“The whole point about St. Francis of Assisi is that he certainly was ascetical and he certainly was not gloomy… There was nothing negative about it; it was not a regimen or a stoical simplicity of life. It was not self-denial merely in the sense of self-control. It was as positive as a passion; it had all the air of being as positive as a pleasure. He devoured fasting as a man devours food. He plunged after poverty as men have dug madly for gold.” - G.K. Chesterton
Instant gratification is an easy goal. It’s obvious that many good things require time, effort and strain, and yet everyone feels the allure of prompt satisfaction that sidesteps the struggle. The solution is looking to the long-term by cultivating a vision that sees deeper joy beyond pain. Working out, reading books, eating well and studying are all difficult activities, but they are worth persevering through for the benefits of a healthier life and an engaged mind. Similarly, spending time in the Word, praying, fasting and serving are all necessary for the goal of becoming more sanctified. We deny ourselves in the present so that we may become holier versions of ourselves in the future, and thus delayed gratification is equated to self-denial.
What if, however, we have oversimplified our critique of instant gratification? What if our mindset requires a more radical shift than simply delaying gratification? Chesterton notes that Francis of Assisi was a joyful ascetic. He did not brace himself for years of self-denial so that he would receive some extra allotment of joy at the end. Instead, Francis found that the denial was joyful; it was a reward in and of itself.
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Mat. 16:24-25). The primary focus of this verse is denying self in light of eternal salvation, a form of delayed gratification. But Jesus also speaks with a degree of immediacy: one can find life in the very act of losing it. There actually is true joy in denying oneself.
Self-denial and other spiritual practices do not have to be solemn duties undertaken solely for the hope of future reward. We were made to be in relationship with God, so anything that brings us into deeper relationship can be joyful.
Lord, help me to take joy in denying my selfish desires. Cultivate my desires so that I find joy in deeper intimacy with You and am not satisfied with trivial things.
Passage for Further Reading:
2 Timothy 4:1-8
About the Author:
Andrew Warren is a senior from Lookout Mountain, GA double majoring in History & Economics at Vanderbilt. Other than serving as Editor-in-Chief of Synesis, he is involved with Navigators and BYX and has worked at the university library for most of college.