I’ve been contemplating a new life motto:
“I give up.”
Not in a self-loathing or self-pitying way; not to say I don’t believe in my value or abilities (to an extent).
But in a spiritual way; a relational way; even, now that I’ve been through nearly three years’ worth of various fasting seasons in the Orthodox church, a physical way.
My new motto was spurred by an Ingrid Michaelson song, “Giving Up,” which popped up on my Pandora station recently. I’d never heard it before, and I was immediately struck by the lyrics of the chorus (of course, it’s better to listen to):
I am giving up on making passes
I am giving up on half-empty glasses
I am giving up on greener grasses
It’s a love song, but I find it to be a rather theologically sound take on Christian commitment in marriage. As I once heard it put, “When you say, ‘I do,’ you’re also saying ‘I don’t’ to everyone else.” When Jordan and I got married, we committed ourselves to each other and our marriage, which means we promised to give up on things like flirting with or dating others, physical intimacy with anyone else, and most shades of emotional intimacy with others, too. We were (and are) giving up on living individualistically. We’re giving up.
I don’t think everyone should or needs to get married–some are meant for singleness and celibacy. But I think those who resist marriage because they don’t want to give up their independence are missing out. They choose to sacrifice bigger, deeper, longer-lasting joys for smaller, more immediate pleasures.
I think it’s worth it, giving up.
And I think this idea has far-reaching spiritual and theological implications (which also encompass the physical aspect I mentioned). When the young rich man asked Christ, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” the Lord didn’t reply with, “Hoard your wealth, and focus on doing whatever you can to make yourself happy.” He said:
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21)
In other words: give up. Give up your wealth, your comforts, your self-serving ways, for Christ. The apostles, when called, literally gave up their former lives–Christ called Peter and Andrew while they were fishing (doing their job), and Scripture tells us that “they immediately left their nets and followed Him.” (Matthew 4:20)
Christ doesn’t stop at possessions or trades, though; He takes it all the way. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24) So what do we need to do to serve Christ, to live fully as Christians?
Finally, a thought on fasting. As I said, I’ve been through a few Lents and Nativity Fasts at this point, during which Orthodox Christians abstain from meat and dairy in preparation to celebrate Christ’s resurrection and birth (respectively). This is a very literal approach to giving up. Physical fasting, obviously, demands one to give up certain foods. In the church, this activity serves several spiritual purposes: to remind us of our limits as human beings and dependency upon God; to help us focus on things of God, instead of on serving our desires; and to remind us that faith and Christianity are active, not passive: they are effortful, requiring work, even pain, and especially sacrifice.
We are called to give up. Which is why I think this makes such a good marriage, spiritual, and life motto. This idea of giving up reminds me of two other related interests of mine: minimalism and monasticism. Minimalism, or the practice of living lightly on necessities rather than messily on luxuries, has many pragmatic benefits: space-saving, stress-reducing, finance-increasing, to name a few. But I also find it to have spiritual significance, similar to that of monastic living. Living simply puts into practice the monastic mindset of disconnecting from typical worldly desires or material goods for the sake of pursuing greater goods like spiritual clarity and fullness and a stronger devotion to God.
And that’s what all of this giving up is about, anyway. We give up so that we may gain more.