A red-bellied woodpecker knocked, hunting for live insects in a dead tree. He was making that wood holey, all up-and-down that trunk, pecking his way through the dead to find life.
I thought about that word I made up.
Must I knock through death to find life? Must we chip away at death to find the Holy Way?
We slid along the trails through the trees, the swoosh of our skis the only sound besides the birds.
I saw all the death in the forest—the fallen limbs, the trees marked for removal, the curled and dried leaves from a season passed.
And beside every death, I saw possibilities and proof of new life—branches bare with buds, raising their arms in praise, waiting for God to bloom them once again. I noticed no striving, no crying, no pleading to speed up His timing.
And they were at peace. Quiet. Still.
Seed or sapling. Old or young.
I looked up. Brilliant blue hugged barren limbs.
Wispy needles of the hemlock saplings half-buried in snow stood next to their elders. Elders had dropped their seed on the trail.
All around, beauty of the cut-down, the covered in white.
Tender saplings, rising, stretching to Heaven in the midst of their hard and cold.
I am a sapling.
I am an old tree.
I see the necessity of death every day—how God uses hard and painful, downright awful, to invite my Self to die so that my True Self might live—in Him, with Him.
My soul is a forest of death and life.
Will I choose the way of death that I might find the way to Life?
Because there is no room for Ego and Pride, not as a follower of Christ.
Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39)
What does this mean?
I asked God.
Right there in the forest.
Right there in the frozen and hard.
Right there on the white in that sanctuary of silence.
And I heard in my soul some words.
You must walk into death to find your life.
God gives me the freedom to choose.
Or Christ’s Way?
Every day, every moment, I’m tempted.
Did God really say . . . ? (Genesis 3:1)
You will surely not die. (Genesis 3:4)
This pull, this push.
The Tempter always appeals to Self.
Rewrite His word! Redefine sin!
Ego and Pride hide beneath our Christian labels, killing the non-submitted soul.
Self-esteem, Self-importance, Self-worth, Self-respect, Self-image, Self-confidence, Self-love, Self admiration, Self-adulation.
Arrogance, Vanity, Narcissism, Snobbery, Vainglory.
Ego and Pride, however they’re named, kill.
They kill our relationship with God.
They kill our relationship with others.
They kill peace.
Ego and Pride cannot COEXIST with Christ.
If we want to follow Jesus fully, Ego and Pride must die continually.
I stood at the top of a hill.
The slide before me was long.
I shook in my boots.
Would I fall? Would I break? Would I stand?
Not just for myself on my skis.
I prayed even more for my soul.
Help me, Jesus!
Todd snapped a photo of me at the top, frozen in fear, afraid to move.
And then I pushed off. I slid.
Down, down, down.
The speed picked up.
I coached myself.
Bend your knees!
I was afraid.
God is with you!
I prayed as I slid.
Down. Down. Down.
I could have fallen. I could have broken my ankle, my leg, my arm, my neck.
I could have.
I prayed thanks at the end where I found myself standing, still.
By grace alone. Placing myself completely in the hands of God.
I’m nowhere near what I ought to be, what I need to be in my daily life. I’m nowhere near Christ’s perfection. But I slide along, up and down, knowing He’s got me.
There in the woods, in the silence, on the top of the slopes, in all the lows, I heard in my soul . . .
“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The last line in Matthew. Matthew, the man who walked with Christ here on this earth.
The last words of Jesus, who walked with Matthew, the one who saw Him crucified, who saw Him buried, who saw Him raised from the dead, who saw Him ascend into Heaven, who heard Him say He would come again for His own.
Are we following today, just like Matthew did back then?
How much do we really want the True Life of Christ?
Are we allowing Christ to crucify our Self, each day?
Jesus tells us to count the cost. Because the cost is steep. It will cause you to shake in your boots. It will cause you to let go and trust when you fear you might die on those downward slopes.
And die we will. Just not in the way we most think.
So let’s get this straight . . .
There’s no slapping Christ over my sin and calling myself a Christian.
Jesus didn’t come to whitewash me but to transform me, from the inside out. He has no tolerance for Pharisees who think they’re saved when they’re not.
There’s no coexistence with sin—no reframing—no renaming—no calling sin anything but what it is, according to Him, not according to me or you or anyone else.
God alone is the standard-setter.
I don’t get to embrace the feel-good, love of God and discard the very hard truth of God—that my Self must die every day and pick up my cross.
Pride and Ego are at war with God.
We skied along and came to a cross in the path. The sign’s arrows pointed both ways. We had to make a choice.
The path toward Death doesn’t die quietly or easily. Always, its operatic voice sings sweetly an aria of magnificence.
We sing its words.
We puff ourselves up.
We hear the applause.
We feel alive, loved, revered.
On the altar of Self.
As the Christians we think we are, we give glory to God.
But really, we don’t.
Because giving glory to God is just part of our show—to make us, and others, think we’re so spiritual.
Here’s the test . . .
What if our stages, our platforms, were taken away? What if we lost our voice? What if God made us nothing in our eyes, in others’ eyes?
What if God said, “Come, follow me,” in a way where no one noticed, where no one “liked”, where no one complimented, where no one applauded, ever again? Where we lived our days doing something lowly and lonely and unnoticed in the eyes of the world. Then what?
Would our life be worth living?
Self must die if True Self might live. (Matthew 10:39)
When we see our nothing, we gain God’s everything.