“[Jesus] 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 RSV).
When I read this text and meditate on it, I always end up asking myself what this actually means in my life and how to actually do this?
I think it often means simply choosing the less-convenient, and perhaps less-appealing option which is nonetheless the kind, generous, and merciful thing to do. It’s actively serving, for the true benefit of the other person. More subtly, it means saying “no” to my prideful desire to “be right”, make my point, or assert myself unnecessarily (thus I challenge my pride). It means giving of myself even – and especially – when it’s a little painful (thus I counter my selfishness).
It’s thanking God for whatever His Providence allows in my life, trusting in a childlike way that all will be provided for me that is truly necessary for me instead of grasping and striving to secure it for myself. It’s reminding myself constantly that I am no more (nor less, true) important than anyone else; that my needs don’t supercede those of anyone else. Reminding myself that I don’t have to be “first in line”; that I can and (often) should defer and give up my place to another.
After all, God is always giving Himself away in love. Jesus withholds nothing, keeps nothing for Himself. He delights to shower His children with undeserved blessings and graces. Sharing his very own Spirit with us, we who are His own are thus enabled to imitate him “as dearly beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1).
So I sincerely practice – haltingly, imperfectly, but persistently – to “deny” myself in small ways, trying to love others as He has asked me to do. This is hard; it is a daily effort which relies entirely on prayer and the grace of God.