Askesis is defined as the practice of self-discipline, usually for spiritual or religious reasons. In Greek it just means self-discipline. So what does it have to do with our everyday life? St Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians 9:26-27 that he hardens his body bringing it under control. As we find where askesis fits into our lives, we practice prayer and spiritual disciplines. Then we see what works for us and what disciplines don’t and we learn more about ourselves.
An Examined Life
When we live a self-disciplined life, we live a life that we have to examine. Lamentations tells us to examine our ways and return to the Lord. Paul tells us to examine ourselves (2nd Corinthians 13), test our work (Galatians 6), and Judge ourselves (1st Corinthians 11). Because if we look at ourselves first, when we confess our sins, we are truthful with God. We can see ourselves for what we really are and not what we think we are or what the world wants us to be.
Askesis comes when we understand that we are sinners. When we want to live for Christ, we begin to refrain from the things that separate us from him. We want to live lives worthy to be called Christian. We can only do this if we are willing to look at ourselves. As we look at ourselves we realize that we can’t do anything without Christ, so we turn more of our will over to him so we can live a freer life.
A Freer Life
Our lives become free when we give them to Christ. Unlike the things we attach ourselves to, being attached to Christ allows us to be freer. Practicing askesis allows us to let Christ change us as we live more disciplined lives. We become less attached to social media, the news, politics, and other things that draw us away from Christ. Christ redeemed us to himself not so we can look for happiness and freedom elsewhere, but so we can find it in him.
This Is Not Asceticism
Don’t think that self-discipline must be harsh and lonely. Every Christian need to find where he or she fits in the body of Christ, and what he or she can do regularly to put themselves in front of Christ. You can start by making the sign of the cross and saying, “Lord have mercy” when you get up, before meals, and before bed. Developing a small habit will lead you into askesis. Starting big will drive you away because you may not be able to keep a strict practice everyday so you may quit. Let the Holy Spirit be your guide. Just starting is the key.