It happened one ordinary day around 10am, as I was pouring out my heart in an attempt to engage my 5th graders in the reading passage of the day- a Chinese fairy tale excerpt about a dragon, a king, and a little girl on a mission to help her poor family by seeking out a “borrowed line”. The text was challenging, but I was trying my best to sell it as one of the most interesting stories I’ve ever heard, all the while wondering what exactly is the point of all this?
My eyes land on a line that sort of shakes me to the core but I don’t really understand what has shifted inside of me. “You only lose what you cling to.” The students don’t know it, but I hang in the moment as something begins to awaken. Is this eternity written on the heart of a Chinese fairy tale? Is the good news really tucked inside of this ordinary moment of teaching secular text to mostly uninterested 10 year olds who honestly just can’t wait for their teacher to shut up so they can go to PE?
“You only lose what you cling to.” -Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
“For whoever is bent on saving his [temporal] life [his comfort and security here] shall lose it [eternal life]; and whoever loses his life [his comfort and security here] for My sake shall find it [life everlasting].”- Jesus, Matthew 16:25, AMPC
Rewind 2 decades to another heap of ordinary moments and you’d find a freckle faced girl in a similar scene, only this time as a freshman sitting in English I with Mrs. Duvall. You might note a life more blessed than she realizes at the time. A stable home life, good grades, lots of wonderful friendships and support from loving people all around her. Her biggest problems at the time might include topics like stressing over grades, fearing that she’s fat, wondering with whom she’ll steal a ride to lunch, and what new clothes might help improve her wardrobe. She was born into great blessing, but she was blind. And she did not know that she was loved with an unbreakable, unending, scandalous love. She didn’t know of her own sinful heart & how it separated her from her Creator either. She was unaware that she was being pursued and that her life was about to change.
Brokenness had to come into that blessed life in order for those blinders to come off. She was loved too much to be left on that path that led to the Ultimate Loss. Her self made, earthly kingdom was about to come crashing down. She didn’t know that life was so fragile, that your days are a gift given to be given away. Those were secrets yet to be told her at a later time. As she was spending her days doing what all wordly teenagers do, she was building her own kingdom and clinging tightly to the story she was writing with her life. It’s not even that it was all bad; its just that there was so much more- there was another greater Kingdom.
When the days of mourning came crashing around her, she knew that the kingdom of safety and security she had lived in for so long, it was gone forever. With one tidal wave of loss, life would never be the same. And how do you move on from that place? How do you find purpose or meaning in outfits, straight A’s, and boys anymore when the blessed reality you were living in suddenly gets washed away? How can emptiness and loss and brokenness ever be a gift?
Sometimes it takes awhile before a buried seed starts to show signs of new life. It can take some time to really understand the brokenness of your heart.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” –John 12:24
God was simply preparing that girl for her entrance into the kingdom. The scales on the eyes of her heart were beginning to fall. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:34-36)
But how do you let go of the only kingdom that you’ve ever known? When you’ve felt the sting of brokenness and also the progress of your own kingdom, how do you just abandon the path you’re on for a kingdom so mysterious? How do you stop clinging so tightly to the only things you’ve ever known to bring comfort, security, & identity in this world? And yet, the King Himself extends the invitation to come after Him into the upside down Kingdom. He doesn’t force, but He woos. During the in-between moments of building that earthly kingdom, He gives glimpses of the futility of the pursuits of this visible kingdom. And He awakens the courage of the soul to ask the question numbed for too many days: surely there is more than this?
This unknown beckoning is scary. What does it even mean or require? Lose your life to gain everlasting life?? Is it possible to build both kingdoms in your life at the same time….to have a taste of each? Is that the essence of a life well spent? The seed falls on the soil of the heart: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24)
Finally, the crashing comes. What was thought to be the scariest step- the dying of self, pride, plans, & the expected path- in a moment turns into wonder, glory, and hope. A long awaited second birth, a new citizenship granted, a soul suddenly alive for the first time. There was a celebration that day in the unseen Kingdom- “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)
The cosmic orphan finally had a place in the one and only lasting Kingdom- and she knew in her heart of hearts that she was the recipient of a great rescue mission- “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8) And this was just the beginning of the story- the first lesson of many to come: it is only in losing your life that you are free to find true, lasting, abundant life. But the longer and harder you cling to this life of earthly kingdoms, the more you lose in the end. You only lose what you cling to.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ – Phil 3:8
Two decades ago. The lessons grow deeper in meaning & richer in reward as the years tick by. Each new sentence on the page of my life has been a lesson from the King. Don’t cling. Lose in order to gain. You were given a great blessing in order to be a blessing. Pour out so you can be filled up in ways you never dreamed possible. Keep your eyes on the King of Kings. Your life is in His hands. And His Kingdom is an upside down Kingdom.
“And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” – Esther 4:14