Every follower of Christ wants to draw closer to their Lord throughout their lifetime. And our Lord in his great mercy has given us many means to do so: the sacraments, prayer, works of service, etc. These all help us to become more like Christ and thus draw closer to him. But I would argue that there is another aspect of growth in the spiritual life that is just as important, and it all revolves around one word.
That word is “no”.
Christ told his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24, emphasis added). If you wish to come after Christ, then you must deny yourself – you must say “no” to your passions and your own desires and instead follow the path that Christ lays out before you. At baptism we are cleansed of the stain of original sin, but the effects of original sin still remain in us. We are a fallen race and that means we are a selfish race. Our desires are disordered and are not in conformity with God’s desires. Thus, we must say “no” to our own desires throughout our lives. These “no’s” can be to major sins:
- “No” to murder
- “No” to adultery
- “No” to stealing
- “No” to pornography
But we also must get in the habit of saying “no” to our little desires as well:
- “No” to the extra helping at dinner
- “No” to taking the most comfortable seat in the room
- “No” to giving our own opinion in every conversation
- “No” to watching TV every night
- “No” to wasting time on the Internet
- “No” to sleeping in
For most of us, it is the little “no’s” that are most important, as we are not directly tempted to the major sins. But giving in to the little “no’s” can lead to a selfish lifestyle, which is contrary to the Gospel (and can weaken our resolve against the major sins). Refusing to say no to our little desires on a regular basis leads to greater attachment to the things of this world, which weakens our attachment to our Lord.
In the spiritual classic “The Way”, St. Josemaría Escrivá writes simply, “Get used to saying No” (Point 5). This is advice we all should follow if we wish to grow in the spiritual life.