A Dying Love

A dying love is the secret of all community formation. ~Paul E. Miller

Blythe posted this on FB last week and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. My initial thought was, No, no way. But as I thought longer about it, I realized how correct and whole this quote actually is.

What is this, this dying love? Obviously, Jesus is the ultimate example as, in love for all of us, He calls friends. The Bible talks a lot about dying to self, but how does this show up in community and why is it the secret of forming a community?

Dying to self is a huge concept I couldn’t possibly unravel in one paragraph, but we can scratch the surface. It takes humility and a deep sense that God is bigger than we are. Only then, can we be in a position to die to self. It’s a sense in which we lay aside things that we crave, kill sin, and live for another. When we live for God and live for others, it means we sacrifice things in our own lives. It may be sinful or can be good, but it’s a sacrifice and it’s a part of us that has died.

I am living in a small community right now which, for me, is hard. I am a person who needs more people to keep me sane and energized. Sane, the key word. But God has seen fit for me to be in a small community with less than a handful of friends in this season.

That’s off course. The point is, I could easily avoid community right now and wallow in my own thoughts and never share my life with people. It’s the easy way and I wouldn’t be dying to myself at all. I’d be living for myself and in my selfishness. I could live without having anyone confront me or help me. And I have. But, that doesn’t create life. Just as a seed needs to die and be buried deep into the ground for life to begin, so do we need to die for community and for ourselves to live and thrive.

How does that look? It can be played out in a number of ways and will look different depending on your circumstances and personality. Dying to self could mean instead of spending your evening watching your favorite show, you make the drive to visit a suffering friend. It could mean prioritizing your life in a way that puts your friend first instead of something you want to do. Maybe you have $10 left in your wallet and instead of getting Starbucks, you buy a gift certificate to bless a tired mama in your church. Or you double your evening meal when you don’t feel like it so you can take half to someone in need. You’re dying to your own wants and creating life within your community.

A recent example of dying to self happened to me today. I got a phone call from a friend in my small community. She started explaining something she saw in my life that she was concerned about. And today, dying to myself meant listening to her concerns and not defending myself. Obviously, that’s not an easy thing and not one I tend towards, but God gave me grace in that moment. Instead of interrupting her and justifying myself, He helped me listen and gave me grace to think about what she said and reevaluate this area in my life. So out of this death will grow a deeper relationship with my friend, who has helped me and encouraged me toward Jesus. And boy, am I thankful.

Can I give and give and keep dying to myself to create community? I cannot stand in this alone. That’s why it’s the secret to forming deep relationships. Everyone must be involved and continue to die that the entire community may live. Yes, you made that meal for your friend who just went through a rough time, but hopefully when you’re in need, your community will make you a meal. Dying love must come from all sides of the community that it may be watered, filled with sunlight and good soil, and grow into a strong, towering tree.

But it hurts. Death hurts. Dying to self hurts. Yet there is a beautiful ending to it. Just as it hurt when my friend began hashing out the way she thought I was doing wrong; however, by the end of the conversation I felt life and rejuvenation. She wasn’t against me—she was for me—and she courageously took a risk to move toward me in love. Through hope and trust, a seed of life has begun in my heart. We are growing towards each other and deepening our community.

My favorite picture of this dying to self pain is from CS Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Eustace, boy-become-dragon, realizes that he became a dragon due to the depth of greed in his heart when he found gold. But Aslan wouldn’t let him stay a dragon. Eustace tried to scratch off his dragon skin. He tried again and then again. It wasn’t until Aslan reached out his hand and scratched it off that Eustace began a new life as a boy again, but it wasn’t without pain. Eustace illustrates:

The very first tear he [Aslan] made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off…It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away…

And there I was as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me—I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on—and threw me into the water…I’d turned into a boy again.

How we will die to self will look different for all of us, but let’s do it together. Let’s let God and others help us tear off our dragon skin that we may become new and live with one another in a dying-to-self, beautiful community.

What does Paul Miller’s quote mean to your heart and your community? Have you experienced someone dying to themselves in order to love you well? Are you in the practice of dying to yourself to love others in your community? What impact does it have on your community when people die to selves to love others? Who is someone you could pursue in selfless love today?