If I asked people who they would be willing to die for, I would imagine most responses would sound pretty similar. Perhaps I would find a few heroes willing to lay their lives down for strangers in need. Maybe there would be some folks who admit that they look out for Number One and Number One only. But most people would probably say some variation of the same thing: spouse, children, siblings, closest friends, etc. If you asked me that question, I know for sure that I would say, without hesitation, “I would die for my wife and child.” And I, along with most everyone else, would be lying.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t doubt that I, and a good many other people with me, would be capable of a moment of heroic courage. I’d like to think that people would be willing to take a bullet for those they love, would jump in front of a car to push their child to safety, or would dive into an icy river to rescue a drowning friend. Perhaps I’m idealistic, but I think many people are capable of this.
Of course I would die for my family in those hypothetical life-threatening situations. I’ve often day-dreamed about being a hero in such a way, or even just thought about getting in a fight with some dude who disrespects my wife so that I can protect her honor (in those dreams, he’s always huge, and I always win). I think about my daughter, who was born less than two weeks ago. Just the thought of her getting hurt makes my whole body tense and my heart-rate jump. It’s terrifying, and I think I would do anything to keep that from happening. Same goes for my wife.
But will I die for them today? That is the question.
When I watch sitcoms like “Everybody Loves Ray” and “The King of Queens”, I am amused by how repetitive the plots are. They seem to follow this basic template: husband wants to do something; wife wants him to do something else; husband does what he wants, lies to his wife and hides it from her in a humorous way; wife finds out and they get in a fight; eventually everyone laughs it off and they go on their merry way.
Entertaining as it may be, it’s nothing more than a lie. The patterns of selfishness and deceit depicted in those shows would, almost without fail, result in divorce in any real-life marriage. In these shows, the guys come off as likable goofs; in real life, they would be sad men.
The men in these shows are unwilling to die for their wives. And often, so am I. Sure, I would take a bullet for my wife, but will I take a rain-check on a Mizzou game to spend time with her? Sure I would swallow poison to save my daughter, but will I swallow my temper when her mother upsets me? Of course I would stop breathing to run into a burning building to save my niece or sisters, but would I stop drinking if my wife asked me to? These are the real questions worth answering. And so far my answers have varied.
There is no idea that scares me more than the idea that I could, quite easily, become a bad husband and father. Being a dad and husband: that’s what I desperately want to be excellent at. But already I see my selfish tendencies. I see my lust and gluttony and sloth still living inside of me, and I notice that I always give those vices just enough air to stay alive. Most of the time, I’m pretty good about putting my wife first. But not always. There’s something about letting my sins die completely that really scares me. As C.S. Lewis says, I act very much like an honest man paying his taxes: I will give what is asked for, but the whole time I’m really hoping that there’s enough left at the end for me to do what I want.
I don’t want to be that way.
I want my sins to die. I want to be the man who has let everything about himself go so that the ones in his care are happy. But I’m not there yet. I feel like I am praying the prayer of St. Augustine before he was a saint: “Lord, make me chaste…but not yet.”
Substitute any sin or flaw in there, and see if there is not some whisper of that prayer in your heart: “Lord, make me good, holy, selfless, virtuous, sober, pure, etc…someday. You’re not asking me to be that now, are you?”
Yes, He is.
As a husband and father, I know that I am being asked to die. I am being asked to die to my own desires for the good of the two women in my care. And while that is tremendously difficult at times, I can’t help but notice that the more I do that, the more alive I feel. I feel more joy when I hear my child burp at 4 a.m. than I have ever felt at a bar with a frosty Newcastle and oh-so-smooth Camel Light. I am happier going to see “The Vow” (boy was that movie terrible) with my wife than I have ever been at a Cardinals or Royals game with my friends. It doesn’t really make sense intellectually, but that doesn’t make it less true. The less I do what I want to do, the more happy I am. It is one of the many paradoxes of the world that don’t seem possible on the surface, but they inevitably are.
My life is better today than it has ever been. I cannot really describe why that’s true: I don’t do most of the things I used to really like doing. Perhaps I don’t have as much fun as I used to. But where my life was once feast or famine, times of great fun followed by times of great drudgery, I find a consistent peace settling in my heart. I find myself, again in the words of Lewis, “surprised by joy”. I find contentment in this new life. I find that the deaths I am allowing are not so scary in light of these new loves that burn slow.
Who would I die for? Or, better yet, who will I die for? It is a question that will be answered over the course of my life. Every day, I will have a thousand choices. I will decide who will live inside me: the small, dark self of mine that has little willpower; or the Christ, the Spirit, the One who knows what it is to die and rise again. I must let my self die so that there is room for Him to live, for the field cannot be sown until the brush and weeds are cleared.
But when the clearing is done, what beauty will grow in that black and loamy soil.