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When Self-Denial Destroys Relationships

by | Apr 13, 2020 | Articles, Emotional Abuse, Healing from Spiritual Abuse, Learning, Waking Up | 40 comments

Self-Denial Is Sometimes Self-Preservation

When my youngest daughter was six-years-old, she was compliant to the extreme. She never argued. She never disobeyed. If an older sibling asked for a toy, she gave it to them, no questions asked. If they put up a stink, she tried to appease them and make peace. She’d give them anything they wanted to ensure they were happy. She “died to herself” many times every single day. Everyone loved to play with her, and they told me why: “She lets me have my way. I love her.”

Some might have looked at her and thought, “Now there’s a godly little girl. Surrendering her rights and laying down her life, just like Jesus Christ.” And they would have been wrong. People tend to believe in what they can see and measure. This is why Pharisaism is so prevalent. But it’s the heart of the matter that God is most interested in, because He loves our hearts.

What she did was not spiritual. And what she did was not healthy for herself OR for the ones around her. In reality, what she was doing was self-preserving. It was rooted in her belief that the way to get love and affection is to give everyone around her whatever they wanted. It was rooted in fear. It’s one of the instinctive strategies some children employ to protect themselves, and it’s understandable. But we want to teach our children a better way of protecting themselves so they can grow up and navigate relationships without co-dependence.

Is Self-Denial Biblical?

Is it biblical to meet our own needs? And if so, which of our needs do we meet? And how do we know when our needs have been sufficiently met so that we can now do a bit of Dying-to-Self to meet someone else’s needs? Where do we draw these lines? And can’t we just look at what everyone else around us is doing—and draw our lines the same as theirs? What if we draw our lines in places that bring on disapproving looks and comments from other people? What if our lines cause discomfort and insurrections?

AAAWK. Are we all wringing our hands in confusion and despair yet? This is why there is so much anxiety and fear in Christian circles about where our responsibility starts and ends. And this is why there is so much coercion and control instead of love and freedom and safe space to learn and grow up.

By the way, that six-year-old girl is now twelve, and she is amazeballs. She is still kind and sweet and generous, but she also has awesome boundaries. She says “no” when she doesn’t like something or doesn’t want to do something. And when the other person has a cow, she goes into another room and reads a book. She knows their cow is their problem and has nothing to do with her. At the same time she remains very loving and kind and respectful and generous. But she doesn’t let anyone control her life. She takes responsibility for controlling her own life, and she lets others control theirs.

What Does the Bible Say About Self-Denial?

We’ll start with what the Creator says about this concept of dying to ourselves – and what it means and what it doesn’t mean to die.

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:24

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6:11

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have put to death their human nature, with all its passions and desires.” Galatians 5:24

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Matthew 8:34-35

When I read verses like these, I see that God is using analogies to describe salvation. The seed dies in order to be raised to new life. We consider ourselves dead to sin so that we can live in Christ. We naturally have passions and desires, but we deny ourselves, or lose our lives (giving up those passions and desires) and actually exchange them for something greater: Christ and the gospel.

In other words, God is trying to tell us that we have a golden opportunity to give up our plastic baubles for a diamond necklace.  Sort of a no-brainer from God’s perspective.

These verses are not saying that we need to cater to the wishes of every person around us. They are not saying we have to serve until we drop dead from burn-out and exhaustion. They are not saying that we have to meet every need that prances in front of us. They are not saying that if a job needs doing, it’s our responsibility to do it. Period. (The folks who tell you that’s what these verses mean are only telling you that because they want you to cater to THEM, serve THEM, do THEIR jobs, and take THEIR responsibilities. They are using the Bible to manipulate you in order to get their own needs met. God has a better way for them to get our needs met.)

These verses are not talking so much about death as they are about LIFE. LIFE. LIFE. God’s plan for you and me is not DEATH, sisters! Isn’t that good news? He isn’t up there with a frown on His face because you didn’t do enough today. He doesn’t look at your kitchen or your toilet and wonder what you did all day that you wouldn’t be able to get it cleaned up to His standards.

God is not like us. And we aren’t God. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I have to learn that lesson over and over again. The older I get, the more I am finding true freedom and rest in my gracious, encouraging, kind, Heavenly Father.

Self-Denial Doesn’t Mean Self-Ignorance

Self denial means knowing only Christ, no longer knowing oneself…only when we have really forgotten ourselves completely, when we really no longer know ourselves, only then are we ready to take up the cross for His sake…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

At first blush this sounds like lovely, holy, lofty, spiritual advice. You can almost hear the angels bursting into song. But think about it. We aren’t supposed to know ourselves? We can only take up our cross for His sake if we aren’t self-aware? If we are oblivious to ourselves?

