Finding and Losing Life: Reflections on Mark 8:30-37
A spiritual advisor gives this advice to people when they are anxious: "Breathe and pray. Breathe and pray. Breathe and remember who gave you life. Pray, entrusting your future, your body, your goals, and your life, to God."
As one evangelist puts it, "Evangelism means telling people who think they have gotten saved to get lost."
A recruiter for Teach for America—a program that recruits bright, young people from college campuses to teach in America's most deprived school systems—once came to visit Duke University. To an auditorium full of Duke students she said, "Looking at you tonight, I don't know why I'm here. I can tell looking at you that you're bound for bright futures, success. And here I stand, trying to recruit you for a salary of $15,000 a year in some of the worst schools in America, begging you to waste your life for a bunch of ungrateful kids in the backwoods of Appalachia or inner city Philadelphia. I must have been crazy to come here. But I do have some literature up here, and I would be willing to talk to anybody who happens to be interested. The meeting is over." An amazing number of students went forward, dying to give themselves to something bigger and more important than their own selves.
Will Willimon tells of a friend of his who hit bottom, spun out of control, and crossed the median heading the wrong way at 100 miles per hour: He fell from his prestigious perch as an attorney to the depths of alcoholism. He came home one day to find his family, his pastor, and three of his close friends all sitting in his living room. And it wasn't his birthday. Yet it was.
He is on his way back, thanks to his loving wife and children and the good work of AA. He was a private man, so he wouldn't tell Will all the details, but he did tell him this: "I had always gone to church, but always in the back of my mind, thought the Church was for losers, the weak. But you would be amazed at what I've learned about God."
"Like what?" Will asked him.
"That so many phrases I had heard all my life suddenly have become real to me," replied his friend.
"Like 'Take up your cross' and 'You can only find your life by losing it.' Through hitting bottom, I've met God," said Will's friend.
"And who is the God you have met?"
"God is a tough, relentless, devastating friend."
On a flight I was on recently, the flight attendant turned his announcements into a stand-up comedy routine. My favorite line was this: "In the event that our flight becomes a cruise, your seat cushion serves as a flotation device."
If you're looking for a motto to live by, you can't do any better than this odd, discombobulating saying of Jesus about losing and finding and finding and losing. It will bear us up, and it will guide us through. It's the most reliable saying I know for us to cling to.
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.