Practicing a Holy Denial

“Growing into maturity means learning to accept delayed gratification…but also denials of what [we] want.” -Joanna Weaver, Lazarus Awakening

I have never liked the word no from my dad. Or from my heavenly Father. It means I was wrong about something. I ask for a desire that I think would be a good thing, but He doesn’t agree. Sometimes I complain, or ask again later in hope of a different answer, or distance myself from Him and do what I want anyway.

Some days I’m more tempted to log on to facebook more frequently than is necessary, so that I might feel connected to my friends, to feel some form of love. How many “friends” liked or commented on my new profile pic? Did that person message me back yet?  Who tagged me? The real issue? I’m desiring affirmation. Ironically (or maybe not?) these tempting times of frequent facebooking often occur on days I haven’t spent sufficient time with my Father–to seek His affirmation of my worth before all these other fake distractions. As I logged on today, I thought, Wow, how scary is it that I just “connected” with about twenty friends without actually communicating to them but rather by stalking them via news feed? Truly, there was no connection at all. I need to go plug in to Jesus…

Another instance I can choose to indulge or deny my desires is dessert. This sweet tooth is genetic! There are many other excuses I can (and do) use to justify that frozen yogurt or piece of chocolate or just one more cookie. I want it. Everyone else is eating it and I don’t want to be left out of that yumminess! I need to feel better after a lousy day (like today…7th grade boys are my new least favorite people group…) Oh yes, all sorts of things come to mind when I crave sugar. But the truth is, it’s a temporary satisfaction. It tastes so good for a few minutes. It’s not good for the rest of my body–hours beyond those few pleasurable moments. And with my current health issues, I often pay the price later that day or even the next, for indulging in a sugary treat.

When I say just one more facebook log in tonight, when I long to munch one more cookie (what’s the difference since I’ve already had three?) I have a choice. I can give in or stand firm. I can tell myself no. I really can. I am capable. No, you don’t need to go searching for love in all the wrong places. No, you don’t actually need that piece of pie to feel better about your day. Instead, run to your Father who loves you. He’s crazy in love with you. Go seek out his words of affirmation. Go devour his truth! 

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Sometimes I listen to those words. Other times, I ignore His Spirit’s counsel in me.

So, what’s the big deal? Facebook and chocolate are not sin. I’m not breaking one of the 10 commandments. “Thou shalt not facebook more than once a day?” Nope, not even in the Message version. I checked.

But in my heart, where God lives, that deep oasis He calls His holy dwelling place, I hear Him. In recent months, I feel Him gently pointing out a pattern: when I deny myself the little things, I’m willing to receive his bigger voice of “no, my love.” 

Saying no to spending another half hour on pinterest tonight can result in victory over a bigger temptation tomorrow. The tiny self-denial somehow builds character in me so that I am stronger when opportunities come that are not God’s best. Choosing, forcing, myself to say no actually grows patience in me. I don’t understand it entirely. But lately I’ve started to tell myself no to something I want that I don’t actually need. Don’t buy that book. Don’t eat that cookie. Or other times I just make myself wait for good practice. Wait to eat that piece of chocolate until after dinner. Ok so sometimes I fail. I eat dessert first. But those times I choose to wait? It actually helps me receive God’s answers, too.

I once heard that God has three possible answers to our inquiring prayers:

yes, wait, or I have something better.

I love this because it takes a harsh no out of the picture entirely. The truth is, when God does say no, He has a good reason. But as the creatively whiny child, I still don’t like it. Often I’m not told the reasoning for his denial of my request, which irks me. But then I remember my Father isn’t unkind. When He says no, it’s not because He wants to deny me pleasure. Rather, He sees the intimate details of my future. In fact, He sees it more clearly right now than I will when I get there!

So, tonight? I’m going to resist going to eat my favorite late night snack of cereal and instead devour some holy pages of text. Because He’s teaching me that sometimes when I feel hungry, what my body craves is His love. And it’s not so much me saying no to cereal as it is saying yes to my Father. And when I pray, sometimes it’s not so much Him saying no to me, but actually He is saying a loving, grace-filled, best yes. What if every no God tells me is actually a yes to something else?

When your words showed up, I ate them—
    swallowed them whole. What a feast!
~Jeremiah 15:16

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