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  • Betsy James

It Smells Like Something Died In Here - A Guide to Living with Other Humans


About five years ago, my husband and I invited over some newlyweds who had recently moved in down the street. They were young, fresh and sweet. After we tucked our (then, two) kids into bed we sat on the couch and chatted about life, and somewhere within our conversation this sweet gal asked us for the secret of maintaining a happy marriage. I distinctly remember my answer. I don't know if it was the sleep deprivation talking or just my dark sense of humor, but either way I think it rings true.

I said, "The secret is to die a little inside every day until you're happy." Yeah. They never came back.

I probably could have phrased that more delicately, but according to God's Word we find our lives when we lose them, and our flesh has to die and fall away to make room for the new person we become in Christ. So...there's a lot of dying involved. No church ever puts that on their mailers, but Jesus was pretty clear with the whole "take up your cross" conversation.

When I was young, I thought the hardest thing I could imagine God calling me to do as a Christian would be moving to the middle of Africa and dying as a martyr. That was the standard "worst case scenario" that my young mind could imagine. And while dying a martyr's death still doesn't make my list of "top five ways to go," what I never anticipated was the pain involved in dying these daily deaths - the small and constant laying down of my rights and my desires and my plans. These deaths are hard too - especially when we don't see them coming.

"I shy away from the Spirit that calls me to lay down my life in a thousand little ways."

I resonate with Peter, standing in the garden with Jesus when He is being arrested. Crazy Peter - so brave and loud and rash - I like him. I see him standing courageously with Jesus, drawing his sword and cutting off an enemy's ear, only to be rebuked by his Master. I feel Peter's confusion. I watch his retreat. I hear him deny the Christ. What happened? Brave Peter who was ready to die by the sword for Jesus found himself less willing to lay down his life in other, less expected ways. I can relate.

In our home we have a large canvas that displays Romans 12:10, which says "Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves." I deeply want this verse to represent our family and our home. It is my hope that when people enter our house they will be immediately aware that this is a place where Christ rules and reigns and that the fragrance of His love would be obvious. Of course, the fragrance of love is sacrifice. So, if someone walks into our house and says "It smells like something died in here," that would be true! A lot of things have died in here! But this is good news, because when the sinful, selfish parts of our hearts die off there is more room for God, and more God means more love, and more joy, and more life.

To tie these thoughts together, I want to point out that when we think about "dying to ourselves" we never envision that might take the form of mopping the floor multiple times a day to clean up after a muddy dog our husband loves...but, sometimes, that is exactly what it looks like. I can power that mop with bitterness, or I can lay down my life and mop to the glory of God. And when I walk into our home and smell that dog and am tempted to feel angry with my husband who bought a dog that is stinking up our house, I can now, by the grace of God, breathe in that fragrance and say "that smells like love." Maybe it's not a dog for you, but if you live with other humans you will be presented with daily opportunities to lay down your preferences and rights and dreams for each other. Happy homes are built on this pattern - there's a lot of dying. (Maybe I'll print that on our Christmas cards...)

I hope your home doesn't actually smell like death (or dog), but I pray the air is thick with the aroma of a love born of sacrifice. May our homes be places where sin comes to die and Christ comes to live. For we serve a God who showed us how to love well - He showed us how to lay down our lives. May we go and do likewise.

Matthew 16:24-25

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

John 15:13

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

1 Peter 2:24

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

Romans 5:8

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

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