For most of my life, I have thought of self-denial as denying myself things that are pleasurable, but not spiritually beneficial for me. My first experience with self-denial came as a pre-teenager, when my mother wouldn’t let me listen to the type of music I wanted to listen to. Her explanation was that it caused me to become desensitized to a value system that was not Biblical. She did the same with movies and TV shows, telling my sisters and me what we could and couldn’t watch based on whether or not it (as she would say)”glorified sin.”
When I heard the scripture where Jesus said that his followers must “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow [him],” I naturally (and rightly) assumed it meant that a person who wanted to follow Jesus must repent of their misdeeds, stop living according to their feelings and desires, and strive to live according to the standards that Christ laid out for us. That sounds legit, right?
But I am learning that self-denial does not always mean a rejection of fun but spiritually damaging habits. Sometimes, the self-denial that Christ asks of us is much more costly.
I normally don’t get a chance to attend church on Sunday, but today, by some random twist of events, I did. One of the songs we sang this morning was a pretty popular hymn called “It is well with my soul.” The story behind the song is equally well-known. The author (Horatio Spafford) wrote this song, after a string of tragedies in which he lost his son to scarlet fever, lost his wealth in the Chicago fire, and then lost his four daughters in a ship accident.
“Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say: it is well. It is well with my soul.”
I’ve sung this song a million times, but today it actually meant something. I am beginning to accept my “lot” as an infertile. Of course, it makes me tremendously sad to think that I may never bear children. I daresay I am battling an increasingly severe depression. I am living through what I see as the death of a life that I have always hoped for. But God has deigned this to be, so I must deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him – whatever my lot.
When I think now of self-denial, I think not just of the trivial pleasures that some of us have such a hard time giving up. I think not just of doing the right thing, even when you feel like doing the wrong thing. I think of giving up your entire life – your plans, your ideas, your hopes, your goals – letting God destroy you for the greater good of His purposes. Self-denial is about giving up control.
I still have a long way to go. Infertility is the thorn in my side that will be a cause of heaviness and grief until I either have children, or die. But I know that my life is not about me or my plans – so I will deny myself, and I will take up my cross, and I will follow Him.
And I hope I will eventually be able to say, like Horatio, that it is well with my soul.