Posts Tagged ‘self-control’

Who is that devil? Who likes to talk about the “devil,” “Satan” or evil? Culture has morphed the devil into a red-horned little man with a pitch fork at Halloween, or a dark looming evil suction machine ready to drag me into Hell, or the scapegoat for everything wrong with us.

I Peter 5:8
Be well balanced (temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant and cautious at all times; for that enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring [in fierce hunger], seeking someone to seize upon and devour.

In Peter’s voice, the evil entity takes on a very personal nature: that “enemy of yours.” It’s a specific adversary who is lurking around my world, ready to take advantage of some negligence or self-indulgence, ready to ruin a situation, break apart a plan, or discourage a goal.

The NIV translation is simple, “be self-controlled and alert.” Therefore, in the face of Peter’s recommendations, it means behavior that is out of control, intemperate, or incautious, will be a set up for a fall, a slippery slide at the water park. Interestingly enough, I think these moments of imbalance are specific to each person. They are my battles and my particular challenges. “My” enemy may not be your enemy. My indulgences may not be yours. That means, the other guy or gal over there, may have equally unique hazards or threats that may not look all that difficult to me.

I believe this “personal enemy” works from the inside out, just like everything else. Oh, there may be some global enemy who hates the Earth, let’s say, and brings on tsunami’s and famines. Why not? But right now, I’m considering how this enemy of mine gets a foothold inside me.

It doesn’t take long to figure this out. There are several easy “ins” for that enemy of mine such as my issues of food, weight, exercise, and discipline. Or what about those procrastinations that expand from a few minutes to days, weeks, or even months? And in relationships, what about consistency and honesty? I can see how an imbalance in any of these spheres play heavily on my sense of worth and well-being, my trust in God.

So often the imbalance is not just in “not” doing, it’s also in doing too much. Perfectionism and performance-based choices are equally distracting. I’m like a pendulum, swinging back and forth between the two and that enemy of mine swings right along with me.

And so, I ask myself, how do I achieve true balance? How can I be vigilant without being controlling? How can I be cautious and yet be a risk-taker? How can I find the “de-militarized zone” where there is no condemnation and no fear?

Time away. Prayer. Forgiveness. Each day: manna.

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Self-control runs as a theme throughout the first two chapters of Titus. Was it the crowd he was teaching or did he have his own impetuous streak? Self-control requires working knowledge and understanding of oneself in order to initiate change. . . . along with a lot of grace.

Titus 2:11-12
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, . . .

The problem comes when I confuse self-control with controlling others. I know I can be a control freak and unfortunately, I tend to put too much effort into governing my outer environment and not enough energy toward my inner landscape.

I write a great deal about choice and working from the inside out to effect real transformation, and yet, it’s never been clearer to me that self-control is a state of mind and body that must be present as well.

I can’t do it my own. Maybe others can “count to ten” before speaking or take three deep breaths or snap a rubber band on the wrist as a reminder. None of these work for me.

I must depend on wild grace, the kind that covers a multitude of sins, the kind that flourishes in the chaos of my missteps and mistakes, the kind that works like a steady breeze off the ocean.

Sometimes self-control is not about “holding back” the angry shouts or demonic manifestations when my kids continue to put clean laundry on the floor or leave dirty dishes all over the house or go to bed with every light still on downstairs. Sometimes, self-control is about focus. It’s about narrowing the vision, intentionally putting on blinders, and working the moment.

There have been occasions when I have entered true Flow (developed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi), it’s a single-minded immersion that harnesses complete attention and energy. It is in these times that self-control is moot, it is not some additional requirement or add-on. I don’t have to “reach” for that self-monitoring state because it comes naturally within the Flow.

Is it possible to have Flow in the things of God? Is it possible to combine Flow with Grace? Something to think about.

By the way, I’ve started thinking about “grace” as “wild grace” because I see it capable of taming the worst of situations, of embracing the most unlovely, of breaking down the highest walls. There is an abandon to Grace that gives me hope in every circumstance.

There is nothing I can do that can’t be met by Grace. And so, perhaps that’s all I can do today is wrap myself in it so that control is flow.

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Print by Missy Mohn Schwartz

In how many ways do I have to be told that the essence of walking after Christ is birthed in the Spirit. This is an inside-out faith, not the outside-in. The law was created to initiate the “external” expression of faithfulness. The Messiah finished this work by planting it within.

Galatians 5:22-23
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

If I can operate in the center of love, joy, peace, etc. then the law is unnecessary because I wouldn’t break the essential laws (10 commandments at the least). One doesn’t lie or covet or kill someone we love or cherish. The gentle soul does not rage or participate in sexual orgies. Self-control brings all things under its umbrella.

At the same time, none of these Spirit fruits can be manufactured externally alone. I can’t act in a patient way without being patient. I can’t exhibit kindness without knowing what kindness is . . . or goodness. . . or peace. Love (in this context) is not just a that girly-boyfriend feeling, it’s “agape” and carries the deepest of meanings and expressions. There are inner motives that drive these fruits of the Spirit. They are fruits that must come directly off the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

And as these fruits become ripe within, they become ready for harvest. And when they are harvested, they are distributed freely to all those around us. . . slave or free, gay or straight, black or white or brown or red or yellow or mixed media, Muslim or Hasidim, Mormon or Witnesses, young or old, male or female, . . .

