Defining Denial

Written by Sister Michelle Watson on Thursday, February 11, 2016. Posted in Devotional

Defining Denial

This article is part of Sister Michelle Watson's deep dive into the concept of "deny yourself" (Mt. 16:24, Mk. 8:34, Lu. 9:23, 3 Ne. 12:30).

In wild excitement for a study abroad program in Florence, Italy, the summer of my freshman year of college, I read "The Agony and the Ecstasy" by Irving Stone. It's a biographical fiction about Michelangelo, and I remember the passages that describe his approach to sculpting. He'd look at a block of marble and think, "OK, the finished sculpture is in there somewhere. I just need to chisel away anything that is NOT my masterpiece."

It's kind of the same with definitions. When a word has a complex meaning, sometimes the first step in defining it is to describe what it's NOT. Self-denial certainly qualifies as complex, so I'm taking the "chisel away" approach.

What Self-Denial Is NOT

I believe it's not denying who I am or how God made me. For example, I'm newly baptized and I decide to immediately move to a foreign mission field and start converting some souls. Without deep roots, I won't last long, right? (Matt 13:20-21) I shouldn't sacrifice self-awareness for self-denial.

It also doesn't mean going into denial. It sounds funny ha-ha, but I've actually seen people do this in the name of self-sacrifice. We go to spiritual extremes without letting ourselves see the toll that it's taking (in a bad way). Nope. It doesn't mean sticking my head in the sand.

I also believe self-denial is not self-hatred. My brother-in-law has an awesome T-shirt that says, "I'm the wretch the song talks about." (Yes!) I definitely need to know my place before God, but I don't have to loathe my existence. I'm God's creation, after all, and He says I have value (Luke 12:6-7).

It may go without saying, but self-denial is not masochism. This is an extreme form of self-denial where you find perverse pleasure in pain and suffering — of yourself or others.

Last one. Self-denial is not meaningless suffering. In Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning," a fascinating chronicle of the doctor's harrowing experiences in Nazi concentration camps, he describes how prisoners who couldn't make meaning out of their suffering did not survive the ordeal. Yes, I believe the Lord asks me to walk through periods of physical and emotional privation, but there's always a good reason for it. I don't think God wants me to suffer for suffering's sake.

Alright, this "chisel away" exercise helps bring the definition into better focus for me. Moving forward, though, I need to identify what self-denial actually is.

Based on some preliminary scripture study, I think self-denial embraces these things:

  • Self-abasement (humility)
  • Self-sacrifice (charity)
  • Self-restraint (discipline)
  • Self-condemnation (conviction of sin)
  • Submission (following God)

Self-denial rejects these things:

  • Self-exaltation (pride)
  • Selfishness (greed)
  • Self-indulgence (worldly pleasures and lusts)
  • Self-justification (self-righteousness)
  • Self-will (stubbornness)

So, that's where my studies are headed in the weeks to come. Where are yours headed?

This article has undergone ministry review and approval.

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