Dying to yourself…to find yourself

September 7, 2009 | 12 comments

I am consumed with putting the finishing touches on a new table of contents for the big rewrite today, so here’s one from the archives. It was originally published on April 14, 2008. Hope everyone is having a great Labor Day!

Speaking of Christian concepts that used to baffle me, the idea of “dying to self” was high on that list. This concept was one of the first things I got from reading the New Testament and books by Christian authors, and, honestly, it sounded kind of depressing. There were surely some good things about me, and it seemed a shame to have to get rid of it all. I eventually understood that it is only by dying to self that we show Christ to others, which did make it sound more appealing. But even then I pictured that if all Christians were to completely die to themselves and be perfectly Christ-like, that we’d all basically be identical drones. I thought of all the different talents and personality types out there — poets, artists, engineers, comedians, etc. — and it seemed sad to whitewash all those unique characteristics.

I thought this instruction was so odd, in fact, that I would sometimes wonder what kind of weird religion this was that I was exploring here.

“How could a good religion tell people that they’re bad, that they need to die a death of sorts in order to grow closer to God?” I’d wonder. It was only because I had an overwhelming amount of evidence in favor of this belief system being the box top to life that I was willing to move forward and set aside my concerns for the time being. It was probably one of my first leaps of faith.

Slowly, I began to understand that to die to self was to die to the willful, selfish, sinful parts of ourselves; to let go of our plans and what we want to do based on comfort and convenience. Even this, though, sounded dangerous. The skeptic in me had to wonder: if I attempt to empty myself of all these lifelong tendencies that are supposedly sinful, if I set aside my to-do lists and goals spreadsheets and make no plans for the future, what will be left? Isn’t that a recipe for ruin?

I was surprised to find that it was not.

As I slowly began to empty myself of so many of the things that composed life as I knew it — my plans, my goals, many of my habits, (what I thought were) ingrained personality traits — I found that I was not left empty. Rather, there was immediately Something there to fill me up, Something whose presence increased as life as I knew it decreased. But there was something else there as well, something that had been lost that I’d never tried to find:


I’ve mentioned that in the past I sometimes thought of “finding myself, ” but I thought of it in terms of finding what I should do with my life, what I should accomplish. It didn’t occur to me that there was some other, more pure version of myself than the one I already knew. Perhaps because I never used to believe in the soul, I always figured that the chemical reactions that fired in my brain at any given moment were “me, ” that there was no one set of chemical reactions that represented my true self more than any other. It’s been with some amount of surprise, then, that I’ve begun to see that the process of dying to self is a process of stripping away layers of sin encrusted with selfishness, and that glowing underneath all those layers is the true, complete version of who I was designed to be — the real me. That’s probably another reason I feel younger these days: the closer I get to God, the closer I get to the original version of myself.

I now see “dying to self” not as something a person does because he thinks he’s bad; it’s something he does because he knows he’s good, and wants to find the Source of all that is good. It’s not a whitewashing of unique characteristics, but the shining of Light through them to make them more beautiful and true. Dying to self, I think, is a purging of all that is not love; it’s a process of breaking down the walls that block out Love himself; it’s a way — the only way — of truly finding ourselves.

(And in case anyone’s wondering, that’s not me in the picture relaxing and prayerfully reflecting on some beach. It’s from iStockPhoto.)


  1. Anne

    Dying to self seems to be the theme of the day. I also posted on the same theme, and I was just at Carmelitemom whose Sayings of Light and Love also reflected this theme.

    You write so well. I am one of the many who love your blog! Thanks for doing this! You are a tremendous inspiration.

  2. Jane D.

    This is beautifully put and expresses just why my blog is called 'Trying to find Me'.

  3. Lee

    Isn't that wonderful? In dying to ourselves, we really find ourselves. It's ironic. God peels back the layers to reveal the person we were really made to be. Thanks for this post.

  4. V

    "Dying to self, I think, is a purging of all that is not love; it's a process of breaking down the walls that block out Love himself; it's a way — the only way — of truly finding ourselves."

    This is so true. Especially as a parent, we have to set aside all of our own selfish desires so that we can serve and love our children (and spouse) its just one way that God teaches us what it means to love.

    Thank you.

  5. Barbara

    Some of the new age stuff I was into before my conversion promoted a concept like this, so it wasn't altogether unfamiliar, the problem is the new age movement tries to achieve this without doing anything uncomfortable, and dying to the self is not a pleasant experience. It requires a willingness to embrace suffering and loss, to be made humble. The new age philosophy of "you are God and God is you" doesn't exactly jive with humility.

  6. Dustmite

    Dying to self can be pretty tough at times, but it's the "daily" part that trips me up constantly.

  7. Charity

    How fitting a rerun. I am personally familiar with how Bare Minimum Mode involves a good deal of dying to oneself. It is a difficult struggle for me. I hope things are going well!

    By the way Jen, I come to you via your article in This Rock a few months ago. Like others, I've been reading through your archives (I see you V!). I've enjoyed watching the transformation. I'm not very far along yet, but I've noticed that so far there has been no mention of a moment I particularly was drawn to in This Rock. The moment when your son was born and you experienced the humility to begin your journey. Perhaps that's a post I haven't hit yet. But since you mentioned your all consuming rewrite, it reminds me there is still more to come. I look forward to it!

  8. Elizabeth Mahlou

    Put a different way, if we want God to shine through in our lives, we need to get out of His way and let Him do that. Every day I ask God to flow through me and splash His love onto the people around me. On the days that "me" does not get in the way, He really does that — and those days are filled with incredibly beautiful experiences. Thanks for the post.

  9. Amy

    I just spent the weekend reading a book on Ignatian spirituality, Inner Compass by Margaret Silf. She visits this same idea, that what God wants for us is to be who we truly are, and that the only way to really do that is through God, that God leads us to ourselves, the selves he created us to be.

    Your repost just drove that point home for me. Thank you.

  10. Darrin @ SuccessfulCatholic.com

    An excellent post and a great topic to cover as I think a lot of us – especially those who promote ambition – struggle with trying to find the perfect balance in life.

    Barbara: good point about New Age and Pantheism in general. I think the major difference gets lost on many.

  11. Jamie

    HI Jennifer. I know that you reposted this a while ago, but, like many of your posts, it's stuck with me and won't quite go away. I understand what you're saying here, and it sounds like a great idea. I am quite sick of the selfish, willful, sinful part of me and am ready to be the person that God truly intends me to be, because this is just not it. Could you maybe suggest how I go about doing that? You know, maybe in a sentence or two??? 😉

    Seriously though, are there books you could recommend on the topic? Maybe other posts that you could link to? Thanks in advance for any further guidance you could offer.

  12. Jennifer @ Conversion Diary

    Jamie –

    Great question! I would HIGHLY recommend reading He Leadeth Me if you want a great story that also acts as a practical guide for how to better renounce your will for God's on a daily basis. And though I haven't yet read them myself, I think that The Practice of the Presence of God and The Imitation of Christ would also be great reads on this subject.

    Hope that helps!

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