2 Timothy 1:7
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
If I were to pick one from the fruits of the Holy Spirit right now, I’d choose self-control.
Now it is becoming more often when we feel always being on the edge of an outburst. Is the world to blame or have we become overly sensitive, fatigued and too opinionated? Patience thins when plans go amiss. And almost everyone seem to have some form of addiction. Substance. Sex. Gaming. Netflix. Chocolate. Food. Sleeping. Gambling. You name it.
The world outside our body, mind and spirit, it seems, is ready to rule us. Time to learn self-control.
Self-control for some reason reminds me of self-regulation in children. It is not a stroke of good luck that children learn about it; it takes great mentoring, coaching, role modelling or environment setting to encourage young children to be in control of BIG emotions such as frustration, worry, anger, sadness. These could be a lot to take for a young child but is not entirely impossible to learn self-control. Let us not completely rule out our own ability to learn about it, as well.
But as a Christian, what I aim for is self-control gifted by the Holy Spirit. Nope, it is not merely being in control of my mind, body and BIG emotions but achieving a state in which I allow God to have power over me, where my actions and decisions seems to be made for me, by God.
Self-control gifted by the Holy Spirit is not silence. We could appear really serene on the outside but inside us could be brewing anger and chaos. Growing up, I did not have models of self-control. Everyone around me seemed to explode. It was utterly difficult to learn healthy self-control. For most part of my life, silence was my resort – a padded resilience, bottled negativity and some kind of empty “self-control”. It would surface in my later life as depression.
At some stage in our lives, we have to unlearn old habits and learn new ways. For our sake and sake of our family and children. I thought true self-control, the one gifted by the Holy Spirit, is the one I needed to learn. Because, I have learned the hard way that fake self-control won’t work.
First some practical steps. Prepare the mind for reality of problems.
Being a teacher here in New Zealand, we encourage children to problem-solve. Problems are vital to children’s learning. For example, the play environment I would set up for children would always be challenging and riddled with problems. The “troll bridge” does not have to be still and sturdy; it must be wobbly and problematic. That is how children learn about balance. I believe children must experience falling for as long as they fall safely.
Problems, too, form a big part in how we, adults learn about self-control. We do not deny ourselves with the inevitability of glitches, of plans going awry, of unmet expectations, of problems, of imperfections. I am not always the type who would always look at the glass as half-full. It could also be half-empty. It is more realistic for me. If things do not go to plan, I don’t go ballistic anymore as I used to. For me, that is JUST the glass half-empty again but I know God is going to fill the other half of it. And I am totally at peace with it.
Secondly, think of the danger of lacking self-control.
One is guilt. I have never seen anybody feeling really peaceful after an outburst. God knows how I feel really guilty whenever I lose it with my own children. Once the beast in you has said your piece violently, the fragments of broken relationships would be hard to piece together. Guilt, together with its twin, regret, could visit you even in your dreams. It is gnawing.
The pitfalls of lacking self-control eventually became my hard “why’s”. Why did I want to learn self-control? For me, it is my children. I needed them to have a model of authentic self-control. There was suddenly a sense of urgency to protect their hearts and minds. Being the father of the house, I have that role to create a home not built upon shaky impulses but on consistent practice of letting go and letting God’s power take over.
Learning self-control is tough work. It is not a ray of light that shines upon us while we sit down. Yes, it also takes time to learn. Praying and talking to God often will set the ground for us. Fr. Andrew Ricci whose podcast I follow, always suggests, naming “it” whenever we pray. It is different for all of us. It could be self-control to help you turn away from being angered by the smallest things. It could be self-control from spending too much time watching Netflix. It could be turning away addiction to illicit sexual materials or drugs. We are called by the Holy Spirit to name it whatever it is and to cast it aside. Pray for self-control every single time no matter how long it takes.
Be ready to reap the fruits. The outcomes of self control gifted by the Holy Spirit is not of guilt, regret, emptiness and bitterness but of love, patience and peace. As we turn away from sinful addiction or bridled anger, we reap the grace of being one heart with God. But before any harvest, we need to work really hard sowing, watering, preparing the soil. It may not happen in an instant. In fact, it may be a cross to bear with confusion, hurt ego, sweaty palms, heart wildly beating. But soon all these will fade away and we reap the fruits that we deserve – that of love and peace in our hearts.