I recently had my annual follow-up appointment with my cardiologist. This was the same cardiologist who saved my life Thanksgiving night 2018, when I had a massive heart attack, called the “widow maker.” It’s called the widow maker because most people who experience this don’t live to talk about it. My cardiologist previously said things that let us know how fortunate I am to still be living today. But during this visit he said something he’d never said…
As we were reflecting on that night, he told me, “I said to myself, ‘he’s going to die’.” I’d never heard him say that, and it hit me hard that I was probably closer to death than I thought.
I’ve said many times I don’t remember even seeing him that night. Yet, he said I was writhing in pain and kept telling him the pain was in my back. This eventually led him to find the blockage that was causing my heart attack. While I don’t remember me talking to him, I do remember that pain.
It was a different pain, a pain that I just couldn’t escape, could not find any comfort from, and truly felt like the life was being sucked out of me. I was dying, and from my memory, dying is painful. Very painful.
A different, but painful reminder
This past weekend I had a very painful experience that reminded me of the pain I felt that night. My wife and I had a disagreement. The disagreement didn’t come to a resolution, left us both very upset with each other, and I didn’t see any resolution or us getting over it anytime soon.
Some advice I’d heard and given to couples myself came to mind in the midst of my frustration with her and the situation. The advice is to “die to self.” When we have unmet expectations, disagreements, or our spouse does something hurtful to us, we should deny ourselves and metaphorically die to what we want and sometimes what we need.
While the phrase “die to self” is not found in the Bible, the principle of this advice is based on a couple of Bible passages.
“he must deny himself, take up his cross daily…For whoever wants to save his life will lose it“ – Luke 9:23-25
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” – Ephesians 5:25
What does “die to self” really mean?
As I said I’ve heard and given this advice many times. But I don’t think we fully grasp what that means. At least I didn’t. At least not until this weekend when I chose to “die to self” in the midst of that unresolved conflict my wife and I were having.
I never fully agreed with what she was saying and I still feel today, as I’m typing this, that her reaction to the whole situation was completely overblown and not necessary. While in the moment, I started to think of all the times I’d apologized for things I didn’t feel I did anything wrong. And how I wanted to make my point of why she was acting way over the top, but I decided not to do that. I decided I didn’t need to be “right” or prove a point, but it was best to just apologize and move on. I decided to “die to self.”
Except it wasn’t that simple. It was hard and actually very painful. No, it wasn’t “widow marker heart attack pain,” but it wasn’t as easy as me saying, “I’m sorry, babe, will you forgive me.” It was emotionally painful, and to a degree, physically hurting me. Which is why I say we don’t truly grasp what it means to die to self. Dying is painful.
Why “dying to self” is good for your marriage
In the passage in the book of Luke mentioned above, Jesus talks about taking up His cross. Taking up his cross was painful in and of itself, but at the same time he was carrying that cross on the way to die one of the most excruciatingly painful ways to die.
Not just physical pain, but emotional, mental, and spiritual pain as He took on every sin committed in the world (past, present, and future). And worse, He was going to be separated from God, His Father, for a time, which He had never been. That was painful.
Dying is painful, so when you hear the advice, “die to self” don’t sleep on what you are about to go through. It is not easy, and very painful. However, the greatest blessing the world has ever known happened after Jesus chose to give himself up for his bride (the church). He was raised from the dead and in the process gave the greatest gift He could ever give to his bride.
The same will happen to you when you make this choice, which is why “dying to self” is good for your marriage.