If we are fruitless, then there is nothing to harvest and the only protection we have, the only way to curb our less admirable desires, is the law. First, there is the spiritual law that God gave as a covenant to the people. But, if that fails, then there is the secular law. Neither is particularly known for mercy or grace.

Perhaps we should be more like those cliche mothers who are reaching out encouraging others to “Eat, Eat, Eat,” or like Jesus, “Take, eat; this is My body.” [Matthew 26:26b]

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Who wants to give up anything the body wants or needs? I’ve been investigating the importance of the body as the “Temple of the Holy Spirit” and yet, here is old Paul recommending celibacy as a way of walking out “self-control.” Harumph.

I Corinthians 7:1b
It is well [and by that I mean advantageous, expedient, profitable, and wholesome] for a man not to touch a woman [to cohabit with her] but to remain unmarried.

This Pauline letter must be one of the main sources for the Catholic tradition of celibate priests. A few verses later, Paul even spells it out, “I wish that all men were like I myself am [in this matter of self-control]. But each has his own special gift from God, one of this kind and one of another.” [vs 7:7]

Is this a good thing? I know that fasting, another form of body denial has its place in devotion. It seems that as we deny the body sustenance, there is more time to look inward to the things of spirit. But this conversation is for those who choose these things, for those who choose to be celibate or choose to fast, or choose to deny themselves in other specific ways.

What about those who have no choice? What about the lonely men and women of this world who desperately want relationship and intimacy with another person? What of the couple who no longer have intimacy due to illness or boredom. What of the poor?

God promises a grace to those who are not in a position to choose. These promises can be seen readily in the beatitudes. They are promises of hope in the midst of great loss and deprivation. These were the people he chose to teach first, to reach first.

What happens for the rest of us who much choose seasons of deprivation? We get a taste, a glimpse of both poverty and grace in this arena.

But I want to remember that Paul also says that each person has his/her special gift from God. The key here is knowing what God wants of me. The point is hearing God’s voice, God’s plan for today, for now. Once, God called me to a long fast and I was so deaf, He made bread taste like garbage before I got the message.

Choosing self-denial for the mere sake of it does nothing special. These times must be part of the true call.

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I am too much like the little girl who doesn’t listen to her mother, “Stay away from the stove.” Instead, I wait until I get burned before the lesson sinks in. Simply put: I am overly confident in my ability to resist evil.

Romans 16:17b-18
Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.

I don’t consider myself naive, but honestly, am I any better at dodging flattery than anyone else? Flattery is a strong lure for performance-oriented folks like me. We are working so diligently at “getting things done” and long-anticipated approval that we often mistake honeyed words for bona fide appreciation. We can be seduced.

That’s embarrassing, but true.

The best antidote is right here: avoid those people and situations. This advice is really in the same family as “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I’m not very good at that one either.

As I contemplate this simple truth, I realize the main element is self-control. If I just stop and “look before I leap,” or “hold my tongue,” or “wait for the Lord;” each of these cliches could manifest a difference. The decision is internal and it’s made in the moment. It requires mindfulness.

Help me step back today and really see; really hear. Help me to breathe in wisdom. Help me to recognize evil intent.

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Sometimes we have to back into this process. What I mean is that there are times when circumstances drop into our lives and we are faced with learning perseverance the hard way. It can be done, but it’s not God’s best for us.

For instance, you might become ill with a serious disease that will take months or even years to battle. If you have not built on the phases Peter lays out in II Peter 1:5-7, you will probably discover that you must go back and pull them into the equation. If you want to live, you’ll do whatever it takes. And so, you endure. But as you endure, you discover you must control yourself, your anger, your frustrations. Careening emotions do not help the process. And then, you discover that the more you know about your disease and how others have handled it, the more knowledge you have, the more understanding you have of your circumstances, the stronger you feel. And then, you may find a desire to share that knowledge with others in the same situation. You may actually find that you feel better when you reach out beyond yourself and “do some good.” And finally, your faith in God is re-kindled!

And then, you head back up the chain and you are amazed to discover that you are stronger in each area and you are able to endure another day … another hour … another minute.

I discovered some of this backward/forward movement when Mike and I were in the adoption process for Lily. Being steadfast in our determination to adopt her was foisted upon us for a full two years. We did not go gently into this period of perseverance!

Perhaps it’s more accurate to call this process cyclical. It wasn’t a straight path from faith to virtue to knowledge to self-control to perseverance for me … it felt more like a circle and often there were times when I felt like I was on a race track going round and round and round with no progress; suddenly, a ramp would open up and we would be on another level. Yes, it was still going round and round but the view was different, the road was different, the goal was more clearly in sight, and the fire of hope was fanned into flame again.

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What is it that controls me? Unfortunately, I often feel as though I am blown about by a wind… a great hurricane that pummels me about quite a bit depending on my circumstances … and that is NOT God’s best for me.

Self-control should be a steadying force within that gives me the strength I need to withstand and weather what life throws at me. Instead, my self-control is often undermined by my emotions. They are my “old friends” who have laid claim to a big space in my heart. They are squatters. They have been in residence so long that I don’t know what it would be like in there without them. They are using old scripts. They have become a habit.

That’s not to say that there are not good days when I am anchored to His Spirit. But it requires a discipline to be mindful of it. This is part of my current journey… I am working on being more present in the moment… more present in Christ. I know, when I am conscious and “fully connected to the vine,” my emotions do not run free.

I think this is the whole point, learning how to be “spirit-controlled.” That’s the ultimate in self-control.

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