I have hundreds of quotes like that in stacks of journals written by respected, famous, godly human beings.  I’m just a small, unknown housewife. Why, I’m not even a pastor’s or missionary’s wife. I’m a nobody. So I would take these quotes as if they were the Word of God. They aren’t. Some of them are taking God’s Word to extremes, but, after all, if it was good enough for Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Fenelon or Oswald Chambers, it had to be good enough for a no-account like me.

If obeying God’s Word was good, then taking it to the nth degree would be even better, right? That would for sure ensure that I was on the right track, pleasing my Heavenly Father via all the authorities in my life. (I got that bit of wisdom from Bill Gothard – a molester of young women.)

Pathological Self-Denial in Real Life

This meant that every time I was in a situation with another person and there were needs on both sides, I was expected to set mine aside to meet the needs of the other person. Every single time. That was the Christian thing to do. Never mind that the other person was also a Christian. The mature one gave way (and I wanted to be the mature one), plus I desperately sought to please God, grow more Christ-like, and help others to grow. (Of course, it never crossed my mind that if I made someone uncomfortable by my refusing to give them their way – they might be forced to – well – grow up too, and that would be a good thing in a few cases.)

This plays out in a million different ways.

Scenario One

Let’s say you just had a baby, and you’re also recovering from four months of bed rest. Your body is weak, you’re getting very little sleep at night, your toddlers need you, your husband needs you, and now the in-laws need you to travel three hours away to visit them. They don’t want to come visit you. Inconvenient. They want your family to drive to their place and stay for as long as possible. Let’s say your husband wants to go, too. Let’s say everyone wants this to happen, not once, but several times in the next three months. Let’s say the onus is on you to make this recurring event happen in order to keep everyone placated.

So, knowing it is your duty as a woman and a Christian to cater to the needs of everyone around you, you gut it out, pack everyone’s suitcases, make sure you have all the extra stuff you need to take care of a nursing baby, your postpartum body, and two toddlers for three days. You might feel despairing. You might feel alone. You might feel angry. But it is your Christian duty to die to your desires and fulfill the desires of your husband, in-laws, and children, so you grit your teeth and “pick up your cross.”

Alternatively, you could kindly inform your husband and in-laws that while you would love to visit with them, and they are welcome to come to your home for a visit, this isn’t a good season in your life to make a trip. If they express disapproval of your decision, you can let them know you don’t enjoy disappointing them this time, but that you will look forward to making a trip in the future when you are in better health and your baby is older. You can also remind them of their other options; namely, that they can come for a visit, or perhaps your husband would like to make the trip without you and the baby.

If they are still expressing disapproval, look at it as an opportunity to learn how to tolerate the disapproval of others. This takes inner strength and character. It’s uncomfortable, but you grow stronger for it. Sort of like exercising. Also, they get the beautiful opportunity of learning how to manage their own thoughts and feelings. And if they don’t, well, that’s not your responsibility.

Do you see how this response is honoring to others and to yourself? It is not a sin to say “no.” When others are upset, it doesn’t always follow that you have sinned against them or God. Also, this alternative response enables you to be free from anger and frustration.

Scenario Two

Let’s say you have a friend. She is outspoken about her needs and desires. You tend to go along with what this person wants to do when you get together. You’ve tried suggesting other ideas, but this person always seems to have a persuasive argument for why your ideas are not desirable at that time. You want to put the interests of others ahead of your own, but because you know the meek inherit the earth, you meekly give in each time you get together.

She monopolizes the conversation and also expects you to pick up the tab most of the time. But this is your duty as a Mature Christian. To pick up your cross along with that tab, die to yourself, and be a cheerful giver. You know God loves you when you do this.

Alternatively, you could be honest with your friend and let her know that you’ll no longer be picking up the tab when you go out. If you want to go out somewhere that she is not interested in, then tell her it’s not a problem. You’ll find someone else to go with. If she wants to go somewhere you don’t want to go, it is OK to say, “No thanks.” If she is upset, you haven’t sinned. Learn to tolerate her disapproval. This doesn’t mean you never compromise. It just means you share that burden with her. If she is truly a friend, she will respect that. If she’s not, then you’ll know you both need to find a better friend-match.

