Dying to self is not an attractive or a popular concept in today’s culture. Even our advertisements cater against dying to self! Think about it. When was the last time an advertisement encouraged you to benefit someone else, without expectation of benefiting yourself also? Obviously, in this context, dying to self does not mean commit suicide, which often has more to do with suffering from a mental illness or wanting to get out of misery or pain, rather than what I am speaking of here.
Dying to self is often a difficult and painful process, and can take years or even a lifetime to develop maturely. The apostle Paul, a devout Christian, says in Philippians 3:7-8 (ESV), “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 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.” So, the concept of dying to self, at the minimum, involves counting everything as a loss, for the sake of another or others.
“Why would anyone want to die to self?” you may be thinking. Well, when you find out that thinking of yourself all or even most of the time is impeding your relationships with others and is making you not as joyful and free as you could be, then you realize that at least part of the problem may lie within.
While there is certainly time for self-care, dying to self involves self-sacrifice and devotion to helping others. Here’s what I learned (and am still learning) is involved with dying to self:
- Be intentionally kind to another person for their sake, not yours.–While you will probably feel good after doing something kind for someone else (We can’t really get away from that, nor should we.), don’t let that be the primary motivator in doing the kind thing. Let the kind action be done because we want to improve their lives, and make them happy and loved.
- Prefer another before yourself–This means thinking about how the other person feels and what they want, instead of just what you feel or want. This is called empathy. Some people (like me) may have some trouble doing this, but with practice, everyone can get better. Another example of preferring another before yourself is letting someone go ahead of you in line, especially if they are in a hurry because you don’t want them to be late to wherever they have to go next.
- Lose Entitlement–A big barrier to dying to self for a lot of people, including me, is the sense of entitlement or “rights” we think we should get. This is a big thing, especially in the country where I live. I’m not saying having rights is a “bad” thing, but it can be idolatrous if we are not careful. For example, at work, some people think that if they are full-time, they should always get 40 hours, no more, no less and that they have a right to not do more than they should. If their rights are violated or intruded upon, they naturally get upset and complain. However, dying to self means, in a way, “losing our rights.” So, if I were in that example for work, I would not complain if they had to cut me to less than 40 hours if I am full-time, and if they want me to do extra work, I will do it, not just for my sake, but for the sake of the whole team at work.
- Lose pride.–Another huge barrier to dying to self is pride. Pride, in this context, means arrogance. Arrogance means thinking that you are better than others. Losing pride means, for instance, not looking down upon people that are poorer than you, or who, for whatever reason, can’t or don’t work, just because you work. It also means being willing to give and receive help when needed, and not worrying about “saving face.”
- Be grateful and trust what you have is already and will always be enough.–Jealousy and ingratitude are also barriers to dying to self. In order to truly be able to die to self, you need to come to a place where you realize what you have is enough for that moment. Being thankful for what I have and realizing how many people have made a positive impact in my life, helps me in this area and ultimately leads me to die to self a little bit more. Being thankful helps me realize how much I have and how privileged I am, and that fact compels me to share what I have with others, whether it is material things, my abilities, or my time. I also learned though there will always be people who have more than I do materially, or who are better people than me, that God made me unique for His purposes, and that I don’t need to compare myself to others. I just need to serve them the best I can and be thankful for them being in my life so I can have the opportunity to make a positive impact in their lives.
- Be willing to sacrifice for others.–This means forgoing something for the good of another. For example, if a friend enjoys a movie you don’t really like, but he or she really doesn’t want to go alone, dying to self would involve offering to come with that friend to see that movie. You would forgo your time and your preference, for that of your friend. NOTE: Going to the movie, but complaining through the whole thing or otherwise having a bad attitude, is not dying to self, but “playing the martyr,” which is the opposite of dying to self. Another theoretical example would be if your friend forgot to bring their lunch and has no money to buy one for themselves, either giving your lunch to them and fasting that meal, or sacrificing part of your earnings, and buying lunch for them so they won’t go hungry is dying to self.
As you can see, dying to self is very difficult and involves a new way of thinking. Often times, I fail too. However, dying to self is a process and takes a long time to do well. It is often when selfishness starts ruining our relationships and communities, that we really wake up and start thinking that dying to self might not be a bad idea.
As I said, dying to self is very difficult to do and takes time, but I believe we must strive to at least try to do this if we want to improve our relationships with others and be truly fulfilled in this life.