what denying oneself is not

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking and processing with certain people about some of my deeper heart issues that have been arising from my counseling sessions and from some of the current life situations I find myself in. Tonight, I feel that some clarity is finally starting to emerge from the vast swarm of thoughts and emotions and issues that I’ve been trying to sort out. And I think, no, I know, that God is doing something deep and profound in healing my heart in ways that I have needed for a long, long time. I think a great deal has to do with unlearning certain things about the denial of self that I used to label as “Christian,” “godly,” or “Biblical.” That is what this post will be about. What denying oneself is not. Hopefully, as I continue to process this under the authority of God’s Word, I can get a better sense in time of what true Biblical denial of self is.

Denying oneself is not being ignorant of one’s inner desires, passions, or preferences in the name of being God-centered or other-centered.  For example, consider the basic and common question of, “Where do you want to go for dinner?”  It is not somehow more godly to say, “Umm…I don’t know…wherever you want is fine” in comparison to “I would love to eat Afghan food right now.” Sometimes I think that we confuse dying to ourselves with losing ourselves and our God-given uniqueness completely. To apply this to a more important scenario beyond choosing a place to eat, I would say this also applies to how one feels about things such as large, loud conferences and ‘cold-contact’ evangelism. It took me so long, and so much deprogramming, to realize that not every godly and mature Christian ought to love and be passionate about those things. I am an introvert. I do enjoy conferences a great deal and have gained invaluable treasures for growth through conferences. But they make me very tired, and there is always a point during the conference where I deeply crave solitude. I don’t want to be in a loud crowd, 24-7. I don’t want to be jumping from session to workshop to small group to workshop to session. At some point, the introvert in me becomes completely saturated and I need to be away from conference activities and people so that I can actually take in on a deep heart level what God wants me to take in from the conference. I am an introvert. I am terrible with chit-chat, small talk, in-your-face conversations, i.e. cold-contact evangelism. I thrive on trusting, established friendships where I can share about my faith and my relationship with God in a way that is much more me. Generally speaking, outside of times when God, (not another person, mind you) has clearly asked me to step beyond my comfort zones in faith, I am doing everyone a disservice by trying to be something other than who God has made me.

Denying oneself is not a self-righteous disregard for healthy boundaries in oneself and in others. Between Mary and Martha, Mary set boundaries for herself by saying no to the chores, the busyness of hosting, the running herself ragged, so that she could say yes to sitting at her beloved Savior’s feet and receiving all that He had to impart to her. Jesus said that between the two sisters, Mary had chosen the better thing. Jesus Himself had boundaries. He moved on from town to town even though there were plenty more crowds clamoring for His attention, His touch, His miracles. He loved them without doubt; after all, He would eventually go to the cross for them. But He also set boundaries with them and said no to many requests from a deeper place of wisdom than most people could understand, much less accept.

Denying oneself is not a lack of self-care. There is something very wrong when we find ourselves saying, “I don’t have time to exercise because I’m involved with this non-profit organization and that church committee and this mothers’ group and that support group.” Denial of self does not necessarily mean that we completely disregard our own selves as persons just because we are so fixated on caring for other people. The apostle Paul asked for a little wine to soothe his stomach while he was in prison. He didn’t say, “Oh, heck, I’m already wasting away in prison. Give that wine to someone else.” I think at some point, I became a bit invisible to myself and I forgot that I too was actually a person who needed care and attention. As a result, I would ignore or invalidate internal red flags trying to warn me when my own spirit was being sorely neglected. Tonight, as I was going on a much-needed long run, I suddenly had a moment when I sensed the Lord just telling me how much I mattered to Him. That all this counseling and the active steps I’ve been taking towards better self-care has not been so much about me becoming overly self-indulgent, but it’s been about Him wanting me to finally understand that HE. LOVES. ME.  He knows me. I matter to Him too, just as much as everyone else that I’m seeking to serve. And He delights in me.

And so I believe this transforms how we then approach what it does mean to deny oneself for the sake of glorifying Christ and loving and serving others. That will require more musing and more time in the Word. And quite possibly a few more tears of both conviction as well as freedom. I am hopeful.

(Un)Intentional

My recent experience as a potential juror for a complicated court case has stirred many thoughts about this issue of intent, and the consequences of intent or lack of it. In California, there exists what is known as the felony murder rule, which dictates that if a group of people intend to commit a felony together, such as a bank robbery, and a person somehow dies in the course of that felony, then every person in the group can automatically be charged with murder, even if there was only one individual who had and fired a gun. Even if only one person intended to use that gun. I visibly struggled with this enough to get kicked off the potential jury pool.

While I certainly understand the need for such a law in many (if not most) circumstances in which a wrongful death takes place, I suppose I ultimately still have too much sympathy for the person who honestly says, “Yes, I was up for committing a robbery. But I had no idea anyone had a gun, and I had no intent of seeing anyone die while we robbed them!”

It raises the issue of how much we ought to be held accountable for, and how much we ought to take responsibility over in our lives, beyond mere intent. Should a person who goes into a robbery think ahead of time about the possibility that someone, somehow, might not just be robbed but potentially killed as well? And should that person be prepared to face the consequences for all circumstantial possibilities beyond what they intend to do? It seems that at least in a California courtroom, intent can only take you so far, and you can be held responsible for unpredictable circumstances that go way beyond your intent.

On the flip side, intent can work wonders for getting our lives under control. In my own life, I’ve complained quite a bit both internally and externally lately about how busy and weary I’ve been. And for someone who does not actually like to be rushing around all the time, I find myself doing it a lot. Part of this, I believe, is because I have not been very intentional about creating better boundaries in my life for rest. I let my schedule happen to me and then I complain after the fact when I’ve lost control over it a bit. Living intentionally, with focus, priorities, and freedom from people-pleasing, can help me feel that I am ruled less by unpredictable circumstances and more by those things God has called me to first and foremost. Defining and clarifying what God calls us to is subject matter for another post (as if that was sufficient space to cover such a topic!), but the point here being that intentional living can often liberate us from the madness that life can otherwise bring.

And so here’s to striving for living a life with intent, and beyond.