For me, it has always been so easy to think of the ‘enemy’ of my soul as being external to me.
He prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour me (1 Peter 5:8).
And yes, while this is true, it does not paint a complete picture.
Psalm 51:5 says it this way;
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
And Paul describes the impact of being conceived in sin, in this way:
So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:17-25, ESV)
It is much harder for me to describe my struggle with sin in the very descriptive manner that Paul did.
But my battle with sin is a daily, moment by moment, one. Some of these battles are won and some are lost. I can’t take credit for the victories. Those are had by the grace of God, alone.
What I have been contemplating lately are the losses. Losses probably happen for many reasons. The one I am most interested in right now are the losses that take place due to willful disobedience.
Losses that occur when we ignore or silence that still small voice as it says:
Be careful little eyes what you see…
don’t let your eyes linger on that image. close the magazine. turn off the television.
Be careful little hands what you do…
don’t open the fridge. you’re not really hungry
Be careful little feet where you go…
don’t go to the mall when you don’t have any money.
Be careful little ears what you hear …
don’t listen to that song or that conversation.
Be careful little mouth what you say ….
speak life. don’t repeat that story.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23 ESV)
Death to Self.
I’ve thrown this term around quite a bit. I use it and have heard it used like it’s this simple-to-achieve state. And yet, from my own experience, true death to self is neither simple, nor a pain free process.
The past year and a half my husband has had a job that requires a considerable amount of travel. He’s home on the weekends so during the week it’s just me and our precious, spirited, elementary-school boys. For a season, one of my children was in physical therapy and the other in occupational therapy. Both were struggling in different ways in school. My health was also pretty bad. I juggled this, and more, in a country that isn’t native to me — meaning I didn’t have a consistent and reliable support system. A part of me got pretty angry that God hadn’t intervened. In the words of ‘Casting Crowns’, I had said “Amen” and yet it was still raining. Even with an understanding of His Word, His nature and His eternal purpose for my life, I still experienced resentment. So rather than confront my conflicting emotions toward the call to suffer on my life, I gave myself permission to meet my emotional needs in my own comforting way. Life felt so hard and I felt that I deserved a break. He wasn’t meeting my need for comfort in a way I wanted so I turned to food.
In the midst of that rebelliousness, I heard Him most audibly. “ENOUGH.” His voice pierced straight to my heart and soul. The word stopped me in my tracks. I allowed the waves of pain to wash over me in quiet introspection. Painful death. Death to self-indulgence and the seemingly immediate, albeit short-lived, gratification that resulted from it.
I was in sin. I had allowed food to become an idol in my life and to get in the way of my relationship with God.
Anyway, you would think that saying no to something that is detrimental to the health of my spirit would be a joyous and easy thing. But instead, I found that depriving myself of something I selfishly wanted only led to anger and sadness.
I have heard that it is possible to mourn both the good and the bad. When something is taken out of our lives, no matter what it is, we experience loss and we grieve those losses.
One of those losses, for me, was the death to my desire to meet my emotional needs with food. We all have these crutches and when we decide enough is enough, it is only the power of God that can extract that crutch from our lives and give us freedom. Only He can give us the power to make that daily choice to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow in the footsteps of a loving Savior.
The fear, though, is that as soon as the crutch is gone the emotions that I have been carefully stuffing down will now have free reign in my heart. No longer could I self-soothe with the myriad things available to me. Nor could I give myself the instant gratification that these idols in my life promised.
These idols don’t tackle the problem. They don’t target the root cause — and in reality only serve to hide the real problem. They address the symptoms and they don’t provide a permanent solution. Initially, they may provide some relief. And initially, like a drug, the use of idols may appear under control. But then as the problem festers and becomes unmanageable, more and more self-medication is needed to cover it up. Until you wake up one day, out of control, like a city whose walls are broken through (Proverbs 25:28), as you realize that the inability to die to self in that one area deceitfully trickles into other areas of your life.
You see it, you recognize it. Your indulgence no longer satisfies. There’s a tastelessness to the food, but like a person possessed, the compulsion to acquire and consume continues. It becomes a matter of habit, no longer requiring thorough thought. As you remember the relief it used to provide, it compels you to continue to indulge in something that is no longer pleasurable. You are a slave to your desires.
How do we tear off the shackles of idolatry and self-indulgence? We must choose to deny our self and pick up our cross, daily. We must feel the pain of self-denial, and do it anyway. We can grieve the loss and receive comfort through Christ.
Psychologists believe grief to be cyclical in nature. I have extrapolated from a model introduced by Kübler-Ross (in 1969) in an attempt to explore my experience resulting from death to self. The complexities of sin and the numerous types of death required in any given situation are beyond my scope of exploration but I do believe this model provides some insight to some of the processes. And I also believe it is helpful to know what could be happening emotionally as you make the decision to deny yourself something that may be affecting your relationship with God. It is important to keep in mind though that this is not a list of all possible emotions and not everyone feels all five responses. In addition, the stages happen in whatever order they happen in and we can bounce back and forth between them. One can also experience multiple stages at one time.
The stages are as follows:
The belief that you have everything under control. You are not a slave to your cravings but the master of your destiny. This is clearly a lie. The Bible is clear that we were made to serve – we are either slaves to righteousness or slaves to sin. Indulging our desires outside of the will of God is sin.
The reality of one’s entrapment sets in. In pain you react in anger. Why me? It’s not fair. I know God is not to blame. But still, He could have prevented this right? He is God after all. Next comes the guilt for feeling angry at God, for allowing me to enter into sin, and suffer the consequences of my choice. Yes, the irony isn’t lost on me.
Have you ever bargained with God? “ God, if You do this then I will…”
The idea being, if you start to make better choices, it might be the secret to being delivered from the consequences of your actions?
Then follows the depression, sadness and helplessness that threatens to strangle you. A sort of resignation to enduring the consequence of your sin.
Finally, acceptance of the sin and the new reality resulting from the sin. This leads to confession and repentance.
Death to self is painful but with every death to self is the opportunity to become alive in Christ.
There is freedom on the other side.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.(Ephesians 2:1-7, ESV)