Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Growing the Fruit of Self-Control

 "A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls."
Proverbs 25:28 (ESV) 

In my prior blog post, I stated that out of the nine, Fruits of the Spirit, found in Galatians 5:22-23, there are three with which I struggle to possess.  I discussed how, peace, is one fruit I don't always have ready for the picking.  Today I will share the second fruit upon which I prayerfully hope to have an increased harvest--that of, self-control.

As I came across the key verse above in my study of this fruit, two things stood out to me.  One, I found it interesting that a lack of self-control in your life is as if you have been violated (or, "broken into").  I tend to think of self-control by its name--an issue of being able or unable to control yourself.  But this verse hints that it is not only a, "self" issue, but also one of being controlled by an external force.  Something trespasses your boundaries and invades your space.  Two, not only has a breach occurred, but you are left vulnerable (you are, "left without walls").  In researching Scriptures on self-control, I found many more verses that spoke to the idea of choosing to control oneself than I did verses like this which include the power of the external issue.  It makes sense to me that there is more involved in the matter of self-control than just me.  It typically involves being under attack. 

Even Jesus, Who was perfect and never succumbed to His temptations, was not just dealing with a, "self" issue when tempted.  Scripture makes it clear that He was being prodded by the enemy.  Since Jesus was perfect and had full access to God the Father (He was God the Father in the flesh--John 10:30; Colossians 2:9), He was never provoked to sin by Satan (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15).  We, however, are human and sinful.  Therefore, we are not only easier to prod, but we also get provoked to sin quite readily.

Friends, I desire to share with you the areas in which I struggle with self-control--not because I view you as priests to whom I must confess.  I don't need a priest--I've already got a perfect One (Hebrews 4:14-16).  I am desirous of sharing because it will perhaps bring to mind your own particular areas where improvement is needed.  When we do not have "get real" moments with ourselves, our progress is stifled.  To reach any goal, specific targets must be identified.  I am also sharing in order that my words may bring life, peace, hope, encouragement, and help to someone else.  So here goes...

The areas with which I particularly struggle with self-control are as follows:

*Over-eating.  Let me be clear--I do not struggle on a ridiculous level with this.  I have never been someone who eats an entire box of cookies (or even desires that) or half a bag of chips in one sitting.  I don't struggle with improper snacking.  Chocolate even gets stale in my candy dish (and I crave chocolate).  But I have a healthy appetite at meal-time.  My stomach prefers three squares a day and I want them to be reasonably hearty.  I don't want "seconds," I would just like to eat around 1,800-2,000 calories per day versus 1,400-1,600, as is recommended for a woman my height, age, and activity-level.  Therefore, I have a battle with maintaining the preferred weight at which I feel the best.  Since turning 40, I am perpetually trying to manage 5-10 pounds.  Middle-aged women cannot eat three squares a day--certainly not average or hearty ones.  Health experts say we should instead eat five tiny meals throughout a given day, or 2 to 3 light snacks and one smallish, healthy meal.  Basically, none of the food I love qualifies (Mexican, Asian, Italian, BBQ, etc.), because a typical meal in any of those food genres is well over the suggested calorie max for one meal (unless you take two bites and call that a feast).  Well, I think this stinks.  But it has become apparent to me after a discussion with my sister in-law, that it is an issue of self-control with which I know God desires to help me.  It doesn't help that in my twenties (and even thirties) I could pretty much eat whatever I wanted and not gain much, if any, weight at all.  It came off much easier, too.  You get spoiled with that blessing and it becomes a curse later.

* My thought-life (worries/fears/harboring hurts).  When your personality is such that you are prone to certain sins or destructive behaviors, look out.  They can become fierce bad habits and we all know that our minds are the control-centers for everything else--our emotions, our mental/physical health, our behavior, and our beliefs.  The Bible says we all have sins to which we are susceptible, and my mind is my biggest obstacle.  God has been dealing with me on these things my entire life, but I praise Him for the strides I have made with regard to worry and fear in the past year.  I am also done with regrets and holding grudges--I honestly have none.  I figure God is best suited to deal with everyone who has ever wronged me intentionally or who chooses not to forgive me for my wrongdoings.  I can also happily deduce that those who have chosen to walk out of my life made the right choice for them, me, or both.  When we truly know God, He is our ultimate Protector.  He is fair, just, and knows more about all our hurtful situations than even we do.  So He is best-equipped to manage who stays and who goes.  He promises to fight our battles and we only need to sit still (Exodus 14:14). 

