I couldn’t wait to marry my husband. Most of our relationship had been long distance, and I wanted to be with him all the time. But after the wedding, I had to move from Orlando to Philadelphia. I left all my friends, family, a church I loved, and a well-established life of fourteen years.
Though I was happy to be with my husband, I was also very unhappy with my new life. I cried a lot. I cried when city life and marriage struggles got overwhelming. I cried thinking about the father-daughter dance at my wedding and how I had left those whom I was closest to. I cried because I had no friends, except my husband. And I had never suffered a shortage of friends in Florida.
I became a different person in Philadelphia. I was always so outgoing, and I suddenly grew more reserved and quiet around my husband’s friends and acquaintances. At the time, I didn’t stop and process or even admit something was wrong with me. I just tried to get through the unacknowledged struggle. It wasn’t until five years into my marriage that I could look back and see what had taken place. And I realize now that it was a death and resurrection.
The Place of Mourning
Scripture is clear that mourning precedes dancing (Ps. 30:11), and that sorrow may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning (Ps. 30:5). We see this pattern throughout Scripture—death precedes resurrection life.
Though death is part of the curse (and it certainly feels wrong in all its forms), in an ironic way, God uses death as the gateway to life. Spiritual death to self is now the only way back to Him, and physical death is the only way back to paradise. At the time of my transition, I was attempting to ignore mourning the death of these changes. I wasn’t even admitting it to myself or seeing it for what it was.
What I needed to do was process, mourn, and then embrace the death change brings. But like most people, I was trying to skip straight to the dancing and ignore the mourning. I wanted to get to the joy but didn’t know how to handle the sorrow. I wanted resurrection benefits, like peace, without going through spiritual death to get there.
Death Must Precede Resurrection
Theologian Carl Trueman has a theory to explain this tendency of mine (and many of us): “Much of life,” Trueman says, “can be explained as an attempt to deny or escape from death.” Because of our death-denial and escapism, we try our best to circumvent all the little daily deaths and big deaths of life and achieve resurrection benefits on our own. We take cheap, shallow ways to an ingenuine feeling of resurrection.
So we grasp at our own designs of resurrection by losing ourselves in shopping, alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, social media, romance, and much more. We’re obsessed with resurrection, but avoid death at all costs. Yet true resurrection is preceded by death. It’s no wonder our searching proves fleeting and leaves us unsatisfied. It’s a vicious cycle, unless we take up our cross with Christ (Luke 9:23) and crucify ourselves with Him (Gal. 2:20).
We try to escape death, but God has designed it to be the gateway to life. It’s a pattern He has woven into all creation. In Parables of the Cross, Lilias Trotter says:
It is when we come to self-despair, when we feel ourselves locked in, waiting our doom, that the glory and the beauty of God’s way of escape dawns upon us, and we submit ourselves to him in it.
Trotter also talks about the cross being “death’s triumph hour . . . the point where God’s gate opened; and to that gate we come again and again.”
Scripture is clear that we must die, and be buried with Christ, in order to rise:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3–4).
We must accept and mourn all the little and big deaths of life, so we can walk in the newness of life Christ has for us through His own death and resurrection.
Submitting to the Mourning
Looking back, I can now see that when I got married and moved away from Orlando, I was mourning a death at the time—without knowing it. A death of the old me, my old identity, and my old way of life. I was experiencing the birth pains that lead to a changed identity. I was being resurrected as a different person in a different place.
Change is a form of death, and at the time, everything in my life had drastically changed. It didn’t feel normal, but it was normal, and in fact, good and right for me to mourn that change. I should have taken time to process what was happening, but I didn’t, because my unhappy feelings as a newlywed felt wrong and out of place.
But I know now that those feelings, which came from experiencing change, were God’s beautiful way of escape for me into spiritual growth and maturity. I had to submit myself to God in the mourning and sorrow so I could escape through God’s gateway to life.
In what way might you be avoiding death in your life right now? In what ways is God calling you to submit to Him so you might experience resurrection life in your heart?