Deny Yourself and Follow Me: The Importance of Self-Control

What rules your life? Are you in control, or does something else—food, drugs, entertainment, social media, shopping, sports—control you? Father Dave Heney, host of Family Rosary Across America®, joined The Inner Life® to explain what self-control has to do with our spiritual life.

Practicing self-denial is a way to measure our control and commitment to God. “It’s a way of every once in a while just gauging how much am I in charge of my life? Does food or habits or smoking or drinking—or any of the different things we do by habit—are they really in charge?” asked Fr. Dave.

When our Lord asks us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow him, Fr. Dave says Christ wants our response to be “solid, authentic, true, genuine, and real.” It is through self-denial that we can assure an authentic response to Christ’s call.

Denying ourselves can be big, like overcoming a deeply-rooted addiction, or smaller, like refraining from an extra cookie. When we’re dealing with serious addictions—narcotics, alcohol, pornography, etc—it’s a difficult and sometimes lengthy process to break free. “We can’t be grandiose about it. Sometimes people say, ‘This is the last cigarette I’ll ever have.’ That’s kind of a grandiose statement and often not realistic. It doesn’t really represent a real understanding of yourself,” explained Fr. Dave. “That’s why the most positive, the most effective campaigns to give up strong addictions are to make promises of self-denial for very short periods of time. AA is famous from having the ‘one day at a time’ idea. … Pick a unit of time that you know you can control.”

Self-control is empowering, but in an instant gratification culture, it can be a very misunderstood concept. It may be thought of as negative and punishing, when in fact it is the opposite. “If we approach it in the Catholic way, it’s very positive and it’s all about empowerment so that our decisions are authentic. … The way that we can strengthen our will is by these practices of self-control.”

For more about practicing self-denial, listen to the full podcast with Fr. Dave:

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Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.