"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it." (Mark 8:34b-35)
I'm going to be honest: this is one of the teachings of Jesus I have a really really hard time with.
I got into running several years ago because I felt I had hit a plateau working out and needed something different. At first, I didn't enjoy it, until I crossed the very first finish line of the very first race. The sense of accomplishment was exhilarating! Since that first run, the distances have gradually increased, with a virtual full marathon completed last year.
Over the past year, the gift and grace of running (or walking) has been a fantastic sanity preserver. To be outdoors in the fresh air, able to socially distance with the running friends I have, feeling the breeze (or the wind), feeling the pavement under my feet, seeing the sights, seeing things I hadn't noticed before -- all provided stress relief and new perspectives.
And then it happened: a re-sprain of an ankle which aggravated the plantar fasciitis present since summer. Sitting still is simply not in my vocabulary.
As Divine Instigation would have it, the above passage was part of our Gospel reading on a previous Sunday. Losing one's life hit home, and hard. There were tons of questions to God about this: does the sprain mean it's time to give up running? Will there be the opportunity to run again? To register or not to register for an upcoming race? Can the race be done even if it's walked? Why does this important part of life need to be lost, and how can it be found again?
In sitting with this passage from Mark, Jesus made his presence known. Through the wisdom of colleagues, there was the gained perspective that being sidelined is temporary, and healing needs to take place in order to experience new life. Being sidelined is a matter of re-evaluating priorities to help determine what is or is not important in life.
If the past year has taught us anything, it's a reminder of what truly is important in life. Not the virtual races, not the race shirts, not the bling or the swag from completing a race. Physical self care is important, but more important is the relationship we have with God and with others.
Losing life is a matter of letting go of that which separates us from God -- our attachment, if you will, to sin. When we let go of sin, we are able to freely grasp the life Jesus offers us through his cross. When we grasp the life giving cross, we too experience new life -- the life Jesus intends for us.
When I preached on this text the other Sunday, I commented that within the 12 Step recovery communities, there is a saying of "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results." Holding on to sin, and expecting we or others will do things differently simply does not work. BUT, when we let go of sin and it's hold on us, we are able to live life in the fullness God intended for us. Perhaps it's time for you also to lose life, and in losing life, finding also the fullness of life God intended for you. What do you need to lose in order to live?