Denied: Nothing Changes Until You Learn to Say No to This One Person…

Well, I did it. I finally lost some weight.

No, it’s not all the weight I want to lose. And yes, my face and neck both have the look of a balloon that just lost half of its air. That’s what happens when you are of “a certain age” and successfully diet.

Actually, I look like a white prune with arms and legs.

“How did I do it?” you ask. It was really quite simple. I simply stopped eating the tons of carbs I crave. Many of the very foods I love, I simply gave up. And it wasn’t even Lent.

Funny thing, I noticed that I feel better and my “digestion” has improved. Don’t worry—no gory details regarding how the digestion has improved. Let’s just say things are better, and leave it at that.

This is not just a diet. I’m thinking this is my new life style. Eating less and differently means I do experience hunger during the day more than before when I’d nosh on chips or something else filling. But I’ve learned it’s actually okay for me to do be a little hungry and to do without.

So…have you learned that yet?

As a pastor, I talk with lots of people who have problems. All sorts of problems, and many of them of their own making. They want something and truly don’t think they can live without ______ (insert person’s name, job, new house, car, etc).

Quite often, the problem is they haven’t learned how to say the word “no.” Not “say no to overwork” or to the unreasonable expectations of others. No, the one person they need to say “no” to is usually the last one they ever will. They’ll only say “no” to that person when circumstances force them into a corner with no possible way out.

Who is that person? They haven’t learned to say “No” to themselves.

Modern culture conspires against them at every turn. Watch a Disney musical and there’s what composer’s term the “I want” song. That’s a song like “Part of Your World,” where Ariel sings about all those human things she wants that she doesn’t have as a mermaid. And that “want” takes her through almost losing everything. Since it’s a musical cartoon, everything turns out okay in the end and she does indeed get everything she wants.

But that’s not how it usually turns out in life.

Self-help books tell us repeatedly to “Follow our dreams, and we’ll get our heart’s desire”…or is it “Follow your heart and all your dreams will come true?” Anyway, it’s one of those two…or both of them. And it sounds wonderful, like it’s truth made just for us.

Well, it is made for us, but it’s not truth. It’s a lie, told by someone who makes Ursula the Sea Witch look like a girl scout in comparison.

The truth we so desperately avoid is this: that many of the best things in life come ONLY when we are willing to say no to many of the lesser things we want.  This denying of self is what most of us refer to as “self-discipline.” It’s a concept most of us respect in others, but fight with all our might to avoid in ourselves.

If you want to be healthy and lose weight, exercise to your heart’s content. But the weight will never come off until you cut your calorie intake. I love to run, but I found that there was no amount of running that could make up for my love of pizza and pie. Sure, running made me feel good, but it didn’t take the weight off by itself. If I wanted to lose the weight, I had to say no to my appetite.

The same is true in your spiritual life. You can try to do lots of “good things” to help people. That’s wonderful, but until you cut out the bad stuff you’re doing too, your life will not improve. You can’t just perform your way into holiness. You have to cut out some things as well.

Just cutting out the bad without adding the good and you’ve got the legalism of the Pharisees. But doing the good without cutting out the bad, and you’ve got the homeless guy who gives his last swallow of whiskey to his friend. It’s nice, but in the end leads to both their destruction.

It takes both, and Christianity looks pretty ugly without saying “no” to self. Jesus himself said that we have to learn to “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” No shortcuts or workarounds will succeed until you realize this one fact:

No, you don’t get to have it your way. You don’t get everything you want. God’s not going to enable your obsession with yourself by spoiling you like Verruca Salt in Willie Wonka.

No, you can’t “have it now”. In fact, some things you can’t have at all. Ever.

But that’s okay.

Really, it is.

Only when we learn to say no to ourselves does the door open to all the really wonderful things in life: positive relationships, good jobs, happy families, friends that last, and best of all, spiritual maturity, etc.

I’m about to meet my family for supper. Yes, I’d like dessert—haven’t had any for a while. But I’m really enjoying my health and wearing this pair of pants I didn’t fit in five months ago.

So will I have a piece of pie, or wait until next Christmas Day to celebrate something really special?

I have only one word for you, and for me. And guess what? It’s a really short one…