I have a hard time saying “no.” And I know, “no” is not a four-letter word, or eight-letter, or however many letters it takes to make it sound complicated. “No” should be a clean-cut breakaway from whatever we were holding onto or whatever was holding onto us.
As a mom with four young kids, I say “No” or “No thank you” quite often. “No, you can’t climb/jump/twirl on the table.” “No, the books should be put away instead of strewn across the floor.” “No, you can’t eat rocks/boogers/legos.” No, no, no.
I also have to say “no” to myself. Some days it feels like motherhood is one gigantic exercise in self-denial. “No, you can’t read right now, the dinner needs to be prepared.” “No, there isn’t time for you to sign up for that exercise class, the kids have art camp/husband has to work/the baby needs to nap.” “No, you shouldn’t get 18 lbs. of fresh apricots to make jam, even though it’s delicious, the work involved is too much for this weekend (true story, folks).” No, no, no.
I was really getting frustrated, especially about that apricot one. I love to create, be it a sewing project, a blog post, or yes, close to 10 pints of jam. A lot of these projects are for someone else or in service for my family, but they fill me with joy as well. Here was a good project, that would bring me some fulfillment and something tasty to the table. I felt like I was drowning in self-denial, completely trapped by the constraints of family responsibilities.
Thank goodness I have been working on a project that involves some deep reflection and reading on St. Paul’s Christ Hymn found in Philippians 2:5-11. In that hymn, also called the kenosis hymn, St. Paul says that “Jesus emptied himself” in becoming a man. Jesus doesn’t lose His divinity in this self-emptying, but it is a kind of letting go of the glory due to Him in order that He could enter fully into the brokenness of humanity. Jesus doesn’t deny Himself His divinity, He empties Himself. This emptying of Christ is a model for us. Because Christ emptied Himself, the Father was able to raise Him up, as St. Paul says “He highly exalted him.” We are called to empty ourselves too.
Pope Benedict XVI said in one of his Wednesday Audiences that “The Incarnation and the Cross remind us that complete fulfilment lies in conforming our human will to the will of the Father, in emptying ourselves of our selfishness, to fill ourselves with God’s love, with his charity, and thereby become capable of truly loving others.”
Instead of thinking of my “no’s” to myself as negatives or moments of self-denial, I have started thinking of them as ways to practice self-emptying. Am I denying myself something in that moment, yes. But by turning self-denial on it’s head, what seems to be a denial is actually an acceptance. I am accepting where God has put me in this present moment. I am embracing my vocation as a mother who is blessed with a house to care for and four children to raise. I am thankful that my husband has a work schedule to schedule around when there are so many who have no work at all. In this process, I’ve discovered through self-emptying I’m not only filling up with God, He is planting ideas and inspirations for how to seek new ways to do the things I want within my present circumstances. Here’s a few examples of how I’m trying to turn these moments of self-denial into opportunities for self-emptying, as well as some of the ideas the Holy Spirit has given me.
Opportunities and Inspirations
- Instead of sitting down and reading for an hour during quiet time like I would prefer, I keep my book open on the counter so I can sneak in a few pages while waiting for water to boil for dinner. I also made this cool book weight out of pennies, duct tape, and washi tape because some books are stubborn and won’t stay open! It is also freeing up quiet time so I can better care for our home.
- My husband’s job is such that presently I cannot be sure of his ability to be home at a set time every week, making it challenging for me to sign up for an exercise class of any kind (exercising is challenging for me; I lack both the discipline and motivation for it. Making a commitment to a specific class helps keep me honest and on track). However, I have gotten much better about keeping on track of our family’s commitments with my planner and just scoped out the family room at the gym. I’m going to be making a “class time” for myself to go and use the family room at least twice a week this summer (cross your fingers and say a prayer for me!). I am caring for myself and through that, I am able to care for my family better.
- The apricots? Well, this year it had to be a solid no. But, thankfully the Holy Spirit was being extra present with me that day because it dawned on me that even though I’m saying “No” to my beloved jam this year, it doesn’t mean that I will have to say “no” again next year. Call me crazy, but “No” doesn’t have to mean “Never”! Who would have guessed it. Maybe this season of life isn’t quite my jam season. And that’s OK. It is a season of learning to empty myself of the worldly things I can fill my life with and choose instead of let God fill me with His Will and His designs for my life.
What are some ways that you can practice self-emptying? Do you see an area in your life where self-denial could be transformed into an opportunity for self-emptying and a greater acceptance of God’s Will?
Copyright 2018 Kate Taliaferro