Because I really do want to be like Jesus, I used to think “dying to self” (or “doing my best”) meant I pushed myself to do more than I possibly could while still trying to remain joyful. “Letting go” meant generally giving up. I would not have told you that is how I defined them but that is the way those terms played out in my life.
“Dying to self” (or “doing my best”) meant that even if the thought of adding one more thing meant me feeling like I was going to have a panic attack, I would do it anyway because I don’t want to be selfish! It meant trying to be amazing in every category yet still feeling guilty that I was not joyful or “dying to myself” enough. (I can cook a meal, right? It is not like someone asked me to be martyred!)
“Letting go” meant that I would just stop trying at all. It was really a form of hopelessness. I meant that I needed to realize I could never accomplish anything in life and that I should just give up on anything I ever wanted to do.
These are both WRONG!
I prayed and asked God for wisdom. I needed clear signs to know when I had already “done my best”. Then, soon after that it happened, I was asked to serve in some way and the first thing in my mind was, “I cannot do that right now! No! Ahhhhhh! How am I going to fit that in?!” accompanied by physical sensations of stress and panic. That was my sign! The old me would have said yes and asked God to help me joyfully accomplish all that “He had given me” as I started down the path to psycho-time (again). What an abundant life!
“Letting go” is the same. I recently had a opportunity to learn what this meant when my baby had been up a few nights sick with a fever and I still had a triple birthday party planned at my house. The old me would have started freaking out at night while I cared for the baby. “That is it! I am never trying to do anything fun again! Things always go wrong! I am not going to have enough energy to do this and the party is going to be lame. My house is going to be a disaster! I am so tired so I won’t be able to exercise tomorrow either. This baby weight is here forever. I give up.” Whoa! Just like that I am not having fun or exercising ever again because, obviously, God does not want me to have fun or exercise! (Poor God. He gets blamed for everything!)
I am so thankful God showed me the true way of letting go and trusting Him. It went more like this. “Please God give me strength to take care of my baby. Please give me special grace to get through this time. Please help me really know Jesus was amazing so I don’t have to be. I am just going to take life as it comes and not worry about the future. I will choose trust You in this”
God did answer that prayer! Without me asking, my husband was able to stay home from work that day. Then, the next day my mom called and asked if she could hang out with the kids! (Yes, you always can.) The triple birthday party was great! I skipped mopping my house and kept the lights dim instead. (Write that trick down). I did NOT cook from scratch. People helped with food and clean up. And I think most important things happened–the birthday girls felt loved and I learned to trust God!
“Dying to self” and “doing my best” is working within the limitations that I have and discerning God’s will of how He wants me to love others. I can only do this joyfully when I realize I CANNOT DO EVERYTHING and Jesus did everything on my behalf. I am only stepping into the works he ordained for me through the power of the Holy Spirit. Humbly accepting my weakness is the path to peace.
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (John 4:6)
Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)
Dying to myself means less about constantly pushing myself to the brink of exhaustion and more about being content that I don’t have to be awesome. The God I serve is awesome instead.
“Letting go” is having a plan but being willing to forgo your ideas for what God is actually calling you to do. A wise older lady once told me it is having your plan in your hand, but instead of clinching it in your fist, your hand sits open so it can be replaced with something else.
The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps (Proverbs 16:9)
“Letting go” is not a hopeless state where you check out of life and stay in bed waiting for God to move your body. It is where you are accomplishing things but not hoping in those things for your ultimate satisfaction. You are not striving to earn God’s love or impress others. Letting go means being satisfied in God so when things don’t go your way you are not destroyed. It is recognizing you do not have ultimate control over your life and resting in Christ’s accomplised work on the cross.
And, if you are reading this feeling like I am an incredibly humble servant and you are a horrible guilty failure, please just ask my children about The Great Thanksgiving Meltdown of 2011, when they were hiding from me while I went bazerk. I was able to create a special holiday memory for them that they will enjoy for years to come.
Have you struggled with “trying your best” or “letting go”?