And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Luke 9:23
This is my first post in quite some time. I have been MIA for well over a month. That is because about 4 weeks ago my wife and I were blessed with one of the most amazing gifts that we have ever received. We welcomed our little baby girl into our family. It is one of those moments of sheer joy, contentment and satisfaction that come so very seldom in one’s life, if ever at all. Even my wife, who was screaming in unimaginable pain as she pushed a baby out of her, her tears of pain were almost immediately washed away in a flood of tears of joy as she embraced our tiny baby girl. It was truly a life defining moment.
Afterwards, It was so calm and peaceful in the hospital room. My wife and I were exhausted (my wife understandably significantly more exhausted than I, but I feel quite safe in saying I had legitimate reason to be rather pooped). We had spent pretty much the entire previous day dealing with labor, timing contractions, trying to stay active, eagerly anticipating that we would be meeting our precious daughter. We then spent the entire night as the contractions grew stronger and stronger, going to the hospital, only to be sent home, and then only to turn around and immediately rush back to the hospital before the epic moment finally arrived.
And as the dust from the previous day and night finally settled, and the events that seemed so surreal began to penetrate into our minds, we closed our eyes to get some much needed rest.
And then there it was, what sounded like the squeal of a little, tiny baby pterodactyl.
She was hungry. Again!
We had just fed the little thing not two hours ago. What’s up with that?
And so has been our life for the last four weeks. A continuously repeating 2-3 hour cycle of cry, feed, burp, change, burp again, stare at lovingly in awe, change again (seriously, how many times in 10 minutes can a little baby poop?), cradle, rock, swaddle, burp again (just in case), lay down, crash, repeat.
Of course we are not rookies here. We knew it was going to be like this. This is our third baby in three years (yes, we’ve been busy and yes, we have our hands full). So this didn’t really catch us by surprise. We knew all too well the challenges of having a baby.
Of course for our other babies we didn’t have a just turned 3 year old and a not-quite 2 year old. We also hadn’t thought everything through because right as we are adjusting to having a new baby in the house, we thought it was a brilliant idea to try and potty train the just turned 3 year old. So amidst the never-ending cycle of cry, feed, burp, change, etc, we are also dealing with a 3 year old screaming at the most inopportune times, “I HAVE TO GO POTTY”. There have been several times that I have had a hungry crying 2 week old baby in one hand, while trying to use the other to help a 3 year old shimmy down his pull-up and somehow, one handed, pick him up and place him on the potty without dropping him into the bowl. And of course while this is all happening our almost two year old is coming to terms with the fact that he is now the “middle child” instead of the “baby” and has reawaken his months past habit of having his “throw himself onto the ground” temper tantrums for absolutely no reason.
And all the while I just keep whimpering to myself, “I just want 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep!”
But in moments like these I can’t help but think about the words of Christ when he said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”
I must deny myself. It’s not about me.
Sure, in this moment I may feel totally justified in feeling sorry for myself and complain about how difficult my life is, and whine about how I’m not getting any sleep, and how the kids are too whiny, and, why-oh-why can’t the bloody boy figure out how to poop on the potty and NOT in his underwear.
But those sorts of thoughts are entirely selfish. It’s about how I want to sleep, how I want some peace and quiet, and how I just want to be lazy and don’t want to have to wipe up another poopy bottom.
But it’s not about me.
Christ says that if I want to follow him, I have to deny myself. I must give up this idea that I am at the center of my own universe and realize that there is something bigger and more important than me going on right now. There is something much more magnificent, and glorious, and satisfying out there, if I could just take my eyes off of myself. As long as I continue to dwell on myself, I will never see Christ for who He really is. I will never be able to devote myself to His Kingdom; I will never be able to share in the Glory of His awesome presence.
I can’t help but wonder if parenting is showing me what that means. As a parent, time and time again, I put the needs of my children above my own because of my indescribable love for them. I recognize that what I am doing for them far surpasses any selfish desire I could have.
I denied myself when I drag myself out of bed to cuddle my crying baby girl at 2:30 in the morning, when I’m already sleep deprived and every fiber of my being is telling me how desperately I need to rest in order to continue to function. But I know my baby girl is hungry, and probably scared of this new and unknown world that she has just come into. She needs to be fed, held, rocked and reassured that she is loved and protected. So I put my needs aside and I focus on the needs of my helpless baby girl.
I denied myself when my first-born was in the hospital at three months old, vomiting up blood, and needing surgery for a problem in his digestive tract. I held him as he screamed while nurses poked him and prodded him. I kept the pacifier in his mouth which was his only truly effective means of comfort. I spent night after night curled up in a hospital chair next to his little crib, ready to sooth him when he woke up terrified about where he was. I was tired, uncomfortable, and terrified about what was happening to my son. But my pain and fear was nothing compared to what my poor child was feeling. He didn’t understand what was happening to him, and he needed me there to reassure him that mommy and daddy would never leave him. So I put my needs aside and was there to take care of my baby boy.
