A few days ago I had an email exchange with a wise, inspiringly spiritual, and much more life-experienced friend about a struggle I am facing. When I asked for feedback, she shared some thoughts that I’ve since been chewing on. The gist of her response was that a life following Jesus (which is the life I aspire to live) is about continually dying — sacrificing our self-will, and “moving out of the way” that the Spirit might inhabit us each more fully and flow increasingly more freely through our beings. Paradoxically, it is in these daily little deaths, these sometimes quite painful “thy will not my will be done” moments, that truly substantive and satisfying life springs forth.
Her words about death reminded me of a song that struck me from the first time I heard it: Learning How To Die, by Jon Foreman. (Your Love is Strong and House of God Forever are his others that tug at my heart.)
I searched for the meaning of Jon’s lyrics, curious what type of death he was thinking about when writing his words. In a 2009 interview about the songs on his then-recent albums, he shared his perspective:
Mike: The songs on ‘Fall’ and ‘Winter’ in particular are quite depressing, aren’t they?
Jon: Well, it depends on what you mean by depressing. They are definitely sobering, that’s for sure. ‘Fall’ is about the act of dying and ‘Winter’ would be the act of death or hibernation, however you want to put it. I think “Learning How To Die” is a good song. It talks about all of this. I used to think that life was kind of accumulating, that you were continually learning more, growing more, understanding more. Then I had a few events in my life that made me realise that life is actually about surrender and losing, in fact maybe giving yourself away. So maybe ‘Winter’ is the most honest season. So I don’t think it’s a depressing thought but it certainly is a sobering thought to think that this life that we’ve been given actually has a purpose of surrender rather than conquest.
As one who typically feels safest so long as I feel in control, I personally find that my ego repeatedly resists opportunities to surrender, even when history has proven over and over that “letting go and letting God” is best. The way I see it, surrender requires serious humility in that it involves an awareness, admission, and acceptance that I can’t see clearly, that I’m not in charge, that I don’t know the answers, that I need help. Surrender takes a courageous willingness to let go of what I want, and to trust just enough to listen to God’s still, small voice in my heart and then obediently follow his good lead. Getting to that bottomed-out point of surrender often sucks (think Jesus sweating blood in Gethsemane), but so many testimonies prove that what follows is unquestionably worth the self-sacrifice.
And perhaps as we each develop a more intimate relationship with the one we are surrendering to—an infinite, all-loving God who somehow can give us a deep sense of peace in even the most troublesome circumstances—it becomes easier to let go. As we cultivate a spiritual connection in our daily lives, we come to know and trust that though it may still feel like jumping off a cliff, a position of surrender is actually the most secure spot to be.
How do you feel about dying to self?