Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | February 19, 2018

How to save your life without losing your soul

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,* will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? [from Mark 8]

There are myriads of ways we risk losing our souls, and those ways, as well as the ways in which we attempt to save our lives, are reflected in our stories—the stories we hear, the stories we tell, the stories we live.

Your life is an unfolding story. It’s lived in the presence of God and the universe, lived in the presence of the people you love, the people you hate, the people who are casual acquaintances, the people who—generations from now—won’t even know your name and yet will somehow be affected by your legacy.

Denying self by taking up your cross does not mean hating self and seeking out suffering. It means, at least in part: self-examination, honesty in the living and telling of your story, denying the impulse to overlook the hard stuff, and realizing that suffering is a part of every human story—even yours.

What may be most important is a conscious reflection on your story. Reforming the narrative so that negative influences have less power over you, so that you develop deeper understanding of yourself and the others who lived parts of your story with you.

Claire Hajaj, author of Ishmael’s Oranges, has a personal story that is exceedingly complex by anyone’s standards. She was raised in Kuwait, the daughter of a Jewish mother and a Palestinian father. When she was ready to tell that story, she did so in a novel, in order to examine all the influences without hurting individuals. She was able to see both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, which often made her unacceptable to people on both sides. In an online interview she talks about a recent clash between the two groups:

 “I find what’s been happening deeply upsetting,” she says. “For me, it replays what I saw over and over again as a child, watching Palestinians throw stones at Israeli tanks and feeling this sense of despair. But what gives me hope are the small moments of human connection I see across the divide – these are unsung and drowned out… Belonging to a tribe gives you all sorts of certainties,” she says. “It gives you a pre-inherited set of qualities – who is my friend, who is my enemy, what kind of life shall I live, which values shall I hold. But I chose not to align myself with either ‘side’ and as a result grew up feeling quite lonely. Am I Arab? Am I English? Am I Palestinian? Am I Jewish? What flag do I fly?”

No one has a singular story, do we? The stories we live are so complex, going back generations and extending for generations beyond us. They encompass everywhere we’ve ever lived, every person we’ve been close to, all the events that have affected us, positively or negatively. They include crosses we’ve carried, and crosses we’ve refused to acknowledge.

If we try to over-simplify our story by denying aspects of our past, we are in danger of losing our souls to the half truths we live, we close ourselves off to all the other stories that are part of us. We must incorporate the beautiful and the horrible, the joys and the suffering, the glories and the crosses.

Claire Hajaj grew up to become a UN negotiator who travels to troubled places in the world to bring peace. The story that she lived—that she still lives—is a complicated one. She learned to embrace its complexity. What could have been a soul-killing traumatic set of memories, she has turned into something that gave life to her soul instead. And it led her to work for peace.

I encourage you during this Lenten season to meditate on your own story, to imagine how you are continually formed by the events around you, and by your internalizing of those events. Bring to light the difficulties and disappointments, the successes and delights—the things you may have put aside or forgotten. And once those things have seen the light of day again, determine to let them give life to your soul.wood and black cloth , altered, copyright, low, blog 4-3-17jpg


© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018


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