Scenario Three

Let’s say you have a relative who is never wrong. In 99.9% of your conflicts with this person, it turns out that you were mistaken. You misunderstood the situation. You judged unfairly. You made wrong assumptions. You maybe even fabricated entire conversations in your head, according to this relative. But whatever the case may be – you are the one to blame, while the other person is an innocent victim of your insanity. Never mind that this is only the case with this one relationship. We could call this Selective Insanity, and you’ve got a bad case of it.

So knowing that a Godly Woman will be the wind beneath everyone’s wings, and realizing that you are a sinner too, and you can get pretty angry with this person sometimes. And being convicted (and guilt ridden) that anger is a sin, and as far as you are able, you must be at peace with all men, and you definitely don’t feel at peace with this person unless you’ve reassured them that it is, indeed, NOT their responsibility to take responsibility for their sin – but it is YOUR responsibility to take responsibility for their sin AND your sin. Being convicted and realizing and knowing all these things (deep breath), whenever you have a conflict with this person, the only way to resolve it in a Christ-like fashion is to go to them, take full responsibility for all responsibilities and beg for forgiveness, hoping that they will graciously bestow it upon you so you can once again be in good standing with God and man.

Alternatively, when you have a conflict with this person and they are placing all the blame, once again, on your shoulders, you can let them know that you are disappointed that you’re unable to have an adult conversation that resolves the issue. It takes two people to create a conflict, and it takes two people working together to resolve a conflict. Take responsibility for your end of things, but that’s all you can do. If the other person lays more responsibility on you than is true of the situation, there isn’t a whole lot you can do. Leave it with God who is the Just Judge. The Bible says in Romans 12, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” I used to think it said, “Because it is all up to you, you must live peaceably with all.” See? Even God knows it is not possible to live peaceably with all.

Is this resonating with anyone out there?

Teaching Our Children the Truth About Self-Denial

What are we teaching our daughters? That they are only good for what they do? For how they keep everyone around them happy? That their purpose in life is to be someone’s blow up doll? That they won’t be loved or accepted or admired unless they are meeting everyone’s needs?

When I see my kids catering to another sibling’s selfish demands, I try to nip it in the bud. I tell them both that there is a time to give and a time to take. That there is a time to let others take a turn and a time to say “No, I’m going to take a turn now. If you don’t like it, you can leave.” There is a time to say, “I don’t want to play with you anymore. You want your own way the whole time. That isn’t right. Sometimes you need to let others take a turn. If you want to play right, I’d love to keep playing, otherwise, I’m leaving.”

This video powerfully illustrates the graciousness of God juxtaposed with our belief that we have to work to win His love and approval. It set me free in many ways.

“I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ—and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled though all your being with God himself!” Ephesians 3:18-19

Heavenly Identity from The Branch Corvallis on Vimeo

Fly Free,

Natalie Hoffman

40 Comments

  1. Kristen

    I needed this today. I felt it was necessary to break off my engagement with my fiance several weeks ago and he has not taken the breakup well. Today I went over to his apartment to deliver something of his, and even after telling him I wanted no physical contact he tried to kiss me. When I resisted, he persisted. When I tried to escape, sobbing, he stood in my way and tried to prevent me from leaving.

    It has been hard enough on me with the guilt of knowing I will not be there for this man and all of the various family members that he helps (he’s raising an autistic 5-year old grandson, in addition to providing many other services for numerous others; I always felt sucked in which was just one reason that I split from him). The straw that broke the camel’s back was him treating me, my body, as if I had NO control over it and couldn’t say “NO”. I already had said no, and he was NOT respecting my boundaries.

    I have changed my phone number and plan to have no further contact with this person I thought I knew.

    I hope we all can take Natalie’s advice.

    Fly free everyone.

    Reply
  2. Kim Erisman

    This was completely on point with where I am at right now. I have always “earned” other people’s approval and love, and was taught that as a Christian, all of my needs were selfish. These tendencies also go right along with being a 2 on the enneagram. Slowly slowly slowly unraveling these lies about my needs and other’s needs and which are “Christian” responses. Even Jesus disappointed people. I have started to disppoint people. I’m still struggling with the discomfort of their manipulations and guilt-trips. The anecdote about the new baby and travel and the husband and mother-in-law are ripped straight from my life. Thanks for this post!

    Reply
  3. Deb

    I cried over this post. I cried because for over twenty years, I lived this self denial to the extreme and it cost me my health and ultimately my marriage as my husband felt free to do as he pleased which for him meant sleeping with prostitutes and having a full blown 2 year affair. This is what I was taught for years, it was always my job to set aside my needs for the sake of everyone else. Take responsibility for everything, including my huaband’ s sins. I am broken and angry. I wish I had known that God didnt expect all of that from me.

