The Beauty of Self-Denial

It’s a short one today. (By the way, if you haven’t clued in, I challenged myself a little while ago to publish one blog a day for a certain period of time.)

As I was riding the Metro today, my thoughts wandered to the idea of self-denial. More specifically, my thoughts wandered to what a beautiful thing it is.

The important distinction here is that I’m not speaking of self-delusion (though in its most horribly pure form, that too can be beautiful like a tornado). I’m talking about the disciplined beauty of denying yourself something, maybe something you want, something that would make things easier or something that would just make you feel special in the herd.

I know that I’ve written about discipline before, or the lack of it, but I’m trying to look at it more through a positive lens right now. Too often we look at discipline as a powerful negative suffered for a greater good or personal benefit. I’m looking at it more as a powerfully positive thing that enriches us.

It ties into humility, I guess. I’ve come to appreciate that a lot more in recent years. Make no mistake that I still think a little too highly of myself and work on that constantly. But I’ve made a concerted effort to humble myself before my family, my friends and my God.

Part of humility is self-denial. In some circles it’s called “mortification” – a deliberate sacrifice to remind yourself of sacrifices that have been made for you, and that you offer in remembrance/as sacrifice for the blessings you have or want in your life.

I suppose that’s why the idea is specifically appealing to me. We could all use a bit of self-denial, to remind ourselves of precisely how good we’ve got it. I know that I kind of harp on this idea. But it’s a good one.

It’s also changed how I do things, in a pretty significant way.

I used to hold onto books, and purchase them compulsively to “read some day.” I decided that I would be better served by stopping both practices. I gave away all editions of the books that I’ve read save but a few that are part of a collection, but once I re-read those I’ll likely let them go. (yes, they’re the novelizations of the Star Wars films. I want to double back and read the series again once more before letting them go.)

Meanwhile, I’ve denied myself the opportunity to purchase any more books (I still accept books as gifts, but give them away once I read them) until my bookshelves are cleared. That’s how many books I owned, more than half works I’d never read.

This simple act of self-denial has made me appreciate all the more what I’ve had in this life that many others have not. Namely, I’ve had the disposable income to toss away on books, DVDs, toys and other items that really did no one any good. These were things that I used to consider essential pieces to own; a collector’s edition DVD or a special action figure. Once I got in the habit of consciously telling myself “no” for the sake of self-denial, I found that I no longer viewed these things as special. Sure, there are some items that I still have for sentimental reasons, but they’re small tokens that are there to keep a certain spark alive inside my soul that would be dangerous to let sputter into darkness.

There are so many little ways to practice self-denial. Choose not to get yourself the soda at lunch and and buy something instead for a homeless person. Don’t give them the money, but give them that good drink and something to eat. You’ll see genuine appreciation. Besides, what’ll it kill you to have water once in a while?

You may feel rejection from others. That’s a small price to pay for the dividends you might receive. (Of course, I’m still not a fan of someone else telling me how much I should give or forcibly extracting it from my pocket.) I give what I can, for as long as I can. And I need to challenge myself to do better.

Wait at your next meal for someone else to start. You’ll be amazed at how that little act can make you more grateful for the food you enjoy, as you remember that you’re sharing this meal not for the sake of the food on your plate but the companionship offered by your friend or family member. Or if it’s at a function where you’re meeting people, you can show your appreciation for their time spent meeting you.

It’s a rebellion I guess against the thought that we ‘deserve’ things beyond the basics. No, we don’t. Doing well at work and ‘rewarding’ yourself negates the fact that you should do well at work simply as a glorification of the work you do. If you can’t motivate yourself to do well without a reward system in place, perhaps you should find something else to do.

It’s just a random thought. I’m not even sure what triggered it.


4 thoughts on “The Beauty of Self-Denial

    1. I applaud your ability (?) to take an attempt at poignancy and turn it into an attempt to resurrect an argument you lost so thoroughly. Truly a rare skill!

      1. I lost nothing, as far as I’m concerned. That you keep bringing it up speaks volumes to me though. All I did was speak to the point you were making here.

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