Saturday, June 27, 2009

Never Pursue Pleasure

"There is only one real power
That you should long to own: Self-denial!
Spend all you have to purchase it.
Lust after chains of servanthood--never thrones of pride.
For servants, worn by willful drudgery,
At last wear diadems.
Bridle all desire: For having what you want,
Will leave you groveling in wantonness.
Feed yourselves with hunger,
Then savor all you slowly eat.
Thus, self-denial will give you richness but keep you from excess.
Use this world, do not consume it.
Never pursue pleasure, rather let it find you...
At the end of every day...
Where you made discipline your friend."
~Calvin Miller, A Requiem for Love

These lines pierced me as I read Miller's story about the fall of mankind. Too easily my mind is filled with thoughts of my next indulgence...peace and quiet? Ahh...time for a book, curling up on a comfy couch with a cup of steaming tea. Kids are finally in bed? Hmmm...are there any shows I haven't caught up on?

Whenever I stop being intentional about how I spend my time each day, weeds crop up. There's a difference between scheduling in time for relaxation and pleasure, and being pulled around by my ever wandering, never really satisfied desires. Even good projects turn sour when I begin them at the wrong time, without enough time to finish, without thought of how to care for and occupy my kids while I work. The kids become unhappy and troublesome most quickly when I don't have a plan.

Sometimes I'm tempted to try to remedy issues like this by putting rules on myself. Do I get sucked into TV shows to easily? No TV. EVER! And since in free moments my mind tends to begin dreaming of cookies or cake or chocolate, should I purge my life of those things entirely to rid myself of the problem? The passage above brings to mind monks, and their deliberate self deprivation. I've read countless times from a variety of sources that their lifestyle was not what God is calling us to, but I can see what brought them to that point, and I think they must have experienced some good results from living a life devoid of some of the more obvious pleasures. I can see how legalistic churches and groups were formed, too, but personal experience with them leaves a sour aftertaste. The truth is that I could make rules for myself to follow to try to keep myself out of trouble and on the right path, but those rules would not really help my situation. I would only find new ways to indulge myself. Or fall off the wagon completely, if I were to ever try to cut, say, cheesecake, completely out of my life. The only solution I see is to humbly climb up on the altar each day, and give my life again to God, and let His will direct my day. So that when I'm with my kids, my words are patient, my actions gentle, my attitude right. And when they're down for nap time and I have some precious quiet time to myself, that time still belongs to God, and I choose a way to fill it that I know pleases Him. If I curl up on the couch with a good book and a cup of tea, I do it with a clean conscience and a sense of His pleasure, because there's nothing else I should be doing instead. There's no other way than to daily beg for His help, and live every moment humbly and open to his leading.

I practiced self-denial a few days ago, inspired by the passage above. It was nap time, lunch was cleared away, and I was reading. I could hardly focus on what I was reading because my mind kept throwing me images of sweets I could snack on. I had already determined that I was addicted to sugar again, and needed to cut back. So I decided beforehand that I wouldn't have any...that this self-denial was necessary, and a way to practice what I had just read. I was shocked by how difficult it was. It was a mental battle that actually made me tired. It shaped the rest of my day...left me feeling weak, and much more dependent on God. It was exercise, the kind that, the more you do it, the stronger you become. The next day was similar, but a little easier. Since then I've had some busy days, too full to focus on the things that matter most, but today I refocus on the exercise of self-denial, determined not to brush it away or excuse myself that these are trivial matters. This is my one life, and every time I choose the easy, lesser way, I waste it.

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