Paul wrote of being afflicted, crushed, perplexed, struck down, and "always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies" (2 Corinthians 4:10).
I am carrying around death these days. I carried it to work today. I carried it into the shower, and off to bed. I want, with Paul, the moment-by-moment death working in me that allows Jesus' moment-by-moment life to shine.
Death comes in two varieties; take your pick. I'm familiar with the dull, half-conscious subsiding into a miserable fog. Better is the embracing of fresh death served up every moment. Or rather, fresh slaying-because this kind doesn't happen to one but is chosen.
It refuses all self-made refuges and self-anesthetizing (think of giving birth and passing up the epidural) because it desires death's lucidity. It asks, What would happen if this time I didn't weave a cocoon of numbness around myself? Will I die? (An interesting inquiry.) Jesus would have to do something, wouldn't He? This is virgin terrain for me.
What are "the sufferings of Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:5)? I submit, they are any sufferings of any kind that are suffered in Christ and not AWOL from Christ-whether their origin be persecution or personal folly.
Paul Simon sings of "50 ways to leave your lover." Let's posit ways to render a broken heart unprofitable:
Tactic No. 1 is sour grapes; tell yourself you haven't lost much. Diminish the other in spurned petulance. The gain is temporary relief from the unbearable; the casualty is truth. I'm resisting this, since it is not Christ's "carrying around death."
Tactic No. 2 is nursing hope when it is wiser to abandon hope. I choose to carry around death rather than ersatz life.
Tactic No. 3 is the acrid satisfaction of getting in the last word. I'm biting my tongue and carrying around death.
Tactic No. 4 is drugs, alcohol, and sleep. Not options for me.
Tactic No. 5 is fantasizing. "There is always something they prefer to . . . reality" (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce). I say no to fantasy (20 times a day) and prefer to carry around death.
Tactic No. 6 is stoicism. Not allowed (Ephesians 4:32), since we are to make the head hard and the heart soft-rather than the other way around. The hard head says: "I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame" (Isaiah 50:7). The soft heart refuses to build bulwarks against future relationship hurts.
I'm watching my emotions carefully: Sad is OK; maudlin is not. By His grace we stay the course and "do not swerve to the right or to the left" (Proverbs 4:27). Constant communion with God avoids all 50 ways of flinching from sanctifying pain.
Carrying around death includes resisting the urge to talk too much. Beware of trying to get from people what you can only get from God. Your momentary indulgence will leave you feeling sullied, with your pain unabated. Keep grief clean. Remember too, even the friends who like you best spend no more than five minutes a day thinking of you. God thinks of you all the time; talk to Him.
Walking around with a hole in your heart is not something to be alarmed at, or dispatched at all costs. It feels similar to dieting pangs, and both are workable. (See, I'm writing an essay.) But suffering is a waste of pituitary secretions unless you suffer with Christ. "We felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead" (2 Corinthians 1:9).
I used to be a mystic in hermeneutics. I thought "always carrying in the body the death of Jesus" in 2 Corinthians 4 referred to my static positional status in Christ. I wasn't practicing daily dying but avoiding it like haggis. Now I'll own death, since Christ owned death for me, and we'll just see.
Today I read how Peter's mother-in-law had a high fever and Jesus took her hand and helped her up and she began to wait on Him (Mark 1:31). Jesus, please take me by the hand and heal me too, so that I can get up and serve You again.