    Reply
  4. Jimmie

    I’m so glad you shared this older article via email! I love it! This was one of the hardest mindset shifts for me to make in my Christian walk. This lie that I had to die to self and put others first (always, no matter what) gave my ex full reign to abuse me. IT’S A LIE. This is also how the church manipulates people. Thank you for standing in the truth and bringing reason and light to these lies.

    Reply
  5. mary

    I had an experience where a pastor told me that a song God gave me wasn’t from God and the name of it was focus on Jesus!

    Church people can be the most judgmental and expect us to fit into their mold, I get what you are saying.

    I get a lot out of your posts. All we are trying to do is be who God created us to be. People l!easing sucks. As soon as you don’t please, you’re no good.

    Reply
  6. Leanne

    Great post, and thank you. I lived thru a version of #1 after baby #3 was born (only I had to host a large family get-together) and #3 was my marriage. I still struggle with this same issue even tho I’ve been on my out of that abusive marriage for over 10 years now. I ended up with fibromyalgia and have both physical and mental limits for how much I can do each day, but I still feel soooo guilty if I spend “too much” time reading or otherwise relaxing after I’ve reached those limits because I feel selfish for having so much “me” time – despite knowing that if I push my limits too far then I will spend several days recovering and being able to do less. Sigh. About 2 weeks ago I finally realized that how hard I was being on myself for necessary down time was making my health issues worse, not better, and I’ve given myself more grace. Your post today will help me with some of those Wemmick voices I still have going in my head all too often!!

    Reply
  7. Helena Lovejoy

    We all get so screwed up by being taught to ask “What is the Christian thing to do?” rather than to ask “What is Christ doing right now?” as if Christianity is a set of behaviors rather than a living person whose Life is in us.

    It is impossible to “die to self”when you have no self to begin with. So many Christian women have no self because of abuse and false teachings. I’ve tossed out the die to self thing finally because it is so mistaught. I love how you have explained it.

    Reply
  8. Glad to be His Daughter

    I found your blog through your IEW (love their stuff) review.
    I really needed to read this. Having been abused as a child (which is the ultimate lack of boundaries), I am so much more prone to this wrong thinking. The Lord has been so good to take me through this, holding my hand and healing me of PTSD. And having an unsaved spouse- I got saved a few years after we were married- adds a whole other layer of trouble.
    I have come to similar conclusions as you have said here, having been hurt deeply through various homeschool “ministries” (not all….there are some out there who truly have God’s heart). It makes me want to scream sometimes….these people condescendingly “ministering” to others as if they know what’s best for all people at all times. Doesn’t it say in the bible that not many should be teachers since they will be judged more harshly?
    We also left a very legalistic church- very focused on purity of doctrine, but I’d always seem to forget about Jesus while we were there….as one of my daughters put it “I had forgotten that Jesus loves me”. Ouch. I had forgotten that too….It’s not a set of rules to follow. Jesus loves me and actually likes me…not that I’m perfect and I still mess up, but He still loves me the way I love my children when they mess up.
    Earlier this year, I quit following all these various “ministries” and went back to the simplicity of the Gospel and what it ACTUALLY teaches. We are to follow HIM not other Christians. It has been so liberating and freeing. I study on my own in the morning, then for homeschool, my children and I all study together…just the Bible, not anyone else bible study or opinion on it.

    Reply
    • Natalie Klejwa

      “Jesus loves me and actually likes me.” I love that. Thank you for sharing.

      Reply
      • Ann

        I needed this. I attend a church that tends to see women as 1. the spiritual keeper of the home 2.unable to quote Scripture without getting it right (i.e. Eve) 3. constant reminder of how we ruined the Garden of Eden ( just to name a few of the things I’ve heard from the pulpit.) My husband has blamed me for everything that has or will go wrong in his life. He sometimes says the most hateful, vile things that any person can say. He tells me that I’m the reason he gets so angry and pushes or verbally abuses me. I’ve felt that he was like this because I wasn’t doing my part to be a Christian wife. Inside I know that isn’t true, but when you’re told that so many times it tends to wear you down. I’m so tired of holding all the guilt of everything that goes wrong in my home. I cry out to God, but sometimes I want someone to physically stand before me and tell me I’m not crazy. I’ve endured so much that I KNOW the Lord has kept me. When I read your post, it confirmed that it is okay to not allow others to constantly shift blame.

