When was the last time you denied yourself something? If you're anything like me that's a hard question to answer. I am not in the business of denying myself much of anything. I am able to figure out a reason to get just about anything that I want, when I want it. It doesn't really matter what it is. How about you?
Some of you may be thinking about times when you didn't have the resources to get something that you wanted. We've all been there, right? What I want you to think about is a time when you had the resources, the ability, and the time to get what you wanted in a particular moment but you decided to deny yourself.
That's a much more difficult question for most of us.
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38, NRSV)
This is one of my favorite passages in the whole Bible. When I think about spiritual disciplines this is the one that comes to mind. In particular the first verse: If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
That one verse hits on both avenues of spiritual practice abstinence and engagement. In my experience there has been a significant focus on the “take up your cross” aspect of this and a glossing over of “deny themselves.”
Because the “take up your cross” speaks so easily to the brokenness that we experience in our world and lives. Hard stuff happens all the time and so we christen “buck up” with “take up your cross.” I'm not sure that is really what Jesus was getting at, but that's another post. “Deny yourself,” is not something that we want to talk about much. It doesn't really bring in the crowds. Who wants to be the preacher talking about denying yourself? Our culture is one of immediate gratification. I have a feeling if there was an inner monologue translator on me one of the phrases that would come out loud and clear is, “gimme gimme gimme now!”
I mean who doesn't readily identify with Varuca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?
Over the last few months as I have revisited the spiritual disciplines I've become deeply challenged by the practices of abstinence. These practices help us to practice self-denial. Not in the sense of denying reality, but in the sense of denying our wants and desires in the immediate moment.
As a result of our culture setting aside the value of self-denial, rooted in self-control, we have seen this impact the local church. Many churches are given over to the whims and wishes of the masses. They are constantly wrestling with how to make their programs and projects meet the felt needs of their crowd to grow the crowd. People whose demands and wishes are not met, head to the next building down the street until they find the place that will placate their wants and desires.
Dan White Jr says it well in this tweet: “In a consumer-oriented time it becomes utterly normal for people to demand the benefits of community without the inconvenience of commitment.”
This is the reality that we must within ourselves as we come face to face with the disciplines or practices of abstinence. We will naturally chafe at the suggestion of self-denial. After all, if it's good to have in the future then it must be good to have right now.
Solitude is the practice of getting away and being alone. This may be one of the most subversive of all practices in our day and age. We are always connected and even when we are not in the presence of another human being, we are very rarely alone.
Jesus would regularly get lost in the wilderness. He would intentionally go get by himself and be alone. This was his practice. I'm an extrovert and the idea of solitude completely freaks me out. It is very uncomfortable. As I have intentionally tried to practice this some, I have found that being alone with my own thoughts is awful. I get bored and quickly avoid the solitude by napping.
Perhaps I'm just exhausted and need the rest. Unlikely.
I am convinced that sleep in solitude is a means of avoidance. I don't have to face the solitude if I'm unconscious. When I've been able to really enter into the solitude and stay present in it, it has been some of the sweetest times of fellowship with God that I have experienced. I have discovered much about myself and entered into a depth of self-awareness that has helped to open my eyes to many of the ego driven issues that are always present.
Even as I write this, I realize that I have been neglecting this practice recently and I feel it. The self-centeredness that is ever present in me is right at the surface and is causing issues.
Hand in hand with solitude is the practice of silence. We live in a noisy world. Inundated with constant notifications from our phones and the ever present social media. Not to mention 24 hour news and sports and entertainment cycles, we can't hardly escape the noise.
When I first began the practice of solitude, I would often be listening to music. This felt safe.
Adding silence to the mix, that was the game changer. To find silence demands me to be intentional. I have to find a place or space to be silent. Noise is everywhere. It's so very difficult to find a silent space.
One way that I've begun engaging in silence is using noise-canceling ear buds at the gym. I will work out in silence. While it is not in conjunction with solitude it allows me to focus on the sound of my heart and breathing. Soon, my thoughts begin to echo and be loud. I have to actively suppress the inner dialogue to simply be silent.
When I engage in solitude and silence together, I am finding that walks outside are the best way to practice these.
I'd love to hear from you about how you practice solitude and silence. Or why you avoid them. Shoot me a comment wherever you read this (Facebook, Twitter, Medium, or connect with me on Telegram, https://t.me/danielmrose)