The giving over of ourselves is always required. Anything that shapes us fundamentally requires it. Whether it’s marriage or health or the like, the loss of the “lesser” is the gain of the perceived “better”. For example, marriage requires for it’s health the giving over of self-focus (lesser) to care for another (better) and at times more than you might care for yourself. Good health requires the giving up some foods or activities (lesser) for the healthier choices in food, exercise, and time (better).
These decisions are not made as ends themselves but as ways and means toward the truer, “better”. Marriage, for example, that is characterized by sacrificial love (better), is a place of complete safety, trust, and growth unparalleled in most circumstaces for both spouses (truer better). When a choice is made to eat a healthier food or commit to some exercise (better), that person is on the path toward great benefits of possibly weight loss, stamina, and being more in shape (truer better). These are all great things and things worthy of pursuit.
No where in those two examples was there a requirement of a total loss or abandonment of self in order to participate but a dramatic shift in the understanding of deeper self. The person pursuing a healthy marriage and the person pursuing better health both gave up a part of self for a deeper self. They weren’t coerced to do this, for they recognized the immense value of the result (happier marriage, healthier life). Who would say to the people who made these choices that they, “lost themselves” and are worse off? Surely there would be some who did not care to be healthy or care about a happy marriage who might scoff at it or be angry because they did not have that someone to participate in their own perceived, “better”.
More importantly though, would the person who has now made these choices and given themselves over feel the same? After looking back on past choices and decisions and the state of affairs in his or her life and the now very different reality of health or marital bliss, would he or she ever want to go back? Of course not! He may look back and even be frustrated that he had not seen this more clearly and wish he didn’t wast so much time. While in a moment of weakness, he may believe momentarily and act like those other choices (lessers) may actually have been better and more desirable only to be quite shockingly and sometimes dramatically repulsed after acting on it. Whether caring more about oneself over their spouse and lashing out or eating a few candy bars, they will see quickly that; it’s allure is gone and it immediately affects their wellness.
It is not very often that a mountain top can be appreciated in all its glory until it’s been viewed first from the bottom.
So, it goes to say that it is not the giving over of oneself fully to a thing that is wrong or ill-fated but the recipient of your, “self”. Just in the same way one can give themselves over to a happier marriage and a healthier lifestyle, one can also give themselves over to quite the opposite. These, “things” or choices hold for brief moments fleeting satisfaction but always require more of it and more of self. Unlike the healthy marriage and the healthy life which changes and ads life to self, the opposite slowly takes away. The destruction of marriages are a slow fade of self focus. No one stumbles into a failed marriage; you descended those steps one by one. Sometimes it is in fact these moments, when looking up out of the pit we see the height of the mountain. It is then that we can see the hand that had been reaching down into our delusion to pull us out. It is not very often that a mountain top can be appreciated in all its glory until it’s been viewed first from the bottom.
I would argue then that it is in fact the purpose of this life to give ourselves over to something. The constant pursuit of this is the ache in the hearts of all people. It is the ache that drives the business man for the promotion, the motivator for the athlete to win the championship, the high school student to get acceptance in the university, and even the teenager to get the acceptance of their peers. We find quickly that even good things or perceived, “betters” can become the, “lesser”. This is the man who’s existence hangs on the approval of his wife and the exercise fanatic who can never enjoy the occasional cookie for fear of what could happen. This is, experientially, no better than any other harmful addiction.
There must be then a, “ultimate better”; a guiding, “better” that is over all others. It must be worthy of the full devotion and giving over of self. Unlike the others, this, “ultimate better” can not be perverted like the others- it needs to not be. This, “ultimate better” reprioritizes and informs all the other, “betters” and allows them to not be debased. It gives and adds to the others. The giver of self to the, “ultimate better” is sustained as he is motivated to continue his pursuit of it; it is a relationship. It is in fact, the most beautiful relationship that the human existence thrives on and is its purpose. It is in the “losing” or giving over of self that life and self is actually found.
This then is the minimum requirement and the end of all means.
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “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 will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” – Matthew 16:24-27
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