A Millennial’s Lesson from Parenting Young Children: Finding Joy in Dying to Self
“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.'”
A personal reflection
The calling and cost of being a disciple—so clearly portrayed in Christ’s words—have often struck me with deep conviction and wonder, causing me to search out what it truly means to pick up my cross and follow after Christ. I first became familiar with this passage early in my Christian walk. I remember these words becoming one of the reasons I decided to attend seminary and pursue full-time ministry. I was gripped by the conviction that my life was not meant for myself but for Christ who gave himself for me. I wanted to lose my life for the sake of serving Christ!
It’s funny how getting a little life experience makes you see things from a different perspective. I am now in my mid-30s, married, and have a two-year-old son and an eight-week-old son. Although I’m still in full-time ministry, my life is currently occupied with poopy diapers, sticky floors, meal and bathtime schedules, middle-of-the-night crying spells, doctors’ visits, and all the rest that comes with keeping two little humans alive. It’s safe to say this was not on my radar when I envisioned my glorious call to die to self and live as a disciple of Christ!
This season of life might not seem like a big deal for some, but keep in mind that I am partly a product of the first-generation of millennials. We are rightfully stereotyped as a bit narcissistic and self-centered. In fact, Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychologist, flatteringly pegged millennials as “Generation Me.” Although she may have been a little tough on us with her diagnosis, there is certainly merit to the overall picture that my generation tends to put themselves first. This can be seen in everything from having an underlying sense of entitlement to a lack of commitment and to the classic FOMO (fear of missing out) that we all seem to have. I know these things have certainly been true of me. I still remember my single days when I relished the freedom I had on any given night to mosey home from work and decide if I wanted to go out with friends, hit the gym, veg out on Netflix, or do whatever else that floated my boat. After getting married, I had to learn (and am still learning) how to put my wife’s needs above my own and consider her in everything I do. Now, with two young children, I have very little time for myself as I am constantly being poured out for family!
The call and cost of a disciple
“The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon the discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death-we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Cost of Discipleship, p.89)
Practically, walking out my calling to be a husband and father entails dying to my desire to spend time serving myself and learning to renounce my millennial self-centeredness for the sake of caring for my family. Although it may feel costly at times, God is drawing me closer to himself and teaching me what it means to not live for myself, but for him and those whom he has called me to love. Not only so, but, as Bonhoeffer says, he is inviting me into genuine communion and fellowship with Christ, which uniquely results from bearing my cross for the sake of his calling on my life. When I embrace the calling to lay down my life in this way, I find that my heart is more aligned with Christ’s and that my true life and joy are found in him. This is a great lesson for a self-centered millennial!
God’s calling to pick up your cross and die to self is inevitably painful. Every cross has its own challenges for each person. Although there are several implications for what it means to bear your cross, this begins with dying to the worldly lusts and desires that we once held dear. It is a call to lay our wills, ambitions, plans, and wants down for the sake of seeing Christ reign in and through our lives. It is only then that we can begin to experience true fellowship and communion with Christ.
Take a moment to reflect on your own life and circumstances. In what ways might God be calling you to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him?
Jesus Christ denied himself and took up his cross for the joy set before him: to reconcile us to God and be seated with him in glory. We too must take up our cross and endure suffering for the sake of Christ, that we might also partake in his joy. May you take up this call today, that you might experience the fellowship and joy that comes through walking with Jesus Christ.