Dying to Be Understood

By Julie Rhodes

What death am I being asked to die?  

In the book of John, Jesus gives Peter a gift we all want at times: the gift of knowing how our story ends. I’m not sure how fun it was for poor Peter, who learned how he would be killed for the gospel. This was a death “by which he would glorify God.” 

For Peter, following Jesus meant following him to death. Peter would die, not accidentally or incidentally, but on purpose, in order THAT. His death was one of the prescribed means by which God would be glorified in his life. 

This business of God’s glory also comes up earlier in the book of John when Jesus heals a man born blind. This man was blind not because of his parents’ sin or his own, but so “the works of God might be displayed in him.” He was blind so THAT.

In order THAT. 

So THAT. 

God may be glorified.

God’s works might be displayed. 

What kind of death is Jesus asking you to die? Today, I was asked to die to being understood.

I was walking back to my car after dropping off my elementary kids at school, and found myself in step with two of my neighbors, women with kids my kids’ ages. We got to talking, and one of them asked about the play I’m currently in. Side note: I do plays. People pay me, and I act in plays and musicals and sometimes I can barely breathe it’s so wonderful, but then people start HATING ON ME — for being a mom who does plays; for being a wife who does plays — so it kind of balances out. Maybe if I had a respectable job like being a real estate attorney or a cardiologist, I wouldn’t get as much hate. (Or maybe some of you mom-attorneys and mom-doctors would strenuously disagree.) At any rate, I’m pretty sure there’s enough hate to go around in this world.

So we were walking along, and my other neighbor, whom I’ll call Hilly (“The Help,” anyone?), piped up when the subject of the play came up. “You’re in ANOTHER show?”

Yes. Isn’t it great? I wanted to say. I’ve worked so hard and put myself into what feel like life-threatening auditions and paid acting coaches and read and studied scripts and prepped and second-guessed myself and finally broke into a new theater and now it’s my first PERIOD PIECE and I get to play the lead but will the Star-Telegram give me a good review or will I be shamed publicly in the NEWSPAPER for a bad performance, OR —

“Your LIFE,” she said. “Does your husband just have AN INFINITE AMOUNT OF PATIENCE?” 

You know that moment when it begins to dawn on you that pain is coming, about to descend, that’s it’s about to run down your face and soak your shirt in a matter of seconds — but not yet — and all you can do is say, “Aw, dang it. Here it comes.” Before I knew it, I was taking a shame shower.

On the tip of my tongue were words of defense, of explanation, of protest. And, naturally, of anger. (I mean, had she seriously never read “Lean In”? Was her soul black as night?) Lord knows my impending word-vomit was a conglomeration of words I had preached to myself in my lowest moments. My lifestyle, after all, IS alternative. This vocation has not been something I’ve entered lightly, without travail. It hasn’t been something I would have done had I not felt God purposefully and methodically opening doors, nudging, daring me, even calling me to do it. But it’s not bunnies and sunshine. My husband and I don’t always get it right. Sometimes it IS stressful on the family. I have missed baseball games and family dinners. Despite my obedience to what I feel has been God’s leading, there’s still shame. And the shame I’ve felt is not made in China; it’s manufactured right here in the U.S. of Me.

But heck if Hilly was going to add to it.

I started in on my defense, but just as the words came to the front of my mouth, a woman who had been walking a few paces behind us slipped and fell — HARD — in a slippery place on the sidewalk. We rushed to her aid, but the horrible, hairless gremlin inside me was saying, “Thanks a lot for getting hurt just as I was about to lay down the smack!”

My moment, my tiny, porthole-sized window of opportunity to be understood and appreciated was gone. I didn’t get to feel vindicated. I would have to live in Hilly’s unanswered accusation. 

(And look, I know you and Taylor Swift and Sheryl Sandburg would tell me HATERS GONNA HATE and I just need to SHAKE IT OFF, but I’m far too Southern and insecure for that kind of immediate awesomeness.)

I’ve been struggling all morning with what it means to die to this. I could carry around the burden of my rights, of being seen as a respectable wife and mother and human being, or I could lay down those rights. In a grave. Six feet deep. Let Jesus advocate for me — now or never — and let him glean glory by whatever mysterious way he’s purposed. It’s kind of his fault I’m doing this weird thing, anyway. 

Now look. I’m not comparing my mini-death to Peter’s crucifixion or the blind man’s affliction. Ok, maybe I am. But the truth is, none of us will probably reach that level of dramatic death-for-Jesus. Those guys take the cake. Well, them and maybe Job, who had to die to everything except his own actual death to endure what God had gravely prepared for glory-making. 

So my goal today? To not be a walking zombie. A half-dead, brooding terror of roving, ravenous angst. My goal is NO life. Total death. To accept the white shroud of surrender, pulling it over my head and admiring how it brings out my eyes — like a costume in a very dramatic and terribly fabulous period piece. 

But it’s sobering, as Oswald Chambers reminds us in his book, “My Utmost for His Highest”: “You cannot die or go to your funeral in a mood of excitement. Death means you stop being. You must agree with God and stop being the intensely striving kind of Christian you have been.” 

Let me agree with God today. Let US. Let us all agree with God. Agree to whatever race he’s called us to run. Agree to the deaths he’s asked us to die along the way — in order that his glory may be revealed. So that his works may be displayed.

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