Self-denial and self-love: a balancing act

Dave Canovas

Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Pexels.com

There are people who are “givers”. They are tireless, always looking out for others’ interests and wellbeing first before their very own. They hardly have time for themselves. They feel guilt when presented with moments when they can’t give any more. Most well-meaning parents are presented with this dilemma especially when balancing work and home life.

There are also people who are “takers”. These people find it hard to forego personal pleasure and interests. They are the impatient tailgaters and honkers during traffic. They “take” every opportunity to be ahead of others. They are constantly comparing themselves with others. They think world resources are dwindling thus feeling the need to accumulate material things while trampling upon others.

While the “giver” is seemingly altruistic, the “taker” lacks consideration for others and whose attitude borders on selfishness.

The giver needs to take a break and nurture self-love while the taker needs to learn self-denial and start making sacrifices for others. How? It is a fine balancing act requiring first, a stroll on the garden called the bible and second, a moment of searching and self-awareness.

We take a stroll in the garden called the bible. In Luke 9:23; we are reminded that “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Jesus Himself is the ultimate example of this pure, self-less, self-denying love for us. What about self-love? In Mark 12:31, it says, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. This verse never left the aspect of “love for oneself” out in the cold. To a certain degree, we are called to still love ourselves while loving others.

Self-awareness is another key to balancing self-denial and self-love. I have always admired the Maori concepts of wellbeing. It treats a person’s wellbeing as a whole, not as fragmented parts. One’s physical body (Tinana) is strongly related to one’s spiritual (Wairua) and emotional and mental (Hinengaro) wellbeing. These concepts constantly remind me to be more self-aware and for example, to rest when I am exhausted. I have found, time and again, that exerting your body to a helpless breaking point could lead to an emotional boiling point. In Mark 6:31, we are called to “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while. For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.”

In Proverbs 4:23, we are reminded, to keep our heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. For me, it means that we should never be afraid to say “no” when our cup is not full because we can only give when we are not empty. Therefore, we must not feel guilty of ever choosing to refill the cup, to pause, to sip from our own cup of coffee, to be alone, to take a breath, to have a break. We must not feel bad when sometimes, we decide not to give. It is because we just want to make sure that when we decide to give, we are really able to and are doing it freely, willingly and happily.

Self-love, I suppose, must precede self-denial. When you are less forgiving of others, it could be because you are less forgiving of yourself. When you unreasonably expect others to be perfect, it could be because, you yourself make no room for mistakes. When you find it hard to love others, it could be because you find it hard to love yourself. How we are towards others, is a reflection of how we are towards ourselves.

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