        Reply
        • Glad to Be His Daughter

          Ann- I will echo that you are NOT crazy.
          I’ve been there where you are, and I know how much it hurts. I can tell you to keep on trusting the Lord, and stay even closer to HIM alone, despite those awful things you are hearing from the pulpit. Your situation is not too difficult for Jesus Christ. He totally changed my husband’s heart in this area, and he’s not even a believer!
          Remember that as believers we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). Use this verse to combat those lies and stand firm with who you are in Christ!
          Praying for you

          Reply
  9. Natalie Klejwa

    I think you are onto something when you mention motive and confusion. I know I’ve often THOUGHT I was doing something for God – but in reality, I was doing it to keep peace or to win approval. One of the exciting things I’ve learned recently is that because God loves me and made me unique and special (regardless of what others communicate to me), I can accept myself, take care of myself, and give myself some breathing room. It isn’t selfish to do that. We say if someone kills themselves, it’s murder. But if they love themselves and take care of themselves – it’s selfish. You can’t have it both ways. God says to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. That’s not saying much if we don’t care for ourselves. ๐Ÿ™‚ Just to reiterate for other readers though, I am not saying we live for ourselves and throw everything else to the wind. There’s a balance we need to strike. Women have a hard time striking it.

    Reply
  10. Michelle

    Love what you have to say! I am married to a pleaser – especially when it comes to his family. We fight over how holidays are handled every year & it is really causing problems in our marriage. We live close to both of our families & both expect us to be at their houses on every holiday – leaving very little time to spend with us (my husband & children). We spend the whole day on the road. I argue that we need our family time & that we need to see them on another day – but DH tells me I am being selfish – that it is not all about me – it is about others. I should be fine to do my holidays with my young children on a different day (other than the holiday) – since that is what I expect his family to do (his family is quite large, some of his siblings are even grandparents). I don’t feel I am being selfish – but maybe I am? I don’t get along with his family. He has talked with his siblings about changing things up & no one else is interested. Your post gives me hope that – maybe I am not as selfish as he claims me to be. ? Thank you!

    Reply
  11. Joanne

    As I read your post I was politely nodding in agreement until I got to scenario #3. It took the breath out of me. I quite literally thought that I would heave. Thankfully this type of relationship isn’t with my husband, but it is with a close family member with whom it would be near impossible to break all ties. I’ve set and stuck with a few boundaries even though it costs me dearly to do so, but I have to be okay with it. I’m, as you say, learning to tolerate the disapproval of others. It hurts deeply but the burden of false guilt is one that I can no longer bear, not that I ever could.

    So even though I am cautious about this series (I resist the swing of the pendulum because I have experienced its deadly result), I have already been affected. Deeply. It was a gulp of pure, clean, honest air.

    Reply
    • Natalie Klejwa

      Yes, false guilt is a killer. I think a lot of people know or have known someone like that, and sometimes you can’t get away! I’m learning to build my “core” – basically get strong inside so I can tolerate the ongoing disapproval and emotional manipulation. It is a rocky, seemingly never-ending journey, but I think a lot of women are on that road with someone in their lives. We aren’t alone. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
      • Joanne

        I’m glad we aren’t alone, but it is a sad commentary on the human experience that there are so many diseased relationships, especially in the church.

        Reply
  12. Anne

    Dear Sister Natalie,

    Thank you for your heart to expose even “little” lies that add or subtract from God’s precious, beautiful, holy, Word!

    This reminded me that God has given us all things we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), and Jesus, the Word of God made flesh (John 1:14), came to bring us life more abundantly (John 10:10). The way I understand, when I die to myself and live for Christ, then I see my things on earth (physical body, family, relationships, possessions, talents) as gifts from him to steward. So I take care of my body not for myself, but for Him, by resting after baby comes! I take a stand against activities that don’t help to accomplish God’s desire for me to raise a Godly seed. I give up my passion for sewing when God desires me to serve my family. I take up my passion for sewing when it gives me the refreshment I need to serve God by serving my family. We even see that God gently leads those with young (Isaiah 40:11) so His word tells me that pressure to do otherwise is not from Him.

    Our love for Jesus Christ (as shown by our obedience to His Word) must overshadow our love for our husband, children, and other family and friends. But in reality, whether we love others from duty (likely with boundaries) or devotion, Christ’s love in us will bring Him the glory of fruit in their lives and ours. Yes, doing what others want you to do is not always Christ’s best for them.

    I would humbly serve (but not enable) a friend or family member if God showed me this was accomplishing His purpose as shown in His Word (for example a difficult child or mate — I wouldn’t ignore a rebellious younger child or divorce a selfish mate). However, if a family member’s or friend’s selfishness was preventing me from my higher priorities before God as shown in His Word, I would set cheerful, firm boundaries that invited them to have a peaceful relationship. In Ephesians 1:8 God promises to give His true believers wisdom and prudence (taking careful initiative to fulfill a God-given direction).

