by Bill Onisick
October 15, 2009
"He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it." —Matthew 10:39
I must confess that my busy life does not provide me a great deal of time to read for leisure. It has been this way for years. Through high school and college, I can probably count on one hand the number of books I read that were not for class. Perhaps it was because this particular book would not take too long to read, or maybe it was because my wife told me that she enjoyed it and that I should read it—whatever the reason, I did the unthinkable: I opened the book.
I remember that the title grabbed me: Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson. Intrigued to learn life's greatest lesson, I plunged into the book to learn what this lesson was.
Many of us can think of a role model or mentor who inspired and helped us get through difficult times. Usually, it is someone who is a bit older and wiser, who had more experience in life and an ability to pass some wisdom on to us.
For the author, Mitch Albom, that person was Morrie Schwartz, a professor who had taught him in college some twenty years earlier. Through Mitch's four years of school, Morrie became much more than a teacher; he was a trusted friend and advisor. On the day of his graduation, with tears of thanks in his eyes, Mitch had promised to stay in touch with his mentor, but somehow, the business of life took all his time, and he lost contact with Morrie.
Mitch became a highly successful writer, engulfed with work. Years of his busy life passed by in which he hardly had time to notice even his wife and family. Shortly after his wedding, Mitch had promised to start a family with his wife, but in all his accomplishments, that day never came. He also lost contact with many of his friends and family members. To him, there simply was not enough time for both success and relationships.
He had occasionally thought about his old mentor and his many lessons on life, but an occasional thought was all the time he had. Then, some twenty years later, by sheer chance, he was reconnected.
A Final Course
As for Morrie, he was in his 70s when he was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. ALS eats the body's nerves from the inside out, starting with a person's legs and working up. As the disease takes hold, the victim becomes frozen inside the lifeless cocoon of his body, while his mind is perfectly awake and aware. After just a few years, even the help of an oxygen machine cannot thwart mortality, as the lungs fill with poisonous phlegm and breathing becomes impossible. A diagnosis of ALS is a certain death sentence.
As his health deteriorated, Morrie wrote short articles about living in death's shadow. A feature story appeared in the Boston Globe, "A Professor's Final Course: His Own Death," which caught the eye of Ted Koppel, who featured Morrie on "Nightline." By chance, Mitch was flipping channels more than a thousand miles away when he went numb as he saw his old professor on television. He watched in horror as Morrie—his friend and mentor—explained what it was like to know that he was dying.
For the next fourteen weeks, Mitch flew into town and attended his final course from his old professor. "Lessons on How to Live" was taught each Tuesday afternoon in Morrie's home. The class consisted of one professor and one student. Each week brought a new topic under a common theme. They talked about the world, about feeling sorry for oneself, about regrets, about death, about family, about the fear of dying, about money and love and culture and forgiveness.
Each week Morrie's life-devouring disease took more of the freedoms of life that are so easy to take for granted. Finally, after losing all ability to care for himself, on the fourteenth week after the fourteenth class, Morrie died.
While battling to make the most of his remaining time, Morrie had developed many sayings:
» Accept what you are able to do and what you are not able to do.
» Accept the past as past without denying it or discarding it.
» Learn to forgive yourself and to forgive others.
» Do not assume that it is too late to get involved.
» In order to live, we must first learn to die.
This final saying is the focus of this article.
Losing and Finding
We all know that we will die, but we do not believe it, Morrie said. If we believed it, we would do things differently. So, we kid ourselves about death, Mitch said. Yes, Morrie replied, but there is a better approach: to know that we are going to die and to be prepared for it at any time. That is better. That way we can actually be more involved in our lives while we are living.
Morrie advised Mitch to imagine a little bird on his shoulder each day—a little bird that asks, "Is today the day?" We need to ask ourselves, "Am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person I want to be?"
Morrie never thought about death before he became ill. He admitted that he was like everyone else, not believing that he would die. While we have all known someone who has died, most of us separate ourselves from that experience. We just do not like to think about it. After all, it is a long way off, right? So we walk around on autopilot, caught up in the business—the busyness—of life. However, when we finally believe that we are going to die, we see things much differently. Like Morrie, our perspective changes and with it, our priorities.
Morrie did not know God's truth. As Mitch states, he borrowed freely from all religions. But there is some real wisdom in his words. When we learn how to die, we learn how to live.
