The Freedom of Self-Denial

“Mom, are you serious?? What is wrong with you? No one else in the world has stupid rules like this. I hate it! You’re ruining my life! You and dad are the worst!”

I sat there suppressing a smile and polishing my Mother of the Year trophy while the child-who-shall-not-be-named stomped out of the room.

Sorry, kid, this isn’t our first rodeo.

In case you’re wondering about the preposterous rule, Jeff and I recently implemented a “No technology during the school week” policy. You can imagine how well that went over.

Y’all, sometimes parenting is really hard. Okay, most of the time, parenting is really hard! Making our kids mad at us is no fun. Setting limits and boundaries we know they won’t like is terribly difficult. Listening to them tell us that we are ruining their life (and wondering if it’s true) is heart-wrenching. 

But sometimes a mom (or dad) has to do what a mom (or dad) has to do.

In this case, the reality is that our kids are different people when they are not using technology. When they know it’s an option, nothing else seems to matter. They rush carelessly through their schoolwork so they can get online with their friends. They overlook assignments or “forget” to study so they can be done faster. They lose sight of how much they love things like sports and other activities because their focus is on a screen. And though they hate to admit it, their aggression and anxiety skyrocket. 

However, when digital entertainment is no longer an option, everything changes! They take their time on their schoolwork and their grades go up. They spend time together— laughing, playing outside, making up games, and being creative. As much as they hate the sacrifice, they quickly begin to enjoy the freedom that comes with not being tethered to an idol. Our hope is that, through this process, they will learn the value of denying themselves and be able to choose it for themselves in the future.

In fact, on a few occasions, our older children have even handed us their phones, recognizing they needed a break from the digital world, but not trusting their own ability to resist the temptation. How cool is that?

As much as they hate the sacrifice, they quickly begin to enjoy the freedom that comes with not being tethered to an idol.

Unfortunately, it never gets any easier to deny ourselves what we really want.

Jeff and I started a new eating plan this week. I’m not going to lie; it has been tough. Our meals (I use that term loosely, lol!) are planned out for us, and our eating is extremely restricted compared to what we are used to. Honestly, it feels quite a bit like torture!

But it has also given me new perspective. I had no idea how much my life revolved around food. It is horrifying and humbling to recognize how quickly an indulgence here and there can become an all-consuming, insatiable hunger. Like my kids, I have overlooked the most important things in order to satisfy what my heart craves.  I have been ruled by the desire to eat whatever I want, whenever I want, and I didn’t even know it!

However, this week, all that changed. 

This week has been an experience in self-denial. I have had to prioritize what is best for me over what I desire. I have chosen integrity over indulgence and long-term results over short-term satisfaction. My hunger pains have reminded me that while I may feel deprived, there are those who would consider my small portion a gift, an answered prayer.  As the week went along, my perspective shifted and I have grown more grateful for what I have been given instead of focusing on what has been withheld. 

I’m not quite there yet, but I am inching my way towards finding the freedom that comes from releasing an idol.

Friends, it makes me wonder. If my kids didn’t recognize how technology affects them and I didn’t realize how food affects me, what else in our lives are we blind to? In what other areas are we indulging our senses, feeding our feelings, and drowning in our desires? And what would happen if we chose to step back and open our hands, willingly denying ourselves of whatever it is that consumes us?

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

We live in a fast food world of self-indulgence. Super-sizing is expected. Entitlement is rampant. Just look at our political climate—we are so quick to claim a side, yet we have forgotten how to have a conversation.  We continually choose being right over being in relationship. We focus on our miniscule areas of disagreement instead of our larger areas of commonality. 

We are being deceived, friends! We are worshiping self-made idols and calling it freedom, when really we are enslaved to our own desires. 

I wonder what would happen if we all chose gratitude over greed. Would our world look any different if we decided to walk the path of self-denial? If, instead of feeding our selfish desires, we denied ourselves and sought to fulfill someone else’s needs? What freedom would we gain by shifting our perspective, and rather than seeing ourselves as victims of someone else’s restrictive cruelty, we decided to find freedom through restricting ourselves?

This is the perspective we are hoping our kids will grasp— that while self-denial is unpleasant at first, it can lead to great joy and freedom.

Just a few things to think about as I count the minutes until my next “fueling”…