    May God bless you, Natalie, and all of us as we seek to live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord and to expose the big AND little lies that hide His glory. Psalm 16:8 I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

    Reply
    • Natalie Klejwa

      Wise words. Not always easy to put into practice with difficult people, but wise isn’t always easy. And I just finished writing a post about the idea of stewardship! So we’re tracking with each other! ๐Ÿ™‚ Love Psalm 16:8 too…

      Reply
  13. Kim

    This is really good and I’m having to chew on it for a bit before I can really take it all in. I’m a first-born Type-A get’er done people pleaser and on top of that am a first-generation Christian (saved 12 yrs ago). So this Christian parenting thing has to work out right!! ๐Ÿ˜‰ I find myself frequently living under a cloud of condemnation for not doing enough, being enough, serving enough, witnessing enough, etc. so much so that I’m never sure if God is displeased with me or not. But I’m finding myself torn between feeling relieved by reading your blog post (and the in-laws scenario hit too close to home for me as I have three children and just had my 3rd baby almost 3 months ago and still feel like I’m in recovery mode!) and recalling other Bible verses about considering others better than myself, that Christ died so I wouldn’t live for myself, for even Christ did not please Himself, that we are to please/honor our neighbor, etc. Where is the line drawn? I do know that I need to study this more and study the verses I mentioned in context as well. But maybe this will be touched on as part of your series too? Thanks for broaching this much-needed topic!

    Reply
  14. Lisa

    I love this, and can relate!

    Reply
  15. Jennifer

    I was so excited when I read this article this morning! And I am so excited to read more!

    I grew up, truly believing that to be a good girl/woman/wife/friend/daughter of God (and all of the above at the same time of course!) I was to deny myself. Deny everything. Don’t have an opinion or a need – to anyone or for anything. Even if it was innocent or a true bodily need (going to the bathroom for instance). I became so anxious and unhealthy…and of course, for me, the only way to get healthy was to leave all that (including God) behind for awhile.

    Luckily, I never really left God (or really, thank God he really never left me) but I unfortunately, had to learn about taking care of myself to serve God from places other than any form of Christianity. Recently I am finding more support and more resources within Christianity but I wonder how many women feel pushed out like there is no room for them due to the messages and wording, not properly understood or explained.

    I find that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to this as denying myself is so ingrained that it is the easiest habit for me to keep. There was much struggle when I went out on my own and still five years into my marriage, long gone from my home and religion of origin. It is awful the way some people are treated when they know best how to care for themselves and others and are only treated like dirt for doing so.

    I am grateful that I have been able to see and understand to come back into the fold and see the deception for what it is and find the scripture to support myself in taking care of myself and my family so we can serve God. It is not easy though. Like most worthy things – they are simple but not easy.

    My prayers and heart go out to you Megyn and to all of us who are struggling with this.

    Reply
    • Natalie Klejwa

      It is tragic that so many women, like yourself, have struggled in the past or are still struggling with trusting the True God because of the faulty or even false teachings of Wemmicks. I’m so glad you are now able to distinguish the difference. It is vast.

      Reply
  16. Jennifer at Purposeful Nutrition and The Entwife's Journal

    great article. I think this series is very needed by Christian women.
    I am wrestling some with this as I am now caring for my MIL, who is a wonderful woman by the way, but very physically dependent. And I am homeschooling 4 children and helping run 2 businesses and trying to blog. It is so difficult to sort through what and where to put my time in this kind of situation. For now I believe we are to care for my MIL but I am also aware that at some point it could be clear that she needs to be at a nursing home. Praying that God is clear about that if He directs that way at some point. It is not easy.

    Reply
    • Anne

      Blessings to you fellow sisters caring for grandparents.

      I’m in a similar situation homeschooling four, major chronic fatigue, MiL on property, and having to set aside school for awhile. I have to keep Christ before me and not let the sin of other adults destroy God’s desire for me to be a faithful helpmeet and to raise a Godly seed. I’ve gone through much suffering, and our family has been greatly strained, but so far I see the suffering bringing fruits of righteousness. I believe grandparents should be taken care of by their family. However, I don’t think it is prudent to say “never” to a facility (nursing home, assisted living, or best of all an adult family home.)

      A good read about taking care of grandparents is Elizabeth Hugo’s “Life Lessons from my Papa.” A good read about growing in the Lord and suffering from in-laws and health issues is “Stepping Heavenward” by E Prentice (19th century fiction) — Google for free downloads (Librivox has two recordings).

