Monday, January 28, 2013

Self-Control


The first time I rammed up against the issue of self-control in my life had everything to do with my husband.  Until then, I thought I had things together.  I was a great student.  I was a reasonably good daughter.  I had a growing relationship with God, and a lot of the typical issues with self-control that teenagers face had not been a problem.  The child of teetotalers, I not only didn't do drugs; I didn't drink either.  Not even a little.  And I was too socially awkward to be dating.  So, no problem. 

Then he came along. I was in way over my head. I'll let you in on a little secret, when Paul wrote, "But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion."(1 Corinthians 7:9), he was writing about us!  We learned lots about self-control the months before we were married.
So when the cake was cut, I thought the days of struggling with self-control were behind me.  After all, yesterday's sin was today's privilege - available, encouraged, even commanded (1 Corinthians 7).

The problem is that I had defined "self-control" far too narrowly.  I didn't sleep in on Sunday morning.  I wasn't having an affair.  I didn't do drugs or overindulge in alcohol (fact is I still don't drink). So I had self-control right?  Wrong.  I had no self-control and no insight.

My lack of self-control had led me down a destructive path every day for years.  I was a lazy child, a disorganized student, a chronic procrastinator, and very good at pulling things together at the last minute and pretending I had it all under control.  Out from under the restraints of the dorm and my parents' household, things did not improve.

I went from chronically procrastinating about my school work to chronically procrastinating at work.  I shrugged off my housework and had a thousand excuses for not getting it done.  My laziness led to more than one quarrel with my husband who could only be patient so long.  I was horrible at paying the bills.  I am not a big spender, but I would look at the stack of mail sitting on the desk and shudder. The bigger the pile was, the less I wanted to open it.  I would put it off, put it off, and finally in a flurry drive around paying bills in person because I didn't have time to mail them in.  And there's no need to cover the damage my lack of self-control was doing to my body as I ignored my weight, inactivity, and health.

At this point in the story, I know you are expecting a big revelation.  Like one night I was reading the Bible and was struck by my deep need to repent and then I got down on my knees right there and God forgave me.  But it didn't happen that way at all.

As time passed, my circumstances changed.  Preparing to move abroad forced us to organize and plan in a way we never had before.  Living in a developing country catapulted me into a better diet and more activity. I began homeschooling. We had another child. Now there were cloth diapers to wash, hang on the line, fold and put away.  And day by day, I developed some self-control.

You might be tempted to say that I was just growing up, but looking back it is really clear to me that the vortex which had been swirling downward turned around and began swirling upward.  The vicious cycle became a circle of growth. I didn't have some grand moment where I decided it would be so. Instead when I chose to obey an entirely different command and began the process of moving abroad, God started manipulating circumstances to make this other kind of growth possible.  I decided to obey and He was working in me to cause me to "will and to work for His good pleasure."  (Philippians 2:13)

The Holy Spirit works in "agricultural" time. He was growing the fruit of self-control in me quietly without me noticing. Apple trees don't produce apples the day they are planted and the Holy Spirit indwelt me long before I was able to show this proof of His work.  It was much later that I became aware of the full extent of my sin and in tears repented of it.

That first encounter with self-control taught me nothing except that my husband is a great kisser. Confronted with an obvious temptation and an obvious sin, I passed. It was the much less obvious, daily struggle with self-control where I failed so badly. The lesson I needed to learn about self-control I had to learn later, slowly, in the Holy Spirit's time.  Are there lessons you've learned this way?


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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