For the month of January, I’ve been helping the fourth graders in my Sunday School class grasp the concept of self-control. Together, we’ve mulled over this simple but effective definition: doing what you should do, not what you want to do. Each Sunday for the last three weeks, we’ve focused on a specific area relating to self-control. The first topic was controlling our anger. Fights with brothers and sisters were animatedly discussed. The second week was all about controlling what we say. Again, brothers and sisters were the hot topic. They seem to bring out the worst in us. Yesterday, we delved into the idea of knowing when to stop, even if what we need to stop is a good thing. Our Bible verse for the day was Proverbs 25:16:
If you find honey, eat just enough – too much of it, and you will vomit.
After everyone had shared how many times they had barfed in their little lives and given detailed descriptions of when, where, and what it looked like, we were able to get down to business. The kids were happy to share the things they have a hard time stopping – eating buttered popcorn, playing video games, using an iPod, and watching TV. I generously offered that pizza was an issue for me. Mr. Whimsey, whose knowledge of me is sometimes unnerving, offered that maybe potato chips, and not pizza, were the real “honey” in my life. We spent a good hour together talking about our weaknesses and the need for self-control.
As is often the case, God has used these Sunday School lessons to show me where I need to work in my own life. After just three weeks with my fourth graders, I’m acutely aware that my life is one hot mess of lawlessness. There are foods I can’t seem to resist overeating, much to the detriment of my health. When my kids push my buttons, I often give in and respond in anger. I spend way too much time in front of the computer (like right now, for instance). I’m forever choosing what I want to do over what I should be doing, creating inefficient time management and a pile-up of household responsibilities. Yeah, I could very possibly be the biggest self-control loser on the face of this earth.
As an illustration, let’s look at the 50/50 Reading Challenge. Participating in this fun endeavor has exposed a serious chink in my self-control armor. I’ve been forced to accepted the fact that my self-control flies out the window when books come into the picture. Once I begin a book, nothing else exists until I am finished. I will forsake sleep, ignore those I love, and renege on all responsibilities until said book is completely devoured. I stayed up half the night reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn because I simply couldn’t make myself to put it down. For the next two days, I was ruined. (I’m old and need my sleep for optimal brain functioning). The last two books I’ve read I completed in less than two days each. This required lots of responsibility shirking and more sleeplessness. Now I’m grouchy from exhaustion and my family is grouchy because the pantry is empty and they have no clean underwear. The simple truth is that when I overindulge in the “honey” of reading, I end up “vomiting” all over the important people and things in my life. It’s really not an appealing way to live.
So what is a weak-willed woman to do? I could drop the Challenge. Ta-da! The need to read regularly instantly disappears. It would certainly make my life easier. But I’m really enjoying the discovery of new stories and information and the discipline of working toward an attainable goal. Plus, if I quit, I’ll be missing a golden opportunity to whip my self-control into shape. And, that’s the interesting thing about self-control. Even though it’s called a fruit in the Bible, it reminds me more of a muscle, needing repetitive use so it can strengthen. Every time I practice putting my book down when I should, my self-control muscle will grow. If I play my cards right, I could be a muscle-bound self-control Hulk by the end of the year. (I hope I don’t turn green, even though it is my favorite color). While I have no desire to be a self-control monster, I would love to be able to say “Stop!” and mean it.
Of course, there is no way I’m doing this on my own. I’m way too weak when it comes to doing things I really love. This is where God steps in and helps out – if I let Him. He promises that in my weakness, He will be my strength. This is reassuring and unsettling all at the same time. It requires me to do my part of relinquishing control so that God can do His part in being my strength. This 50/50 Reading Challenge is turning out to be a lot more challenging than I originally anticipated. But, then again, with a greater challenge comes a greater sense of accomplishment – something I find irresistable. And so, with a very deep breath, I say once again, “Bring it on!”