      PS: Maybe the grey hairs are a badge of honor from the Lord as He is perfecting you. Proverbs 16:31

      Reply
  17. Michelle @ Arrows and Olives

    Ooh, I’m loving this series.

    It really all comes down to personal boundaries, doesn’t it? God gave us boundaries, and they are a good thing. We can teach people how to treat us by the boundaries we put in place. Sometimes it’s very hard to do, but so worth it. It’s been a lifelong learning process for me. I’ve had to learn that I can’t control how others respond to my personal boundaries, but if they value a relationship with me, they will recognize those and respect them.

    I highly recommend the book BOUNDARIES by Dr. Henry Cloud. He’s a Christian man, and this book radically changed several unhealthy dynamics in my life. Namely, the way I allowed my parents to treat me and interact with me as I was an adult. It was incredibly unhealthy. Dr. Cloud’s book BOUNDARIES IN MARRIAGE is good too.

    Such a great topic you’ve picked, Natalie. I’m excited to see what comes next!

    Reply
  18. Sara K

    I feel like new life is being breathed into me! So many times I have been down this line of thinking — that taking God’s Word to the nth degree must be even better, “ensuring” that I am on the right track with God. But I can see how I’ve missed the true purpose of those verses, where you pointed out that the focus of those verses isn’t so much about death, but LIFE! LIFE! LIFE!

    I would love to dig into how this plays out in regard to how a mom spends her time. I struggle with how much time (if any) is “OK” for me to pursue things that bring me pleasure or refreshment (reading a novel, taking a class, etc.) — because I usually fall back into the camp of “denying yourself” as if pleasure or comfort or relaxing is bad, or detracts from your family’s needs. (I can really go into the ditches on this topic!) But when a mom (such as myself) starts to feel bitterness within, while she’s attempting to be so lofty and holy in her serving, doesn’t that sort of negate the blessings of dying to self anyway?? I will say, however, that experience has shown me that if I’m needing peace and refreshment, I will not find it by distracting myself on the computer!

    I also appreciate how you highlighted that just because someone else is upset or disapproving of your decisions doesn’t mean you’ve sinned. I know learning to tolerate the disapproval of others would be so freeing for me. I reckon it ultimately comes down to talking with God about it and being “OK” with Him and His perspectives/purposes on these decisions, eh?

    Thanks for speaking the truth in love, Natalie!

    Reply
    • Natalie Klejwa

      You’ve brought up something most moms struggle with. I’d like to write about that one in the near future, actually. Thank you for suggesting it!

      Reply
    • Rebecca

      I can definitely relate to the “pleasure/relaxing is a reason to feel guilty” type feelings and what you describe. I don’t have anyone who forces me to neglect myself – in fact, my husband loves it when I actually communicate my needs! – but I am often riddled with guilt over asking someone to do something for me (even simple): taking care of my kids for an hour so I can get coffee and breath; go grocery shopping for me when I’m sick; running an errand for me because I’m out of time; having a messy house when my husband comes home because I and the kids needed an afternoon nap; etc. While I can definitely see where Natalie’s article hits home, I can honestly say that I think I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to knowing when to die to self and when to know myself – not someone else!

      Reply
      • Sara K

        Agreed!

        Reply
  19. Gertrude

    What a great post, Natalie! I find myself to be such a people-pleaser, especially when it comes to my MIL. She is a VERY dominant person, and I used to think that because she was my MIL AND a Christian, God was automatically on her side. I had absolutely zero backbone. Now, after several years of marriage, I’m finally learning that no matter what I do I can’t make her happy, so why am I trying so hard??? I’ve had to accept the fact that our relationship will never look like a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. There is so much freedom in being myself, though I still struggle with being firm. She knows how to cut me to the quick, and it’s hard to remember that I have a spine sometimes, lol! As a side note, I’ve also had to learn that it places my husband in an awkward position when I speak ill of his mother, and I’ve had to learn to be a big girl and not go to him with every trifle. Maybe these lessons come more clearly into focus as we approach 40!

    Reply
  20. Lisa Whitehead

    I am so glad to hear you teaching what is biblical.
    There are so many things we seem to get taught by ‘church’ that are not realistic of what the bible is teaching.
    I am so grateful for the mistakes I have made that God has used to show me what He REALLY says in His word.
    It amazes me how so many people do not know how to say no, or that they need to. Just because something is ‘good’ to do, does not mean it has to be you that does it.
    I pray for a new realisation of God’s Word, based on what he says and not the bias I have been taught.

