What is the difference between dying to ourselves and dying inside?
When we’re in difficult circumstances or when something difficult is asked of us, it seems like something in us will die no matter what. We cannot have everything we want to have, and so something dies. For some people, this is life-giving and energizing. It refines them, makes them more like the people God created them to be. For others, these circumstances kill off whatever is vital, whatever is truly alive, inside them. Quickly or slowly, they becomes shells of themselves, sapped of life.
The best examples of this sort of thing that I know of come from the workplace. I know people who have worked hard, low-end jobs their entire lives. They don’t like these jobs. There’s nothing in the job that makes them feel more valuable or like they’re contributing to society or anything like that. They work these jobs because they have to work to keep food on the table for their families and this is the sort of work that is available.
Many of these people die inside. It’s as if the very daily-ness of showing up to a job that doesn’t mean anything to them saps their energy from the inside until there’s not a whole lot left. They’re often bitter, because they know what the job has taken from them. They know that they could be more, that they should be, and they aren’t. These people make me want to cry, because it’s all true. They should be more than they are, but life didn’t end up that way.
But a few people find life in this kind of job. They don’t love work, but they have been able to die to the part of them that wanted to be more without being hollowed out. Instead of being bitter, these people are matter-of-fact, or even thankful. They made the choice to put their family’s needs ahead of their own and they don’t regret that choice.
These two groups of people have the same unmet desires. They want to be more than they are. They want to contribute to the world in some meaningful way. So what makes their similar circumstances come to dissimilar ends? And, maybe more meaningful for me, what can I do right now so that I am a person who dies to myself but doesn’t die inside?
A few interesting pieces of an answer to this that I’ve found:
1. A person who chooses to die to their self must do just that: choose. If we just let things happen as they happen, we will die inside. If we make a conscious choice to put someone else’s needs above our own, that seems less likely. This isn’t a whole answer, as some people choose to put others’ needs ahead of their own and end up bitter toward the others. It is, however, the start of an answer.
2. A person must know themselves to be able to die to themselves. Someone who goes through life doing what they have to do because that’s what circumstances dictate seems more likely to end up bitter than someone who can say, “Wow…I really want to get a PhD. in English and teach at a University, but my kids need to eat and my wife’s job doesn’t provide for all of us. I need to go out and get whatever job I can so we can have food next month.”
The difference? The second person knows what they really want (the PhD. and the teaching job). They know that the job they’re going out to get won’t satisfy them (because they really want something else), but they choose to take it anyway because it puts food on the table.
This is also an incomplete answer, because (particularly in our culture) knowing ourselves can be an end in itself. We don’t know ourselves so we can give ourselves up in love for others, we know ourselves so we can deal with our families, handle our own lives, get more of what we want out of life, etc. And yet, at least for Christians, knowing ourselves seems to only be acceptable as a prelude to giving that self up for others.
So what else can be added to this to make a person who can die to their self without dying inside? Does anyone have any more ideas? I’d love to hear them.