Rebecca had a baby girl just as the Nazis invaded Poland. As the soldiers marched into Warsaw, she clutched her baby girl to her chest in desperation. Rebecca was Jewish. Her husband was a professor. They were too smart for their own good and they were reading the signs. She and her family knew that the Nazis hated them.
As tensions arose, Rebecca and her husband began to make plans for her baby girl. Her best friend from grammar school was a Christian. She had recently married and they had not yet had children. Rebecca went by night out of the Jewish ghetto with her baby to visit her friend and to ask her the most important question of her life. "Will you take my baby girl? Will you raise her as your own? I am afraid for my life and the life of my people. I am afraid that she will be taken from me. Will you be her mother?
The conversation lasted long into the night. Her friend did not believe that this was necessary. It was not that she did not want the baby, she did, but she was afraid that Rebecca would later regret her decision. Rebecca was adamant and she finally convinced her friend.
And so, it came to be that a woman handed over her child so that the child might live. Rebecca's baby girl survived the Holocaust disguised as a Christian and she still lives today.
When Abram was asked to follow God, he was asked to give up life as he knew it. He had to give up his name. He had to leave his country. He had to abandon his ancestors and their gods; and he had to walk out into a new life, trusting that God would provide for him. Have you ever tried to get an elderly person to move houses, let alone move to another neighborhood? The old don't like change and Abram was old.
"If you agree to follow me," God said to Abram, "If you let go of everything you know, I will make you the father of many nations. You will be the ancestor of kings, the source of whole races of people, the beginning of a new kind of humanity. But in order to gain all of this, you have to give up on yourself, on all your ideas about who you are and who you serve." In order to let God change his life, Abram had to let go of who he was and be willing to let God make him anew.
When Jesus tells Peter that he is going to die, Peter will not hear it. "That can't happen to you, Lord! Not to YOU!" And Jesus is more stern with Peter in this moment than he is at any other time. Even when Peter returns to the resurrected Christ after having betrayed him three times, Jesus does not chastise him then as he does now. "Get behind me, Satan! Jesus says. "You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
Peter sees Jesus as a person who must be about his own survival. The most important thing is for Jesus to stay alive. There is nothing more important than preserving his life. What Peter does not understand is that fear and the works of darkness all stem from this crucial understanding that we must preserve ourselves at all costs. It is the devil who tempts us to believe that there is nothing more than this life and that we must do all that we can to preserve our existence. It is the darkness that first and foremost wants us consumed with our own survival. The forces of darkness want us consumed with me, myself, and I and holding tightly to the lie that survival is the most important aspect of life on this earth. This fear is based on the assumption that there is nothing after death and so death must be avoided at all costs. Just keep things the same and everything will be ok. Don't give your life away.
This belief that we must "survive" leads us to begin to live our lives with ourselves at the center. If preserving your life is the most important thing, then one can easily become consumed with what the body or mind need to keep on going. This quickly can morph into self-centeredness. Pleasing the self becomes of the utmost importance. What I like, what I love, what I want to buy or consume or experience becomes essential. Thus begins the never-ending journey of chasing a shadow. Worshipping the self, trying to preserve the self, these efforts are somewhat like a cat that chases its tail because no one has the capacity to preserve her life or even to please herself for more than a short period of time. It is all a lie, this journey of the self, for the self has no power at all and the death rate is still 100%.
Jesus instead offers us another model for devotion. Don't worship yourself, he says, don't spend all your time trying to fix yourself or please yourself or just stay alive but instead, give your life away. Hand it over to God. Lose yourself and you will find yourself. Take up your cross and in following Christ you will find out who you truly are.
This is really hard to do, to lose yourself, to give your life to God. It is just as hard for us as it was for Rebecca to hand her baby off to another. It goes against all our instincts. But Rebecca did it because she knew that she was - her life was - doomed. It ended in nothing. She knew that the only hope for her daughter was to give her away.
There will come a time when you have tried enough to please yourself. It happens naturally to good people. You will realize that there is nothing more that you can buy, nothing more that you can eat and no place that you can travel that will truly fill your soul. These things can be fun but they don't last. Only love lasts and love only happens when we are able to put someone else ahead of ourselves.
So, when you come to that moment when you are ready to hand the baby over, to hand your life over to God, take it in slow steps. Give God some of your time. Give God some of your money. Give God some of your deepest most intimate thoughts and let God fill in the empty spaces. Those who save their lives will lose them, Jesus said, and those who lose their lives will save them. God is love and God will not enter a soul that is full of itself. A teacup full of tea can take no more. If you are full of yourself, God will wait until you can empty yourself and make room. God will wait a long time.