When we really think about it, we spend so much of our time on things of low importance. When we realize that our time is limited and quickly running out, a sense of urgency overtakes us, and we make changes. Our new perspective changes our attitude and our actions. Jesus says in Matthew 10:39, "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it." Commentator Albert Barnes explains:
The word "life" in this passage is used evidently in two senses. The meaning may be expressed thus: He that is anxious to save his "temporal" life, or his comfort and security here, shall lose "eternal" life. . . . He that is willing to risk or lose his comfort and "life" here for my sake, shall find "life" everlasting, or shall be saved.
Jesus attaches a double meaning to the word "life": a lower, physical, and temporal meaning and a higher, spiritual, eternal meaning. Christ warns us that we must make an entire sacrifice of the lower for the higher. For if we do not completely and wholeheartedly surrender the lower for the higher, we will lose both. "When we learn how to die, we learn how to live." Indeed, to learn how to die physically is to learn how to live spiritually (Romans 6:6; II Corinthians 5:17).
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:24-26)
As Christ tells us, if we want to seek Him, we must follow Him and surrender to God everything—our wills, our bodies, and our lives. The self must be denied because our carnal mind is driven by pride and an underlying belief and desire that we must get things for ourselves. We must subsequently live our lives as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), following Christ's example of complete submission to the Father's will. If we are anxious to save, to preserve, our physical lives and/or to put our security in physical things, we will lose our spiritual lives.
Those who seek to gain the world's physical treasures (Matthew 6:19-21) will lose the Father's spiritual treasures. All of the world's physical treasures are not enough to purchase one eternal life, but if we are willing to sacrifice everything—and it takes everything—if we, with complete trust in Him, put everything in our faithful Creator's hands, we will find everlasting life.
"Get" or "Give"?
Herbert Armstrong once wrote in a personal letter to another minister:
. . . I simmer down the way of God and the way of the world in two very small words—"get" and "give." This world is geared to the way of "get." That is the way of vanity, self-centeredness, coveting, lust and greed, jealousy and envy, rebellion against authority, competition which leads to strife, violence and war. The way of "give" is out-flowing love, harmonious co-operation, serving, helping, sharing, giving.
In spiritual principle, the latter is the way of God's Law, the Ten Commandments—the former the way of Satan. . . . ALL the unsolvable problems, troubles and evils in the world are caused by the fact theworld lives by the "get" principle.
How plain and simple. In order to live, we must learn how to die. We must put to death our carnal, selfish minds and the way of the world—the way of "get"—and we must replace it with the way of God—the way of "give."
Mitch Albom concludes his book by stating how much he would like to go back and talk to the person he was twenty years earlier. He wanted to tell him to ignore the lure of advertised values and to pay attention when loved ones speak, as if it were the last time he might hear them. He wished he had gotten on an airplane twenty years earlier and regularly visited the man and his family who had made such a difference in his life.
None of us can undo what we have already done, but as Morrie said, it is never too late to make a difference. Morrie never had the benefit of God's truth, but he seemed to know the difference between the way of get and the way of give. He knew that the way of get—no matter how outwardly successful—never satisfies.
In order to live, we must first learn to die. We all know that we are going to die, but do we really believe it? The fruit of belief is action. And the benefit of learning how to die physically is to learn how to live spiritually.
As Christ tells us in Matthew 10:39 and its parallel scriptures, if we want to know Him, we must surrender everything to God. He instructs us to follow His giving example of total self-sacrifice in devotion to God's will. He teaches us to deny the self because our carnal mind is driven by the way of get, which always forces us off the right path. Finally, He advises us to sacrifice entirely the lower, physical, temporal life for the higher, spiritual, eternal life. For if we do not completely and wholeheartedly surrender the lower for the higher, we will lose both.
In our daily prayer and self-evaluation, we should ask ourselves, "Is today the day? Have I surrendered everything to God and am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person that God wants me to be?" We must remember that life can end in an instant, but we are to live in the fear of God, not in the fear of death. In order to live, we must first learn to die.
The apostle Paul writes in Philippians 1:20-21:
. . . according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Paul's earnest desire was to glorify Christ in all circumstances. His desire to glorify Christ superseded all personal interests, including being released from prison and spared from death. Paul intensely hoped and trusted that, despite the severe trials he was undergoing, he would persevere with boldness—even to death—to the glory of God.
He declares that his sole purpose for living was to glorify Christ. Paul's aim was not get. His purpose, to which he devoted himself with passion and zeal, was to give everything to glorify God. He understood that, if it was God's will, there was great advantage in dying above that of living.