It was for my 26th birthday. We had been planning on getting tattoos together for years, and finally we scheduled an appointment and saved up the money.
I got this tattoo for many reasons. The most obvious one is that I am a Jon Foreman fan, and these are lyrics from his song Terminal.
(The lines before and after go like this:
“…Some folks die in offices one day at a time.
They could live a hundred years,
But their soul’s already died.
Don’t let your spirit die before your body does.
These lyrics could be unpacked and expounded upon. So here is what these words mean to me, especially now that they are a part of me. (Disclaimer: It has nothing to do with dying in an office.)
To begin with, let’s unpack what the spirit is (though not exhaustively). In certain instances, it could be appropriately used interchangeably with soul, or a separate but intricately connected compliment to the soul (whether the difference matters has been highly debated among theologians, but I shall leave it alone.) It could also be used in regards to consciousness, or zeal. I have heard it described as the part of the human being that is in communication with the Spirit of God and the supernatural. To which am I referring to? All of the above.
So that makes it a bit difficult to succinctly describe what this tattoo means to me, because it means many things. And within that meaning is a bit of a contradiction. You see, I do not believe that any of us are mere mortals.
The Human Spirit in Relationship with God
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” C.S. Lewis
Therefore, I would argue that the spirit does not die, but either resides in eternity with Jesus or separated from Him in hell. So, you might ask, “How do you reconcile that belief with this tattoo?” Touché, mon ami. That is a very good question.
A figurative death
The simplest explanation is that I am talking figuratively. Kind of. But then the question presents itself, “How does a person die figuratively?” Oh, so many ways, as I am sure you probably know. In our day-to-day lives, we may hear many people express a feeling like death. Here, I would like to touch on a few of my own personal examples – strong reasons for me to remember to stay alive in the spirit.
Let’s go back to the idea of our spirits communicating with the Spirit of God. If my spirit is deadened (numb), it cannot receive from the His Spirit. This could also be referred to as grieving the Holy Spirit.
“ Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Ephesians 4:29-31
If I am not in constant communication with the Spirit of God, I am living by the flesh – doing whatever I feel like, giving in to harmful thought patterns and behaviors. In this state, I get very cynical and bitter. Quite literally, I hate everyone (myself included), when disconnected from and grieving the Spirit of God. Everything is awful in this frame of mind. Nothing is beautiful to me. Everything is irredeemable. Not even a majestic sunrise can touch this hardened heart. I am more likely to gossip, slander, and act out of irritation. I am simply mean and utterly depressed when living in the flesh. The author of Ephesians put it perfectly – “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander… along with all malice.”
“ For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13
The fruit of the Spirit
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galations 5:22-23
Look at all that beautiful fruit. That is the kind of life I want to live; the kind of person I want to be. Joy. Love. Peace. With that, I can appreciate and enjoy life; the beauty in nature and mankind. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. With these, I can be a blessing instead of a curse, and receive blessing with a grateful heart. Self-control. Here’s the kicker, the hardest fruit to hold on to. To be self-controlled, not giving into the temptation to be mean or act on selfish impulse, is to save yourself and your loved ones needless heartache. Life in the Spirit is truly the recipe for abundant life. With Christ in me, I can forgive like I have been forgiven, and let go of hate.
Referring once again to Ephesians, this bounty of this fruit of the Spirit is available to us as Christians if we do not grieve the Holy Spirit, and we “let no corrupting talk come out of [our] mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
Being Present, Consciousness
I am very naturally excessively analytical and live much of my life within my own head. This life in communication with the Spirit of God is not one of mere introspection. “Don’t let your spirit die before your body does.” This reminder to me yells, “Hey, you’re alive in this body. Live like it! Get out of your head, and experience the present.”
I wrote in my journal on my 26th birthday, “Every birthday is a reminder that I haven’t died yet.” This is partly a reflection on my depression and hopeful expectation to die. I know, you must think that is pretty sad. It’s true, and more often than not, it is subtle background noise to my daily life. I’ve not actively sought death, but prayed for it.
God has not granted that request, so He must have a reason for me to be here. I am guessing that reason is not to be preoccupied with my own thoughts, avoiding the lush beauty of life in the present, and avoiding the love that I can give and receive. The spirit in this body engaged with the Spirit of God is to be active through this body, actively engaging in the lives around me, forgetting about self-consciousness to live for others in each precious moment in light of eternity.
In Other Words
“Don’t let your spirit die before your body does,” means to me: Stay alive to the life Christ has given to you, treasuring every moment until the last. Be the person you are in the Savior. Dead to self, alive in Jesus. — All of this is not possible without a relationship with Jesus Christ, accepting the sacrifice He made to redeem us, save us from the death we were headed to for eternity and the death we were living in separated from Him. He is our source of life in the spirit as well as in the body. The source of all life.
“16 O Lord, by these things men live,
and in all these is the life of my spirit.
Oh restore me to health and make me live!
17 Behold, it was for my welfare
that I had great bitterness;
but in love you have delivered my life
from the pit of destruction,
for you have cast all my sins
behind your back.” –Isaiah 38:16-17
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,” Ephesians 1:7
“But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Romans 8:10
Peace to you all. Hope this has blessed you to read as much as it has blessed me to write.