What Dying to Self Taught Me About Leadership

This is a guest post by Elisa Watson. Elisa is a mother to four smart, funny, kind and amazingly chill boys, and she is the other half to Showit CEO and Owner Todd Watson. She loves good storytelling of all sorts, from books to blogs to television to movies to music, and writing is her favorite way to process all that is hard and wonderful and absurd in life. Learn more at showit.co and elisajoyful.com

My husband has asked me to wear less makeup, maybe even none. I don’t wear a lot, but my life is very full and I sleep very little and I’m very tired, and I wear makeup mainly to hide the weariness that is usually evident on my face. He thinks I’ve trained myself to think I need it (which is probably true), he thinks I’m pretty without it (sweet), and he thinks I’d have more time in the mornings if I just let that go (definitely true).

So a few days ago I skipped the makeup. No lovely magical glow radiated from my face, and I felt a bit self-conscious when I ran out to the grocery store, but it was a small matter and Todd liked it so it was worth it. The next day I had meetings with people all day so the makeup was back, but it’s gone again today and I’m trying to not think about it much…aside from writing a blog post practically devoted to the topic.

This seems like something little and shallow and unimportant. Makeup, no makeup, whatever, there are more important things going on in the world.


Whether or not to wear makeup is trivial, but I believe we can get too focused on thinking about big lofty concepts and fail to actually DO the small but meaningful things that actually make a difference to our characters and our souls. As Christians we talk about dying to ourselves, but we can get stuck in that idea and never begin the nitty-gritty humbling process that makes dying to self a reality. This has nothing to do with whether or not women should wear makeup and everything to do with the question of whether we’re willing to do things we don’t want to do, or NOT do things that we DO want to do, so that we can think less of ourselves and more of others, so we can die to ourselves and live to Christ.

I can memorize Colossians 3 and Ephesians 4 and Romans 6 and any other passage that talks about dying to self. I can create mental lists of the things that characterized my old self so I can be on guard against them. I can spend time pondering the idea or talking about it with other believers, but on the day that I choose to skip makeup because my husband asked me to and because I could spend that time doing better things, THEN I am actually dying to self, because it is then that I am beginning to actually kill the pride and vanity that can cling to me so tightly.

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It’s not always about changing what we do as much as it is about changing our mindset or our hearts while we do it.  When my four active sons make a mess by accidentally shattering a plate or spilling a carton of milk and I stop to clean it up, that’s not automatically me dying to self. Nearly everyone does what has to be done at times like that, regardless of whether or not they want to. But do I grumble and resent the intrusion on my time? Do I sigh and admire myself for being so selfless? Or do I view it as an opportunity to serve the Lord through serving my children? I’m only dying to self in that moment if I am choosing to take joy in being humbled, and rejoicing in the opportunity to be Christ to my children.

Dying to self is not about thinking about all the pride and materialism and jealousy that exist in me and willing myself to not feel those things anymore. It’s about doing the hard things, the big and little hard things, that actually put to death my old nature. I can think about vanity being un-spiritual and contrary to Christlikeness, but that doesn’t kill my vanity. OR I can choose to walk away from the mirror and spend my time in other ways, and my vanity begins to die. I can think about what an obstacle to holiness materialism is, but the obstacle remains until I willfully remove it by refusing to buy things that I would like to buy. I can think about looking to the needs and interests of others before my own but I have to be willing to pick up the phone when someone with an actual need calls. I can think about the necessity of living in the present instead of dreaming of a future day when my youngest kids are no longer so constantly demanding, but unless I replace that unhealthy longing with something real, nothing will change. When I choose to be with my children and give them my heart and my attention, I die to myself. My needs take a back seat, theirs take priority, and in serving them I serve the Lord.

All those things are small — skipping makeup or refusing to buy something I want or playing a game with my children. They’re not lofty. They’re not even absolutes, because dying to self may look different for you. Are there people in your life who need more of your attention? Are there those who need a word of praise instead of criticism? Is there someone who needs your help? Is there a TV show that’s sucking your time that needs to be turned off? Do you need to cut up a credit card? Listen to someone who talks too much? Throw out the junk food? Offer to babysit? Make a meal? Buy a gift? Write a note? Seek forgiveness? Offer forgiveness? What are the areas of your life where God is calling you to die to yourself?

We can write those things off as inconsequential compared to the big issues. But if it hurts, it IS important. If your heart tightens or sinks or hardens or panics at the thought of doing that thing, it means you need to do it. A pastor of ours once said, in talking about parenting, that all parents will say they would die for their children, but he sees too many who won’t live for them. Do you recognize the reality of that statement in other areas of your life? Do you talk about grand ideas of the Christian faith but balk at the idea of doing the little things that hurt?

The world is full of big things to care about, things like injustice and pain, but my ability to combat injustice and pain is futile when I’m doing it in my own strength and not Christ’s. I can only have a meaningful impact of any kind if Christ is seen in me, and Christ is only seen in me when my flesh isn’t in the way.

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 would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25