In the last year or so I have spent a lot of time focusing on self-denial. This idea has stemmed from a few things. First, I have been reading a lot of Reformed and Orthodox theology. The book that probably influenced me the most in this area was “Living without Hypocrisy: Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina”, which is a collection of thoughts about living an un-hypocritical life from the perspective of a handful of Eastern Orthodox monks in Russia.
In the monks’ remarks about the mortification of pride, the importance of silence vows, and the strict doctrine of forgiveness I found something very important about my faith. I found the seriousness of the call to “take up your cross”. I found the importance of putting others before yourself. I found an incredible strength in realizing that we can do very little to influence the outcome of things except for trusting God.
The second thing that has focused my mind toward self denial is the realization of the lack of discipline that I have built into my moral fabric. I have a horrendous lack of willpower. This is something that I’ve known for a long time but have been, until recently, unwilling to deal with. I’ve struggled with every lack of discipline issue that you can think of: I don’t memorize things because its too hard, I’ve never been one to read the Bible and pray with any sort of regulation, I’ve struggled with addictions to food and pornography, I am unbelievably lazy, I let my immediate comfort get in the way of greater issues (etc etc etc).
While I have been reading these particular books and coming to these particular realizations about my life I have also been going through a sort of unintentional character development. You may know that my family is moving to Boston to be a part of a church plant in the summer of 2011. To financially prepare for this I have taken on a second full-time job working overnights at a TV station. Between my two jobs I currently work about 70 hours per week. I sleep during the day and have little time for my family.
This job situation has done a few very important things for me. First of all, it has caused me to de-emphasize the priority of sleep and relaxation in my life. Those things were once an idol for me. Now that they have been stripped away I can properly enjoy them in the context that God intended me to. It has also forced me to occupy a void of time in my life with prayer and the study of scripture. I sit by myself at the TV station for 6 to 8 hours at a time. This leaves me a lot of down time. I couldn’t find a reasonable excuse to not give that idle time to God.
So, for these three reasons the concept of self-denial has become very important to me. I don’t always do a great job at all of this, but I can honestly say that, by the grace of God, I have done some serious growing. I know that there are seasons for all things and that I probably won’t always put so much emphasis on actively denying myself. However, I know that at this point in my life I have a lot of priority issues that need to be worked on.
My prayer is that the hardships of my current situations will only serve to chisel and mold me into who God has called me to be.