A few years ago, I was struggling with myself. I felt like I was hungry…hungry in my heart…a desire to be wanted, to be needed, to be longed. There was an emptiness that I was feeling within me that I couldn’t shrug off…and it consumed me. So I did what I knew how to do…
I prayed to figure out why I was feeling this way. I prayed to understand what I was supposed to get out of this internal dilemma. I prayed…to have this emptiness removed from my heart, to have the temptations that prowled around me removed. I prayed…because I felt spiritually weak, that I couldn’t fight this internal fight on my own.
And an answer came to me. A verse from the Bible:
“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” –(Matthew 16:24)
Somehow, a part of this verse struck me: Let him deny himself, and take up his cross…
Here I was, focusing on myself: my wants, my needs, my satisfaction, my….my….my! And this scripture was telling me, “You know, if you want to follow the Lord, you have to deny yourself, do the hard thing…whatever it is that you have to give up that’s all about you.” It was as if the Lord was chastising me for focusing on myself too much. If there was anything I had to give up, it was Me.
And that was hard!
But…I eventually yielded to this thought. My pride…my ego…my Self…was difficult to swallow. And as I did, I slowly learned what it means to truly Love: it is to focus on others and care about others while forgetting yourself.
I know that this world emphasizes a lot on “Me time” and “self-esteem”. Unfortunately, it twists it farther by saying, “You DESERVE it”, as if to say, you’re entitled to have that YOU time. There’s no emphasis on forgetting yourself or even denying yourself the desires you seek. It’s all “self gratification.”
Then, I came across this story related to this very scripture that had come to me. It confirmed and demonstrated for me what I had already learned about Love. Here’s an excerpt of the article which you can read HERE in its entirety:
Let me tell you how my precious friend, Melissa, learned what it means to really love God.
When this incident occurred, Melissa and her husband, Walt, had four small children under the age of seven. Melissa had become extremely exhausted caring for all the needs of her children.
Thus, she had begun to pray that Walt would be more sensitive to her and help her out more with the kids when he got home in the afternoons. (He was a medical technician and went to work around 6 a.m., but got home between 2 and 3 p.m.) Melissa had prayed this prayer for some time, but had had no visible results.
One evening Walt came home early only to find the house a total mess. He had to step over piles of dirty laundry, broken toys and leftover lunch in order to find where Melissa and the kids were. She had all four children in the bathtub where she was washing their hair all at one time.
Walt stuck his head in the door and asked, “What on earth is going on? Why is the house such a mess?” Since Melissa had all day been mulling over thoughts like, “I can’t take this any longer, why can’t Walt help me more?” she immediately reacted out of those frustrations and shouted back at him, “Well, if you would only help me more with these kids, I’d have more time to clean your house!” Obviously, it was not a response out of God’s Love, but a response triggered by her own built-up frustration.
Poor Walt was terribly hurt. He immediately became defensive and said something else about her messy house. She retaliated with another jab. More words were exchanged, and then Walt slammed the bathroom door and started downstairs, mumbling to himself something like “Boy, it’s great to be home.”
Melissa finished putting the kids to bed, shushing their inquisitive little questions of, “Is Daddy mad at us?” and “Why did Daddy slam the door?”
After tucking the kids in bed, Melissa went downstairs. But, not wanting to be in the same room with Walt (ever felt that way?), she went to the opposite end of the house, got out her Bible and began to pour out her true feelings to God. She started to cry and told God how tired, how lonely, and how unhappy she was. She told Him that Walt seemed so distant, so insensitive and as if he didn’t even care anymore.
After weeping quietly for a long time she told God, “But, I do really love You and I want to do what is right. What would you have me to do?”
God, in His still small voice, directed her to Matthew 16:24, the passage we just read. “If any man comes after Me, let him deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow Me.”
Melissa sat there for a long time, contemplating how on earth this verse applied to her situation. When God, in His still, small voice said, “If you will love me first, I’ll enable you to love your husband.”
Melissa immediately replied, “But Lord, I do love You. What else am I supposed to do to show you I love you?” With that, God impressed upon her mind, “If you really love Me, then get a basin of water and go and wash your husband’s feet.”
Well, you can imagine her reaction! If that were you, what kind of reaction would you have? Well, her reaction was the same! “Are you kidding?” she said. “After what he has done to me, he should be the one to wash my feet!”
God was silent. Finally Melissa began to understand, for the first time, what it really meant to love God: To deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow Him. In other words, do what Jesus would do. God was asking her not only to deny what she wanted, but He was also asking her to get up and do something she absolutely didn’t want to do, which was to wash Walt’s feet. God was asking her to do exactly what Jesus would do in her situation.
Melissa had been studying about Agape Love and she knew if she didn’t obey God and do what He was asking, it would quench His Spirit and His Love in her heart. And she couldn’t stand that.
So she made that difficult faith choice (denied herself), got up, went into the kitchen, got a bowl of water and towel (picked up her cross), and went into her husband’s study.
Walt was lying on the couch, reading. She knelt quietly beside him and began to untie his shoes, crying softly as she did. At first, she said she didn’t feel a thing (it was totally a non-feeling choice). But, she said, by the time she began to take off his shoes and socks, it had become pure genuine love (doing exactly what Jesus would have done). God had aligned her feelings to match her faith choices.
Walt was flabbergasted when he saw Melissa walk into the room with that bowl of water. He was sure it was going to go “over his head”! But when he saw her tears and felt her genuine Love, he reached down and drew her up to himself. After holding and embracing each other and truly realizing how much they really loved each other, Melissa was able to share with Walt her deepest needs.
As a result of this incident, they both became more sensitive to each other’s needs: he began to help her more around the house and with the kids, and she tried to prepare a loving atmosphere when he came home at night.
“Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone [no fruit]: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit [God’s Agape Love].”
( John 12:24)
This is what it means to love God.
This is also what it means to love others…to deny one’s self of personal desires and gratifications, and focus on caring for and filling another’s needs.