Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The art of self control

If there was any topic I learned the most about in Costa Rica, the thing I learned the most about was the fruit of the Spirit labelled "Self Control". From this fruit  I think lies the key to the seeds for all the other other fruits. It's like what I used to tell the parents of the kids at my feeding program in Michigan: up until a certain age you can make a child do pretty much anything. You can make them get up in the morning, put on a certain shirt, get in the bath tub, buckle up in a car. Granted, there are occasional struggles with these tasks, but in general you can pick a child up and move them where they need to go. But there are two things you can never make a child do: poop and eat. Because even from a young age children learn they have self control over their own bodies. No matter how hard you try, you can never force a child to swallow a bite of food. 

I think even from a young age we can learn to control ourselves. As we grow and come into our own selves, with individual personalities, wants, and desires, no one can control us. We can surely be influenced by other people; influenced for good or influenced for bad. We can allow other people to give us guidance or wisdom. We can allow other people to give us ideas of what we should or shouldn't do. But ultimately, we are the ones who have the choice, the decision for whether or not we will comply with their suggestions or not. We can never really, truly say, "My boss made me do it," or "my brother started it", or "the woman you put in the garden with me is to blame". Eve didn't force feed Adam. We are in control of our own actions. whether we chose to be truth speakers or embellish the facts to make ourselves look better, that too is our choice. We can allow others to influence us for the positive or the negative, but at the end of the day we are still the ones with our actions in our hands. We are the ones to blame for the consequences of our actions, whether good or bad.

Self control is not only a means for controlling our own personal actions in any given circumstance, but also the ability to react to the behaviors of others.  Did so one blow up at you for no apparent reason? What was your reaction? Did you lash back in hot-blooded retaliation? Or realize that maybe their anger toward you was just a symptom of some deeper level issue that they didn't know how to deal with? Our very reactions to the world around us show us just where we are in the growth process of self control.

God also doesn't want to control you, either. He allows self control to grow in us through the power of His Spirit because the freedom of choice is the only place where true love can legitimately exist. As soon as you place force on a relationship, love is taken out of the equation and it becomes a one-sided dictatorship. Did you ever wonder why God put the tree of good and evil in the middle of the garden and not hidden in a corner some where? Did you ever wonder why the fruit was appealing and good for eating? I believe God wanted Adam and Eve to have the freedom to chose their own actions in coordination with self-control because that is where the veracity of God's love for them was demonstrated.

So where are we in our fruit growing process? Has the seed to self control been planted? Am I seeing fruit in my life based on how I act in the world in every day situations? Am I working at my job with integrity or am I manipulating the situation to make myself look better? How am I treating the people around me? Am I over- or under-reacting to the actions of others and then blaming them for my bad behavior? Am I really believing that God has given me the freedom to make choices in my life and to grow self-control? Do I really believe that God doesn't want to control me through rules and regulations but through understanding the positive or negative consequences of my own actions and reactions?

Foot note: this is not to say that there are not victims of others seeking total control. It is true there are people unwillingly sold into slavery every day to this day in the modern world. There are innocent children who are daily exploited all around the globe.There are people who have a significant lack of self control and force their will on others. I am speaking to people who are growing deeper in a relationship with Jesus and want to introspectively go deeper. 

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