“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”
Now and again I see mortality clinging to my steps like a lengthening shadow, and I am caught wondering why I am still here. A question chiseled in stone over the grave of a child recycles in my brain: “If I am so quickly done for, what on earth was I begun for?”
Life feeds that cynicism. Since people around us often cannot see our soul inside the material stuff with which we surround it, we are often beguiled into amassing possessions and accomplishments to proclaim our worth.
Yet all of those things can be stripped away from us in a matter of seconds. Recently I cried with a 30-something fellow who appeared to be a glowing testimony of success. He grew up in a close-knit family, has an athletic body and a movie-star face, married a beautiful and intelligent woman, lives in a luxurious home, and is buying a business that could become a multibillion-dollar corporation before he retires.
But now all the good looks and money mean nothing. A foolish action has fractured his marriage and torn him from his children. “Two weeks ago I thought I had it all. Now I don’t know if I have anything,” the man said. “I would trade everything to have my wife and children back.”
His sad words made me think about Jesus’ comment to his disciples. Jesus had set his sights on his future suffering in Jerusalem, and he was trying to prepare his friends for that reality. Jesus knew he would encounter denial, devastation and death. Rather than excusing his disciples from such painful experiences, Jesus warned them that they too would face some tough times. Indeed, it was a requirement of following him: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
God meant for us to enjoy the marvelous beauty and material resources of our world. But Jesus wanted to make clear that we can’t truly delight in possessions if they consume us while we are consuming them.
When Jesus made his pilgrimage to the cross, his disciples accompanied him to Jerusalem. True, they would all have their moments of quivering fright that sent them scrambling into hiding, yet they joined him as best they could. And eventually they all suffered great loss as they took up their crosses and followed him.
The greatest thing about courtship and marriage is that we don’t have to go through life alone. We share our journey with another. We reaffirm the faith and values we have spoken about in the easy times so that when we have to slog through the swamp of despair or navigate the hard places of loss, we can encourage each other to put our feet in appropriate places and keep our eyes trained on our Savior, Jesus Christ. Together we can follow him.