When I did coursework in church history as a graduate student, I was introduced to the term asceticism. The dictionary defines asceticism as: a religious practice of strict discipline and self denial. Based on what I know from history such a definition is not strong enough. When the famous reformer, Martin Luther was a young monk, I am told that ascetic practices led him to be physically self abusive.
Unfortunately extreme asceticism has not proven to be a helpful discipline in terms of promoting spiritual growth.
As the year ends, we tend to be somewhat reflective regarding the past 12 months. I think it is pretty important to take inventory of everything that would cause us to give thanks. But I am afraid that is not where our thoughts naturally gravitate during such times of personal reflection. I am fearful that we obsess on our faults and shortcomings. Such thought processes in a way become a form of mental asceticism. If we beat ourselves up enough, perhaps it will make things better. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I am reminded today that heaping down tons of shame is not going to help me to become a better person anymore than physical asceticism helped Martin Luther. I know that to be true intellectually at least. Everyday I am reminded of the need of extending to myself the same level of grace and forgiveness that I am more than willing to give to other imperfect people. That is particularly challenging at such a reflective time of year.
I have a friend who often tells struggling colleagues: “Stop beating yourself up!” It is a good exhortation. Mental asceticism is probably not going to make things any better. I am committed today to resisting the temptation of allowing shame to break my spirit. I would encourage my friends to do likewise. In fact, my message to my friends today is: “Stop beating yourself up.”