I had an incredible and much needed conversation yesterday with an old (and by that I mean I’ve known her since we were both young and awkward and wore hideous jumpers and scrunchies), trusted and very wise friend. I was sharing my recent struggles with her….(or venting and crying – same difference, right?).
I told her that I couldn’t understand why God would ask of me to deny myself that which I desperately wanted. What I craved. What I desired. Things that I wished were a part of my life. I knew that to pursue these things would be wrong. It would be destructive. Yearning for something SO badly and not being able to attain it when you want it is SO painful!
She reminded me that “Dying to yourself IS painful! You’re literally killing a part of your flesh that is waging a war with your spirit!”
And then I had that famous Oprah “AHA” moment…. (did she patent that phrase? I won’t get sued for this, will I?)…. What I desired was not a part of God’s will for my life. I had to allow those fleshly longings to die and it was not gonna feel great. It was going to hurt. Even though I have given birth to three babies and consider my pain tolerance to be pretty high, pain still really SUUUUUCKS!
I have always sort of cringed whenever I read that Bible verse “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).
It’s not because I didn’t realize the importance of Jesus’s statement or considered the cost of following Him, but the truth is… I am terrible at denying myself things that I want.
To die to self is to set aside what we want in this moment and focus instead on loving God with everything we’ve got.
It means to value others above our own wants and desires. Do you know how hard that is? I look back on my life and the decisions I’ve made and I realize that I hardly ever denied myself a single thing that I wanted.
Whether it was something material I wanted to buy, a path I wanted to pursue, food I wanted to indulge in, a guy that I wanted to date, flaking on a commitment I had already made, a substance that would take away my pain, binge watching when I had to work the next day, shirking my responsibilities because I didn’t “feel like it”, the list goes on for miles…..
Where has that brought me? To a place where I am used to getting what I want, when I want it, regardless of the consequences or the implications of the way it affects others.
We live in a “treat yo’self” culture and though I am 100% a fan of Parks and Rec, there is a reason Tom and Donna only partake in this self-indulgence once a year. To give into your every longing and craving is harmful! It isn’t healthy! It produces a culture of people who are self-absorbed, spoiled and unsatisfied with life.
Personally, I often mistook dying to self for the death of myself… but self-denial is not self-rejection! God does not want us to rid ourselves of that which makes us uniquely ourselves. What He does desire, I believe, is that through our sacrifices, He will reshape us into a renewed self that is less self-centered, more Christ-centered and less concerned about how life affects only us.
I was telling God this week that “if I only had (fill in the blanks… x, y and z) in my life, then I would be happy!”. I was telling HIM what would make ME happy. The person who created me! It’s laughable. I know what would FEEL GOOD for a while, or even a moment. I know what would bring momentary HAPPINESS into my life. What I don’t often know is what’s really best for me. What I can’t see in my future is what will truly bring me JOY, not just the feel-goods. What I can’t understand is the WHY to the NO’s from God because He is using them to change me and mold me and shape me into a better version of myself.
The moral of the story is this: I can’t trust myself. I can’t always treat myself. And in fact, denying myself where it matters most is, in the end, the greatest form of “treating myself”…. because it’s not treating myself with indulgence, it’s treating myself with respect.
Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”