Death Therapy: Jesus's Paradoxical Solution to Joyful Living

"Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
- Matthew 10:39

In the comedy What About Bob? the character Bob, played by the legendary Bill Murray, finds himself tied to explosives by his now violently exasperated psychiatrist. Of course the goal was to blow him up, but Bob, who persistently thinks the best of everyone, assumes it is some kind of therapy. The "treatment" cures Bob of his issues in life, and he goes on to patent and promote "death therapy." However, Bob wasn't the first person to use "death therapy" to gain perspective on life, it is the core paradox of Jesus's teachings. The reality is that if you want to enjoy life, you have to give it away.

Do You Hoard Life or Invest It?

“If we look at life as some precious treasure we must hoard, the demands made by others on our life are like losses. And death is the final loss, a final failure to hold on to our life. But if we look at our life as a treasure [to be shared], every service we give to others is a fulfillment of our life’s purpose. And death is the final giving, the total giving.”
- Edicio de la Torre

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I heard the above quote during a sermon by Paster Jeff Minor of Life Journey Church in Indianapolis. I almost jumped out of my seat because it so perfectly summaries the "riddle" of daily life. At the center of Christian life, and true discipleship of Jesus, lies a critical choice to live our days by giving our life away, instead of trying to hoard it unto ourselves.

Worldly wisdom thinks of “life” as those moments where things are all in our favor. Vacations, leisure, celebrations, and comfort are seen as “life" while things like work, training, helping, and service are considered "interruptions." Yes, we may see a virtue in serving others, or feel a sense of righteous sacrifice in volunteer work, but we don't put in our "living" category. For most of us, our daily time is spent doing things we don't like very well to get to the good stuff. We don't see our daily life as an investment in others, or the world around us, we see it as something to navigate so we have more "life" for ourselves.

Work Can Be Living - The Day I Began to Overcome Stress

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This topic means so much to me because it probably saved my life. I was suffering from extreme stress and anxiety because it seemed like getting everything done was going to be impossible. Everyday I tried to fulfill all my obligations so I could squeeze in some "living" at the end. I felt a growing resentment for work, even well-paying work, because it just added to wall between me and living. The scary thing was, I didn't even know this was going on in my heart. Then one day I read this selection by Kahlil Gibran, taken from the book The Prophet:

Work is love made visible.
     And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
     For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man's hunger.
     And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distills a poison in the wine.
     And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man's ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.

It hit me like a slap to the face. I was working to get done, but not to working to love. The very next day I woke up with the realization that there is no reason for me to work unless I loved those I worked for, and that my work was my way to show it. All the sudden my life wasn't the few hours a day I had to myself, but the whole day I got to use my gifts and talents to help others.

Sweet Rest for the Joyful Working

"Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep."
- Ecclesiastes 5:12

When we live our days to give away and invest our life in others, even rest and leisure now have greater purpose. Our bed is no longer an escape from the demands of the world, but a holy place of peace where we restore ourselves for good work. As the paradox of giving away our life makes living joyful, so is it that when we work with love, rest is more satisfying.

So many workaholics, such as myself, feel guilty about resting because they know the work waiting ahead of them. When we see work as a part of life, it clears our minds to temper our pace. No longer do we work to "get done" but rather to work well each day. Rest becomes, not an escape from work, but a part of it. Rest and labor are two parts of the same thing, like breathing.

"It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep."
- Proverbs 127:2

Living to Die Well

Hoarding life is like a tyrannical "bridezilla" who demands a perfect fantasy wedding - disappointment is the only possible outcome. Life is chaotic, the future is unknowable, and we are always changing. If we hold onto our expectations, they will drag us down like cement shoes. Being a disciple of Christ is to live each day giving our life away. After all, it is only the life we give away that we get to keep after death. Embrace "Death Therapy" and start living the joyful life Christ came to show us!

Meditation Fodder

When others need your time and attention, do you see that as an interruption to life or life itself?

Do you volunteer for things to "fill your quota" or as an opportunity to live fully?

Do you see work as a part of your life, or something you get through in order to live?

Is your life-strategy to hoard resources to live later, or are you maximizing what God has given you to live today well?