I used to think that Scripture called me to betray myself by minimizing my own needs (especially emotional needs). I had no concept of boundaries, and I would have laughed at the idea, had someone suggested they were needed. So when it all just became too much, and I’d wind up angry or frustrated, I would beat myself up for being so selfish or weak. Clearly it was my lack of faith.
This is why for years “self care” was a bad word to me. “Me time” was for sissies or for self-consumed women. Even the idea of a massage or visiting with a friend without my kids for a few hours sounded selfish and wrong. And secretly, I probably judged (and maybe even resented) those who had the opportunity to do those things.
Soon after our sixth child was born, I was struggling physically and emotionally. There were a lot of difficult dynamics going on during that season. My husband was traveling for weeks at a time, the baby was colicky, and there were nights when I literally didn’t sleep the entire night. I watched the sun rise in tears, knowing I had to somehow get through the day. One day, an older lady from church offered to come over and watch my kids in the next room for a few hours, so I could take a much-needed nap.
But when she came, I laid in bed, unable to sleep, as the cortisol rushed through my body. I felt panic and guilt every time I heard a cry or squeal from the next room. As hard as I tried, I could never relax enough to get that desperately-needed nap, so I gave up, imagining that it was God telling me I needed to be able to handle all this myself.
“Let Him Deny Himself”
Part of it probably came from a distorted view of Matthew 16:24, and the rest from the fact that it just “felt” right. Self-denial felt consistent with much of my past. It was all tied up in what I was used to and how I viewed my own worth. I expected hard. I didn’t “deserve” any of those good things, so even wanting them felt wrong.
The desire for what is described as “self-care” wreaked of self-indulgence and laziness – evil desire or an indication of not trying hard enough. As sinners (of which I am chief), the only thing we deserve is God’s wrath, so better not avoid it when it appears. “Total Depravity of Man” on steroids.
If self-denial and suffering is for “good people,” and I had been unloved/unwanted because I was “bad,” then maybe trying harder to be “good” could generate a little love.
While contemplating all of this recently, I started thinking about how there isn’t really any virtue in “denying yourself” if part of your goal is to get something out of it or to earn someone else’s love, approval, or good graces. It’s just manipulation. And, ironically, deep down, it’s intrinsically selfish, no matter how “nice” or “service-oriented” or godly it feels.
This is why it eventually causes such resentment and anger. We’re doing it out of guilt or obligation, rather than out of genuine, others-focused love.
Whether we realize it or not, when we betray ourselves or we people-please, we are not “taking up our cross and following Jesus;” we are actually taking up our own banner and attempting to use our “good works” to satisfy an insatiable need that only Jesus can fill.
And Jesus doesn’t barter. He doesn’t accept our sacrifices. He was the sacrifice. His yoke isn’t one of bondage; it’s one of rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)