Find what you love and let it kill you.
I saw this written in a bathroom in a local coffee shop the other night. To give the (original) author credit, it was Charles Bukowski who said it, which I found through a quick google search. Apparently, he was a writer born on my birthdate, heavily influenced by his (and my) home city of LA, and died not far from where I live. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.
When I think of hobbies or passion that consume someone completely, I think of surfing. In my hometown, surfing is not just a weekend hobby or a minority sport. It’s a way of life. I don’t surf (although I wish I learned), but I grew up watching most of the boys and a lot of the men (and some women- not enough) in my community get up before sunrise day after day, even on school days, to pull on wetsuits and get in the freezing cold water just for the chance to catch a wave. I watched them line up on the cliffs in the morning and afternoons looking longingly at the ocean, wishing in waves, and I watched them climb up and down cliffs with heavy boards sticky with wax. I even watched them fall, boards cracked and skin grated up on the ocean floor. And I watched them get back in, again and again.
I realized even as a little girl that surfing is not like other sports. You cannot control the location, the time of day, or really any of the circumstances under which you engage in your obsession. You submit to it. Women who are married to committed surfers are called “surf widows.” Their husbands aren’t really dead, but they might as well be. They have lost them to the stubborn allure of surf. They have found what they love. And they let it kill them.
Another example: I recently watched Jiro dreams of sushi. It’s a documentary about this obsessive-compulsive sushi chef who gives his whole life for the sake of his craft. He sacrifices all his time, his energy, and even his family to his passion. He let it kill him, figuratively. And I think there’s something noble about that, even if it is sushi. Because he was passionate, and he was brave. And he has become something great, which for him, is the world’s greatest sushi chef.
Charles Bukowski was an atheist, so he probably wasn’t intending to be spiritual. But I couldn’t shake the fact that the sentence reminded me not only of surfers, and Jiro the sushi chef, but of one of my heroes, Heidi Baker, a missionary in Mozambique. Heidi talks about dying to yourself so that God can really use you. And when I first chose to follow Jesus, it was this sentence in the Bible that played in my mind again and again.
Whoever finds their life shall lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake shall find it.*
I was twenty and sort of miserable when I first read these words that Jesus said. They terrified me and exhilarated me all at the same time. I wanted to lose the life I had because it felt riddled with fear and anxiety and self-consciousness that I couldn’t shake. Even losing my identity sounded wonderful, though I had staked all my success on it. The death of an identity I had so carefully crafted over the two decades of my life sounded crazy and appealing, in the same way that jumping out of an airplane does. I knew if I lost the identity I had, another one would have to come in its place.
And it did. This is me in June 2010, in Tangier, Morocco. It reminds me of how brave I felt to come there. I had, only days earlier, boarded an airplane in Paris, headed towards Africa. I only had the email address of the people I was staying with, and since no one on the plane spoke English, I could only use my then broken French to verify that the plane was in fact going to Tangier (the monitor displayed a different city name- not super reassuring).
I had recently gone through that major identity shift, which was at times pretty painful for me. But I liked the new me better. Because she was braver.
We hold on to our identifiers- our nationalities, family ties, careers, social statuses- because we would feel worthless without them. And I believe it’s our identifiers that we hold on to the most tightly when we are faced with risky decisions that affect who we are, how we live, and what we prioritize.
I didn’t write this originally with Easter in mind, or Good Friday, but it’s that time of year. It’s worth thinking about that Jesus submitted to death for the sake of loving His Father, loving people.
If you let something kill you, parts of you will die, and it’s going to be more than painful. There’s a reason that people put “blood, sweat, and tears” into things they are passionate about. But parts of you will be born, or reborn. You might find you become someone completely different on the other side of the risk. Someone you may be surprised by, in the best of ways.