We all know what's not good for us. Things that can hurt and harm us, damage our wellbeing, and distract us from the things in life that we want, or should I say need, are all bad for us.
While some choose to live on the wild side while others live more carefully, there always comes a point where you should realize what genuinely benefits you and what doesn't.
The phrase "denying yourself," isn't really a typical phrase in the modern world or used naturally in conversation. To me, this phrase applies to a Christian outlook on life. While Christianity might not be your cup of tea, I still encourage you to try and understand where I'm coming from. Denying yourself isn't something that should be done only from a Christian standpoint, it's for everyone and here's why.
The word "deny" means "refusing to give or grant (something requested or desired) to (someone)." This definition is pretty simple.
So say I'm gaining a few pounds and want to lose weight. I would try to deny myself certain foods, preferably fattening ones. But the key to this definition is that the thing, or in my case, food that I have to deny is something I desire, request, or want. It's not some little thing that I don't really care for. It's much more than that, which makes the food even harder to resist.
We as humans don't always have our best interest at heart. We like to think we do, but we don't. We'd rather choose the easier option or the more comfortable option, even though challenging ourselves and choosing the harder option will ultimately benefit us more.
Therefore, denying ourselves is key to strengthening ourselves mentally in life. It helps us build up our self-control and choose what's best, not what's easy.
Let's dive deeper, shall we?
When it comes to the things we choose to deny, it's not always evident. For me, I know there are things in my life that don't serve a purpose, but I hold onto them because they make me feel comfortable and secure. But when I came across this deeper meaning behind denying myself, I had to take a hard look at those things and ask:
"Are they really benefiting me?"
A lot of activities or things that are actually hurting us are disguised as everyday cliche things that have become the norm for people to partake in. Examples could be fake friends that we don't want to confront, living a lifestyle that is opposed by your peers or parents, or always saying yes when we want to say no.
Whatever yours may be, I encourage you to deny yourself of it. Even though that fake friend may seem like she/he is the only person you have, your life may be genuinely better if you let that person go. Letting go of the toxic things in your life, no matter how hard it may be, will be better than the outcome you'll experience if you continue letting it intoxicate you.
So now it's time for the Christian definition.
While it may be easier to understand the things on the surface of what "denying yourself" means, it's harder to explain. The Christian definition dives extremely deep, and for us Christians, clears up questions we may have had before but are now answered.
These verses from Mark 8:34-38 give more meaning to the phrase "denying yourself," saying:
"Calling the crowd to him with his disciples, [Jesus] said to them, "If anyone desires to follow behind me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever desires to save his soul will lose it, but whoever loses his soul for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."'
So what does it mean when Jesus says "take up his cross?" Taking up your cross basically means to ultimately, without a doubt commit ourselves to Him. It means that our suffering, sins, problems, are no longer more important than Him. We must deny them, give them up, and die to them so that we have a more direct focus: God.
When it comes to a Christian standpoint of denying myself, there are already guidelines that God gives us in order to live our lives accordingly and safely. These guidelines can be found in Galatians 5:19-26. While these guidelines are not typical of the secular world we live in today, for me, this is what I need to live by.
The hard part comes with the action of denying yourself. It's way easier said than done, like a lot of things. And here's where it gets personal.
For me, the thing I needed to deny myself of was smoking. While you may see smoking as an obvious bad activity that can't possibly be good in any way, it was for me. It was an activity I partook in with my friends and it made me happy. It allowed me to escape from issues that were happening in my life and feel good.
At the time, it didn't feel detrimental to my life or to myself, and I was okay with that. But then a switch went off, thanks to a good friend and God showing up at a random time. My outlook changed.
It took research, a lot of thinking, and going back to my roots to realize my experiences with smoking were actually more harmful than beneficial. Of course, you can look at the health risks, but before then, that didn't phase me.
From a Christian standpoint and from a healthy lifestyle one, smoking was causing me to become dependent and reliant on something I wanted. It was taking my money, my opinions and feelings, my mental health, and even relationships with others. But during my time smoking, I never realized these things.
I was at a crossroads. On one side, I wanted to smoke because I liked what it did for me; on the other side, I knew what was right and why I needed to stop. Therefore, I had to deny myself, in the sense that I would give up my ties with smoking and dedicate that time to God.
When I say dedicating my time to God, that doesn't mean spending every waking moment reading my Bible or praying. It means not allowing myself to partake in something I desired and in turn, do something else that will truly benefit me.
I hope this helps you realize that there may be some things you need to deny yourself in your life. If anything, I want to push you to become your best self and reach your full potential. This requires you to "sweat" in the mental battles. It requires you to dive deep and change things that you never saw as harmful before. Denying yourself is going to be hard, but after overcoming it, we'll be stronger than ever.