I have always struggled with Jesus’ words that if one comes to Him without hating one’s own life, that person cannot be a disciple (Lk 14: 25-33). Each year, instead of that verse, I have reflected upon the other aspects of the passage including: the prudence to plan and complete a tower; honest analysis and willingness to admit mistakes or defeat; and renouncing possessions. Having fallen victim to a malevolent hacker it seems apt this year to wrestle with the “hating one’s life” verse.
This year seems to be my Oh Moment year for understanding the connection between hating one’s life and discipleship. I had always visualized hating one’s life as someone having been victimized to the loss of personal dignity. God is love. We are asked to love our neighbor and to love ourselves. How on earth might that paralyzing nothingness be a positive value for discipleship?
As they say, framing a question leaves one open to searching for an answer. Surprisingly, my first inkling came when a new friend and former college professor said, “I’d die if I ever lost everything I’d ever written.” To her, the situation was hypothetical. Her words were dramatic. In truth, the challenge to a traumatic life event isn’t the loss. It is found in each moment living past the event.
To me, the pain of losing one’s life’s work is nothing compared to the pain of repeatedly having to accept the choice of former friends who desert you in your time of need. Debating what (if anything) to contribute to the conversation, I turned my head back to the table. A second new friend immediately met my eyes. Her eyes held compassion and understanding. At her small shoulder shrug and quick half-smile, peace returned to my heart. I recognized I was in the presence of one of God’s conduits of love.
A Rabbi once urged students to study God’s words to the point of them being etched deeply onto their hearts. The Rabbi said, “When your heart breaks, either in joy or grief, God’s holy words will fall inside your heart.” I now understand the phrase “hating one’s own life” to include the post-emptiness decision point. After heartbreak, God reaches out in love. A disciple answers that call.
In some ways, the initial loss is akin to being knocked to the ground. There is a loneliness in the loss of all that is/was familiar. Whether one chose to relinquish or whether the loss was involuntary, human nature is to go on the defensive as one sits on that dusty road. Eventually, one must gather the courage to arise from that dusty road to continue forward. One must search out and then walk a new path. The Franciscan Spiritual poet Jacopone of Todi expressed the hope of that moment of arising when he said, “You are not nourished by created things, your body’s wings [the soul] to other realms must fly.”
Saint (Mother) Teresa is someone experienced rising in faith from that proverbial dusty road. Twenty years into her ministry with the Sisters of Loreto, Mother Teresa left to begin what eventually became the Missionaries of Charity. Not as widely known as her Nobel Peace Prize were her private spiritual struggles. Through it all, Mother Teresa lived, spoke, and wrote about the discipleship that follows Jesus to the end.
Mother Teresa spoke of difficulties as gifts. Her idea was that it was easier to accept a gift than take a problem. After accepting the gift, one can focus upon the challenge. In addition, Mother Teresa said, “Even Almighty God cannot fill what is already full. We must be empty if we want God to fill us with His fullness.” That is to fill us with His love.
Each time we arise from that dusty road, we have the freedom and responsibility to go explore new paths. It seems Jesus’ words about continuing despite “hating one’s own life” are really a reminder that the call to continued discipleship will emerge even within suffering’s aftermath. For each of us, there will be life changing events as well as everyday opportunities to move past all we believe defines us. Stay focused upon Our Lord. Faithfully and confidently step out of your comfort zone.
To use the analogy of the “Sower of the Seed” parable, discipleship is a call chosen within a world where weeds (events, pain, and suffering) continually attempt to disrupt the fruitful yield. Grow through or past the weeds. Follow Mother Teresa’s example. Simply find a new way to bring God’s love to others.
Anchor columnist Dr. Helen J. Flavin, Ph.D., is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer.