What “Deny Yourself” Means – and Doesn’t Mean
by Kristen Rosser ~ aka: KR Wordgazer
The founders of No Longer Qivering spelled “Quivering” without a “u“ because, as they say, “There is no ‘you’ in Quivering” – there’s no place for self – and they claim this is a bad thing. But Jesus said that a true believer must deny himself, take up his cross and follow after Him. Quiverfull women take the Bible’s admonition to die to self very seriously. We use the acronym J.O.Y., for true JOY comes from putting “Jesus first, Others second and Yourself last.” How can you encourage Christian wives and mothers to turn from Christ’s teachings by making “You” a priority?
The problem with the way Quiverfull followers use the J.O.Y. teaching is that while they claim the “Y” is for “Yourself last,“ what is often actually practiced is “Yourself not at all” – and this particularly applies to wives, mothers and daughters. Quiverfull women believe that in putting their husbands and children first, they are putting Christ first, and that they are not to consider their own needs in any other way than as a means to an end, giving themselves just enough minimal care that they can go on serving “Others.”
J.O.Y. for Quiverfull women, in practice, usually looks more like O.O. – “Others Only.” But is this what Jesus actually taught or practiced?
The story of Mary and Martha is the story of how two sisters understood Christian service. Luke 10:38-42 shows how Martha “received” Jesus into “her house” – which is interesting in and of itself, for Luke apparently didn’t think it necessary to identify Martha in relation to a male authority (such as her brother Lazarus, seen in John 11 and 12). No, it was “her house” that Jesus came to, and Martha did what any good Quiverfull woman would do. Forgetting about herself, she bustled around preparing a meal. But Mary went and “sat at Jesus’ feet and heard his word.” “Sat at his feet” had a particular meaning according to the understanding of that time, which was “to learn as a disciple.” In Acts 22:3, Paul identifies himself as a disciple of Rabbi Gamaliel by saying, “I [was] brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel.” (Emphasis added.) What Mary was doing in Luke 10:39 was making herself a disciple of Jesus, sitting at his feet to learn with the other disciples.
Martha was upset. Here was Mary neglecting her womanly duties, leaving Martha to do it all herself while Mary took her place among Jesus’ disciples! So Martha went and complained to Jesus, asking Him to make Mary do her womanly duty and help in the kitchen. What did Jesus say? “Martha, Martha, you shouldn’t be thinking about yourself or your needs. If you have to prepare the meal alone, God will bless you all the more for your godly selflessness. But Mary, what do you think you’re doing? How will you find a husband if you continue to rebel against your God-given role?”
If Quiverfull teachings are to be believed, this is what Jesus should have actually said. But what He did say was quite the opposite. “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen that good, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Jesus was telling Martha that it wasn’t necessary for her to be working in the kitchen at all! Instead, what was “needful” was to sit at His feet as one of his disciples, and Mary was right in what she had done. Jesus neither rebuked Martha for thinking about herself, nor said a word to Mary about forsaking her proper gender role. He made no distinctions for the practice of discipleship according to gender at all.
All right, I can see making an exception to serving “Others” if it’s really about putting my relationship with Jesus first. But isn’t Christian life about denying ourselves? Aren’t we just being self-absorbed if we focus on our own needs or desire things for ourselves?
Jesus did say to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. But does this mean it’s wrong to prioritize our own needs, to stand up for ourselves, or to ask others to do things for us?
Matthew 16:36-46 is the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is just about to give His life for the world. A greater example of self-sacrifice could not be shown. But listen to what He says to Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, His closest friends:
“My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.” Is that Jesus expressing a deep emotional need, and asking His friends to help meet it?
“And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and said unto Peter, “What, could ye not watch with me one hour?” Is that Jesus, expressing disappointment, telling His friends honestly that they have let Him down?
Yes, that’s Jesus, thinking about His own human needs and asking for something for Himself. That’s Jesus, honestly telling others how He feels about not getting His needs met. It could not have been wrong for Him to do this– so how could it be wrong for us?