To be honest until recently I had no idea what that word meant.
And probably not surprisingly since it is an idea that isn’t common in our modern culture.
Abnegation is self-denial.
It seems that in popular culture the closest that abnegation creeps into our lives is when someone says “oh no, I can’t eat that I’m not eating carbs” or “I really wanted that, but have to wait until payday”.
Abnegation is perhaps seen as a bad thing. Self denial was once honourable, a sign of good character. A hallmark of a good Christian. Perhaps that is why Christianity seems to be on the decline against the self absorption and self appreciation of modern life.
But there are many things in life that require abnegation. Things that seem to get a bad rap in our modern society. Like marriage. Parenthood. Religious Life. True discerned vocations. Things that particularly require giving up your own interests in favour of the interests of others.
Blessed Zélie Martin once wrote to her sister that having children
“will demand a lot of abnegation, and the desire to give many elect souls to Heaven.”
This wasn’t seen as a bad thing. That self sacrifice for her children was for her own and her children’s good. As all mothers have to sacrifice – through the sickness and tiredness of pregnancy, body changes, pains of childbirth, the sleeplessness, giving up work and so much more that comes with bearing children. This doesn’t make it easy, but in my experience there is also a lot of joy in sacrificing for your children. Even though you get up with them countless times in the night, in the morning that first smile melts all of that frustration at lack of sleep away.
Though often it is hard, as Blessed Zélie Martin experienced. She often suffered ill health and fatigue, had nine children (including one saint), a strong marriage, ran a business from home, suffered the deaths of 4 of her children and then suffered and died from breast cancer at age 45. She said:
“The good Lord fits the back for the burden, and never asks more than we can bear. Very often I have seen my husband worried about my health, while I could not have been calmer. I used to say to him: ‘Don’t be afraid; the good God is with us!” I had, though, loads of work and pre-occupations, but I felt that firm confidence of always being helped from Heaven.”
We are all called to some form of abnegation, but all of us have self denials to experience daily. We follow a God who came to Earth and experienced abnegation. Through Mary and the Annunciation. When we find things hard we should remember that confidence of being helped from heaven. And that these burdens help us to grow and reach heaven. So many have sacrificed for each of us to be here (think of our own families, the saints, all those who have gone before us). We owe it to those around us. After all we were created for love. Abnegation is living that love every day. It is part of the human experience.