    Reply
  21. Lisa Suit

    Thank you a million times over for this post! I am SUCH a people pleaser, and have always felt like I needed to be to be like Jesus. Your words are opening my eyes and helping to bring me to freedom!

    Reply
  22. Tami

    Excellent! Thank you Natalie for speaking truth that is just reinforcing what I am learning about living my life for Christ, not man. I do think that Boenhoeffer meant that when we live for Christ, we will not live for the approval of man, but for His approval. That dying to self doesnโ€™t mean we become a doormat or have no say in our life, but that we are able to discern how to love those around us and know what God would have us to do. Sometimes loving others means we say no or refuse to do what would further perpetuate sin. Jesus had boundaries and spoke hard truths to others; yet he did ultimately give up all his rights for us. He was not a weak and people pleasing man; he did the will of God.

    Oh that I have so much to grow in! So glad you are part of my life, Natalie!!!!

    Reply
  23. Amie

    You’ve got me rethinking my response to a one way family relationship that has me exhausted. I get tired of trying and trying and hoping only to hear how happy this person is in their life that doesn’t really include us. I don’t know how this will all wash out as I will continue to pray and look at it from the scriptures, but I feel a little lighter thinking about what is my reasonable duty to honor and what goes beyond. Oh, and I didn’t get the chance to comment a while ago, but I was trained in family therapy with Transforming the Difficult Child so, of course I used it at home, and I think it helped my oldest a lot with anger. Praying that your therapy choices will bring peace to your family.

    Reply
  24. Megyn

    I have so needed to hear something like this. It recently came to my attention that my MIL was extremely hurt and angry when we had our first baby a year ago. I delivered at home, and explained to the in-laws ahead of time that we would keep them updated throughout labor and as soon as the baby arrived, and then as soon as I was ready, they could head over to the house to meet the baby. Anyone who’s had a baby knows what it’s like immediately following delivery…bloody and messy, but also a very sweet time of bonding, learning to breastfeed, etc – for me, a very private experience. Once I was cleaned up sufficiently, had initiated breastfeeding and had some skin-to-skin time (roughly an hour and a half later) we called them to come over, excited for them to meet their first grand baby. Well, apparently we committed some kind of crime, not allowing my MIL to come over immediately when the baby was born. She was livid that we made her wait. So I have really been wrestling with the question of whether or not *I* was being selfish. When I think about having future babies, is it the mature, selfless, “Christian” thing to do to let her come over right away, despite the fact that it makes me intensely uncomfortable? She made sure I knew I could ask her for help in the days following….how can I communicate that all I really want is privacy? And is it selfish of me to want that? How do I balance the intense feelings (both emotional and physical) in the postpartum period with the fact that everyone wants to come over and meet the baby? Do close relatives have some kind of unwritten “rights” when a new baby is born, that a new mom is required to bend to? Sorry for the long story, but I’ve been desperate for another perspective on this.

    Reply
    • Natalie Klejwa

      Megyn, it grieves me to hear your story. This is exactly the kind of thing I am talking about. It is not selfish to have a baby when your body chooses to kick into labor – and then to desire to recover and bond in private with your husband and child. It is selfish for an outsider (yes, your extended family are outsiders) to demand to intrude on that intimate time. The one who ought to be feeling shame is NOT you.

      You will need to do what you are most comfortable with, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with kindly letting others know that you won’t be taking visitors for a few days after your babies are born. You’ll let them know when you and baby are ready. Alternatively, you could ask your husband to stand up for you with his mother. That would be ideal; but if he won’t, you’ll have to stand up to her on your own. (Be strong!)

      I think your post partum emotions/experiences are quite common. God wired women to be this way because He knows it is best for us to nestle in, bond, and heal. Others need to respect that. If they don’t, then they will need to do some growing up. And that, my friend, isn’t your problem.

      Just FYI – I dislike visitors after I have a baby. After the first couple of babies, I told my friends, “Please stay away.” And they honor my request. My MIL is not in the picture, and my mom is very non-intrusive – so it’s never been an issue with them. I’m only telling you this so you know your feelings on this issue are normal. Your MIL’s response is not.

      Reply
      • Megyn

        Your affirmation is very encouraging – thank you! Thankfully, my husband is very supportive of my needs and feelings, first and foremost. My MIL is normally a very kind, considerate person, making her uncharacteristic response to this situation all the more confusing. I feel so much more encouraged to do what I feel is best for myself and baby the next time around, even if it’s hard to say ‘no’.

        Reply

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