Deny yourself

Today in seminary-class we spent some time on Mark 8:34, “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'”

The second half, and what follows, is the hard part. The whole “pick up a torture device that’ll be used on you” thing, plus the lose life-save-life, world-turned-upside-down pairings…that’s something to spend plenty of time squinting at before choosing to be a Christ-follower.

“Deny yourself,” though. That turns out to be the easy part, comparatively speaking. Because, as my prof pointed out, we do this all the time in our relationships. Spouse wants to see a movie; you don’t care one way or another about the movie; you go together because being together is its own gift. Or the whole “deny self” project that comprises thoughtful parenting…I tend to say, “Hypocrisy is the cornerstone of good parenting,” because it’s funny, but when I say “hypocrisy” I mean: do those things you don’t necessarily want to do because doing them gives your children concrete examples of how best to act, or blesses them in other ways. Eat half a plate of vegetables each night, and smile.

Then, as he’s riffing, my prof says: “You be who your child needs you to be.”

Which is much bigger. And more interesting.

This may be the part of parenting that I’d somehow already come to terms with before A&B that others seem to wrestle with mightily. Say you start with: I am a friendly person. I practice ‘live and let live.’ I do not think bedtime needs to be interpreted with rigor. There are many issues I’m unsure of, and willing to ignore because of that.

Then what? What happens next?

  • I tell 6-month-old A, “No!” and she bursts into tears. Friendly?
  • I observe how bedtimes and Baby play off each other, and see that when we keep the same (early) time the rest of our family’s life is sunnier. Sunshine is worth the cost; we leave parties so that we can get Baby to bed on (her) time. Our buddies think we’re strict bedtime people.
  • The dubious choices I made as a young adult came out okay in the end, but even at the time I saw how things could have gone Horribly Wrong for me. What I teach, as a parent, sits inside what I am confident will keep young persons both safe and independent, flourishing—though well inside what I chose for myself.

Even my abridged narrative from yesterday points back to being, at the time, who I felt my child needed me to be. When I snuggled in sympathy, she tended to cry harder, and longer, and dig her self-story of suffering deeper. When I snapped and crackled and popped, she gathered her energy to snap back, to move, to do. Which matched what my experience had taught me of that situation: moving and doing is the better option. If Mean Mom spurs that moving, so be it. Definitely not friendly. Doesn’t even look caring.

But my big picture isn’t about me, what I seem like, how others perceive me. (Though I much prefer to be liked and approved of!) Here’s my big picture. When I close my eyes, I see capable, content young persons in their middle twenties. Persons asking politely and assertively for work. Persons laughing with friends, able to connect and help out without being overwhelmed or bankrupted. What experiences cause these children to become these adults?

Dissolving into a puddle of ‘poor me, I’m doomed,’ is certainly not a behavior that aligns, so out it goes. Because there are other ways to be sad. Including dissolving into a puddle of ‘poor me’…then breathing deep and getting on with life.


You be who your child needs you to be. Even now, in its own way.

Now I get to show who I am as an integrated adult—someone who once was twenty, learned a lot of different things, and put that learning to use. Someone who points out how much she doesn’t have figured out, because she learned that figuring things out is largely optional…and mostly provisional, at that. Someone who respects others’ capabilities and thinking, age notwithstanding.

At some point, I’d like to be friends with all my kids the way I’ve become friends with my mother. Which is who I’m needing her to be, for now. Until the time when we have to set that aside.

May God be willing that that time not come, for her as well as for me, for I think that may be an even larger denial of self. For both of us.

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