I used to be drawn to the idea of self-denial. I went through a phase when the word “ascetic” struck me as a beautiful word. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve been through church history classes. I’ve heard the stories of monks who lived in trees for a year, who mutilated their bodies, who lived as animals punishing themselves–and yes, I sat wide-eyed and swallowed hard as I concluded that they were insane. Or at least misled.
All the same, somewhere in the mix, I admired the fire of such men and women. “Lukewarm” would never be a label stuck on them. Jesus himself is the one who told his followers that we must “deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him”, and I’m not often convinced that the Western Church in general (and myself more specifically) knows very much about that critical idea.
Today, I came across this blurb on the subject…
Sixteenth-century spiritual director Francois Fenelon clarifies a confusing biblical concept:
“Self-denial has its place in a Christian’s life, but God doesn’t ask you to choose what is most painful to you. If you followed this path you would soon ruin your health, reputation, business, and friendship.
Self-denial consists of bearing patiently all those things that God allows to pass into your life. If you don’t refuse anything that comes in God’s order, you are tasting of the cross of Jesus Christ.”
And that is what we are meant to taste of… of the “tree of life”.