I denied myself when my second born would wake up in the middle of the night crying because he suffered horrible constipation. We had to resort to mixing his bottles with prune juice just to give him some sort of relief, but even that probably wasn’t too terribly kind to his poor sensitive digestive system. For 8 months he would continue to wake up in the middle of the night crying. That is 8 long months of me never getting a decent night’s sleep, constantly feeling exhausted, overwhelmed or stressed. But my son was in pain. In the middle of the night he would awake with his bowls tangled up in knots, and he didn’t understand why, how terrifying would that be? He needed me to hold him, hush him, and comfort him threw his pain. So I put my needs aside to help my boy in pain.
I deny myself when I am forced to discipline my children. In many ways it would be easier to just let them run wild and give them no boundaries. It’s not fun to have to be the “bad guy” and make your child unhappy, sad, or even angry as you enforce the rules. I would much rather be the “cool parent” who lets their kids eat as much ice cream as they want, watch as much TV as they want, and let them get their little fingers into whatever their hearts desire. But I know that in the long run that is not what is best for them. They need boundaries, they need discipline. I must deny my desire to always make my child “happy” in the here and now, and do things that may bring them short term unhappiness in exchange for long term joy.
I deny myself when I finally have a few minutes of quiet and solitude, but I realize that the table needs to be wiped down, and the dishwasher needs to be unloaded. I may be tempted to listen to my own advice and, be OK with the mess, But with another bottle due in less than 45 minutes with no clean ones left, and a wife that I know is in desperate need for a break, I can’t simply sit back and relish in my laziness. I love my family, and so I deny my own desire to relax, I roll up my sleeves, and do what needs to be done.
Is this what is means to deny yourself? There are certainly more significant ways to deny one’s self. A martyr burning at the stake, or a soldier charging into battle both come to mind as the ultimate denials of self. But I do feel there is something to be learned from being a parent when it comes to selflessness: self-denial training wheels, if you will.
Christ calls us to put away selfish ambitions, to stop seeking after our own desires and our own happiness, and instead to take up our cross and follow Him. He doesn’t do this because he wants us to be unhappy or miserable; far from it. He wants us to deny ourselves because he wants us to have a joy that far surpasses anything in our wildest imaginations, and that won’t happen as long as we are consumed with ourselves. If we focus on ourselves we will always find ourselves wanting for more; we must look beyond ourselves to find true satisfaction.
I think God created parenthood to teach us what true selflessness looks like, not just by being our example, but by forcing us to be our own example.
A parent is forced to deny themselves for the sake of their children; even if they don’t always particularly want to. Yes, we love our children, and we truly want to do what’s absolutely best for them. But even the most loving parents can be driven to their wits-end from lack of sleep and stress, where they may have moments that they don’t particularly want to give up sleep. But in those moments of weakness they still do it because they have no choice; that blood curdling scream will ward off sleep whether they like it or not. God gives us love so that most of the time we want to care for our children, and he gives babies loud cries for those moments that we don’t particularly feel like it.
Having children forces parents to constantly put aside selfishness, but when that happens something remarkable happens.
The more we as parents are forced to deny ourselves to care for our children, the greater the joy and contentment we find in them. The sleepless nights, the scary hospital visits, the messy house, the constant trails of poop, vomit and boogers, somehow they all slip away at the sounds of your child’s laughter. The screeches through the baby monitor late in the night seem to fade out of memory when they coo at you in love and admiration. You no longer think about the cruises, the beaches, high class restaurants, or the fun times with the guys that you are missing out on. There is nothing wrong with those things, but somehow they don’t seem near as meaningful the first time you hear your child say, “I wuv oo daddy!”
And before you know it, the very children that you used to secretly curse under your breath in those endless, sleepless, stressful nights, become your greatest source of contentment and satisfaction. Where before you grit your teeth over how your life has been consumed by these little people, you suddenly find yourself overjoyed at how they continue to consume your life even more. When you stop focusing on yourself, and focus on your children, you realize that they can bring you greater joy than any of those things that you denied yourself.
That’s what happens when you deny yourself. That is what Christ wants from us when we follow Him.
At first it will be hard, we may not like the way it feels. We will be scared and unsure about where this road of sanctification will lead us. We may think we are giving up too much, but before too long, our fears and worries will give way to faith and trust. And just as a parent learns that the joy that children bring are more than worth the sacrifices, Christ is more than worth everything that we must give up to follow Him. Once we completely give up on our own selfishness and desires, and focus on Christ, we will find that what He has to offer is so great, so wonderful, and so glorious, that nothing that we could have ever found in ourselves could even come close to comparing.
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