* OCD tendencies/perfectionism.  Okay, people.  It's, "get real" time, and I would plead for your discrete grace, maturity, understanding, and ethical mindset here.  I have never been diagnosed with any mental illness.  But if I am utterly honest, I know I have had times where my perfectionism has been borderline OCD, at best.  When you cannot put your groceries away until they have been wiped-off (because those items have been touched by Lord knows who and will eventually end up on your kitchen counter), and the labels are facing front for quick location, you probably have an issue with perfectionism.  (Now you perfectionists can make fun of me for that, but you probably have your own odd annoyances, too.  I once was mocked for being a germaphobe by someone who takes her own sheets to every hotel and puts a huge scarf down on her movie theater seat)!  But God has been working with me the past several years with the realization that perfectionism is a colossal waste of time.  I am still battling this.  My church's Head Pastor, Jim Congdon, once shared a sermon on perfectionism.  I recall him stating that if we, "perfectionists," could learn to just be happy with doing every task to our own 80% approval-rating, we would still be doing them to a much higher level than the majority, and saving ourselves an enormous amount of time, energy, and stress.  I have often used that grading scale when I am doing tasks that I would rather do, "perfectly" than a mere 80% (Lord, help me)!  Our time and lives are short, so it is time to get real about the idiosyncrasies that bug us--are they really worth the effort?!  All OCD really is, is an issue of over-control (that could be an alternate for the acronym)!  OCD is self-control on acid.  It is a lack of trust in God on meth.  You are motivated by pure fear and therefore, trying to control your life so that you don't have any ridicule, illness, pain, trials, problems, more work later, and so you can feel better about the stuff you cannot control.  It is a desire to over-compensate (ah ha, another alternate for the acronym) for things that are really bugging you.  The sad reality is that you are not in control of any of it anyway.  If your family or friends are going to mock you for not making your bed with hospital corners or not keeping your car tires glowing from Armor All, they need to get a life--and you need to get new friends and tell your family to step-off!  If you get sick, who cares?!  There's always a great film on Netflix you haven't had time to watch!  Friends, if any of this is ringing true for you, please know that I have prayed in advance for any and all who battle this on any level.  I give you a sisterly hug and much love via this post!  I don't know about you, but I don't care to be remembered as the lady who could serve you dinner off her immaculate floors.  Dear Lord, I pray I have more influence and more to give in this life than that.

* Diligence with health/fitness.  I am probably being too hard on myself with this one because I know for a fact that I workout more than most. I am also one of those crazy people who actually loves to workout!  But on the days when I would rather be lazy, those are the times when I especially need to get off my hiney and drag myself joyfully to the gym.  Why be so fanatical?  Because those are also the days when the above issues tend to begin to surface.  When you are sluggish in one area, it can be a slippery slope (as the key verse states--your city is without walls).  I want to be a disciplined athlete--and diligent people do things even when they don't "feel" like it.  Any doctor will tell you that every human needs to be physical and sweaty at least three times a week.  I am faithful to this many weeks...then there are other weeks...

* Faithfulness with reading God's Word.  I have made significant improvements in the past few years with having a daily quiet time where I at least read a devotional and have my own prayer-time.  Intercession is one of my spiritual gifts--I am a person who readily prayers throughout the day (and I don't even want to know the kind of person I would be if I didn't--I need it)!  But as for serious Bible study, I need to work harder at making my time with God less of a, "do list" item.  He cannot speak to me when I rush through my relationship with Him.

* Controlling my temper (in my car) & watching my tongue (set a watch over my lips, Lord, Psalm 141:3).  I have previously shared of these sin issues ad nauseum.  They are not major issues, but yes...my 1/4 Latina does rear its ugly head from time to time.

It is funny yet sensible that a few of these areas of mine are so closely related to my other weaker fruits--peace and patience.  I mentioned in my prior blog post on peace that to get victory over bad habits, you have to replace them with good ones.  It is truly about choices--what are we going to choose to do with regard to our self-control:  Are we going to suppress bad tendencies, or go with them?  Are we going to let our borders be violated and open to further breachings, or set-up boundaries and guards?  Are we going to create disciplined choices that bring life to our beings, or follow the same old unsuccessful patterns we are trying to beat? Are we going to do this in our own limited strength, or utilize the endless power of the Holy Spirit given to each of us who know Him...?

Some of the stuff with which we need to exercise self-control is going to require us to control our own behavior.  Some of it will require relinquishing control over it to God.  What did Jesus do when tempted?  He prayed asking God to deliver Him from it (invoking God's help and protection). He quoted Scripture to the enemy (setting His mind on the right things, reinstating the boundaries, and using the strongest weapon He had against His nemesis).  He fled the temptation (shoring up His borders and changing the setting so as to secure the best outcome).  We have to do the same things.  Just as with the fruit of peace, we have to choose to exercise self-control, as the word itself suggests.  We have to guard the borders of our personal city.  But we are never alone in that battle--God is always with us and there to help us.  We first make the choice, and then use His wisdom and strength to bring it to fruition and harvest.  Help us all, Lord--especially me.  Thank You for loving us regardless of our imperfections, quirks, and failings.  Thank You that Your grace is enough.  Amen.

Related Scriptures:

*  2 Corinthians 12:9, "But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

*  2 Timothy 1:7, "For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control."

*  1 Corinthians 9:25, "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable."