The world teaches you to fear. The Holy Spirit whispers in your ear and says otherwise; to fear not.
Being trapped in fear and anxiety is no joke and I feel like the world we now live in is not helping alleviate our state of fear. The world makes us obsess and fear about being left behind in practically everything. New models of phone. New episodes of our favourite series. Career. Marriage.
The world makes you think something is lacking in you and gives you the feeling of missing out. It drives you to spend minutes and even hours googling solution for receding hairline. Every morning, the first thing I have to check is my phone fearing I might miss a matter-of-life-and-death message. Social media drives you to think that your worth is measured up by the likes on your feed.
And yet succumbing to the world still makes you fear. It never seems to fill you, in fact it makes you even crave for more. Therefore, the world is not the solution to our fear, our anxiety and our depression.
Decluttering ourselves of all the things that world has made us think as important could prove really hard but there is always the omnipresent Spirit we can invoke for help. It guides us to see beyond the world. The graces that the Spirit will make us believe in, are revealed as different possibilities from re-discovering our love of reading and exercise to spending more time with our loved ones.
2 Timothy 1:7 For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
What is the opposite of pride? I thought it’s humility but the sharing of a speaker in a weekend retreat I attended had me reconsider my answer. He thought that it’s love.
Not since watching the film “Seven” have I given the seven deadly sins a good stare. I did agree with the speaker that love is the opposite of pride (Proverbs 16:5 – “arrogant in heart”). But I am also convinced that, so are gluttony (Philippians 3:19 -“their god is their belly”; envy (Proverbs 14:30 – the one the “makes the bones rot”); sloth ( Proverbs 19:15 – “idle person”); wrath (Matthew 26:52 – those “who take the sword”); greed (1 Timothy 6:10 – “love of money”) and lust (1 Corinthians 6:18 – “sexual immorality”).
Love’s OTHER-centeredness, no doubt, opposes the seven deadly sins’ SELF-centeredness.
In my life, I have wondered how I have fought a sinful thought.
First is by recognising these sins on their onset. These sins could sometimes blend into our skin slowly, cunningly and quite subtly. We watch out for signs of these sins and nip it in the bud before we get consumed by them.
I would call these early signs my moments of unease. Guilt-ridden urge. Sweating. Racing heartbeat. Feeling a “bit sad”. A mind peppered with the “what if’s”. Fantasizing and daydreaming. Cravings. Mindless scrolling on the phone. Restless feet. Indecisiveness. Aimless pressing of the TV remote control. Stressful eating. My signs could go on and based on my history, these underlie these sins. Before any of these signs spiral out of control, I try to nip it in the bud. But how?
Pray and in praying, each word really matters. Fr. Andrew Ricci has always suggested to NAME IT in our prayer. It does not have to be grand, thought-out well or grammatically correct. It just needs to be flowing, honest and specific. God I am feeling the urge to forgo again an opportunity. God I am feeling lazy today and I am not being productive. God, I am feeling the urge to stay home, lie on the couch, miss church and become slothful. God, I am being stuck in my thoughts and my cravings. You know that this could lead me to excess and become a glutton. God, I am feeling uneasy right now that I don’t have what my neighbour has. This is envy and it is not ok. Deliver me from envy and help me realise that what I have is enough. God, I don’t really understand why I am feeling annoyed right now. Help me through my feelings before it boils over and becomes anger. Prayer at its most specific could help win against the enemy.
In early childhood education, there is what is called dispositions or habits of the mind. If we train ourselves to resort to prayer every time we are challenged by sinful thoughts, then the mind becomes a very powerful tool which could stomp sins on their head.
Since love is the opposite of the seven deadly sins then it is only love that can vanquish them. When you love, then there is the “other” to think about; the “other” that we see beyond the “self”.
Giving to others for example, vanquishes greed. The law of marginal utility tells us that no matter how much material things we acquire, we will never ever be satisfied. Greed just gets us caught in the cycle of buying things that will never be as satisfying as when it is new but being generous? This empties us and allows us to see that others’ happiness could be truly gratifying.
When I slack, feel unmotivated and slothful, I think of the “other” who might benefit if I look ahead and soldier on; perhaps the children I teach who could learn from my enthusiasm or my family whom I could build great memories with. Lying on the couch all day is not what I would consider loving.
Beating the seven deadly sins today does not mean we have slayed them for good. Sinful thoughts are here to stay. A sinful thought is that unwanted visitor always wanting to hang out with us at home, at work or even at church. It could stare right at us through our TV screens. But remember that God is also here to stay; His goodness endures forever. God also loves to hang out with us in every corner of our home, at work and certainly He is alive and longs for us, at church. He is ready to meet us at each moment we are tested.
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.
Yesterday was my forty-seventh birthday and it felt like my fiftieth was just around the corner. I made a very intentional, conscious, huge effort to count my blessings asif wanting to enforce a feeling of blessedness upon myself. It was such a big effort because as you know, reality and real life always happen.
As I was preparing for our church group’s bible study, I turned to Luke 6:20-26 (The sermon on the plain) which was the bible reading few Sundays ago. It was a bible study that we postponed then because, as you know life happened.
When I read that passage, it baffled me. Blessed those who are poor … and woe to those who are rich – what could this mean? I wished God would speak and explain to me all this. The passage demanded re-reading on my part. Still confused, I had to read on what some bible scholars think it means. This led me to another bible passage from Matthew 5:1-12 (The sermon on the mount) which has parallelisms with Luke’s “Sermon on the plain”.
My puzzlement about the passage’s meaning, I realised, stemmed from me thinking about what is of this world rather than what is of God. But as always, with prayer and study (research) come enlightenment.
“Blessed are the poor”, for example, is of the spirit and it is the acknowledgement that we are nothing without God; that we are wholly dependent on Him; and that He is our only life support.
Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. Like a beggar, we bend down in humility and as we get closer to Christ, living by His examples, we get farther away from our own foolish and self-centred ways.
Blessed those who mourn: they shall be comforted. If others and our own sins become our source of mourning, then God promises peace and comfort.
Blessed are we when we hunger, thirst and constantly seek justice. Blessed are we when we unceasingly progress in our faith and realise that other things like fame, riches or unfairly getting ahead of others, cannot ever fill us.
Blessed are those who are merciful; they shall have mercy shown them. People around us are in need of our mercy and compassion. There will be times when will be on that receiving, humbling end but we need not beg for others’ mercy and compassion. It will be given to us freely and lovingly as mercy is what we have sown to begin with.
Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God. God sees our heart, too. He knows all our impurities or our desires to purify our hearts. He knows our sins or how we seek redemption. He knows when we hate or when we love. He knows when we let ourselves succumb to worldly pleasures or when we reject them. He knows our integrity or our inconsistencies. If we are pure in heart that is our thoughts are loving as much as our actions; then we will see God.
It will definitely happen when we will be rejected and outcast for believing and living this life as Christians. Persecution is a state of blessedness, too. Blessedness or the beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel, I have come to realise is a real game-changer. It is not the blessedness that we are wont to think. it is the kind of blessedness that we have chosen to live by in order for us to see the face of God, in this life or the next.