Spiritual Disciplines to Help with Growing Self-Control

shhContinued from here.

Jesus said that to be his disciple, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. Denying yourself requires self-control because it’s quite unnatural for us to do. Spiritual disciplines that involve denying yourself can help you grow the seed of self-control into fruit more quickly.

Fasting can be a particularly powerful way of help you develop the fruit of self-control. While people tend to think of fasting as abstaining from food, you can abstain (deny yourself) from other things as well, such as words (spiritual discipline of silence) or social interaction (spiritual discipline of solitude). Each of these practices places you in a position of denying yourself so you can gain the greater reward of recognizing that you do, in fact, have the ability to exercise self-control.

As an example, let’s say I had reacted differently in the situation I shared in my introductory blog entry for this series: instead of refraining from saying anything negative, let’s say I cussed the person out. This fruit would show that I lack self-discipline over my mouth. A great way to combat this is to fast from words for a period of time by practicing the discipline of silence. I could check myself into a hotel for a weekend or, better yet, go away alone to a cabin in the woods and NOT SPEAK for 48 hours. I could spend that time praying, studying the Bible, going for walks, etc. Whenever I am tempted to speak, I can silently thank God for this opportunity to learn how to exercise self-control over my mouth. After not speaking for 48 hours, I will be more mindful that I do, in fact, have the ability to control what I say … not through willpower but through the fruit of self-control that God implanted in me as a seed.

The spiritual disciplines of fasting, silence, and solitude can be applied to any area of your life where you struggle with controlling yourself, even in areas of addiction and compulsion. To change the way you behave, you must first change the way you think. Spiritual disciplines that involve denying yourself can be powerful ways to help you take your focus off your problem and align your thoughts with God’s ways. As you do this, you will become more effective and productive in God’s Kingdom.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with her finger over her lips, saying, “Shhhh.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Recognizing Self-Control is Possible for You

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I stated in my last blog entry that changing your thoughts is pivotal to growing the fruit of self-control. The first step is to stop saying you have no self-control, such as “I cannot control myself when I’m around a chocolate chip cookie.” When you became a Christian, God planted the seed of self-control inside of you, so you actually DO have all the self-control you need to resist eating that cookie or taking that next hit. However, you must do it God’s way, and that involves changing how you think.

I used to believe that I had no ability to control my urge to binge eat. God showed me that was not true by challenging me to wait five minutes before giving in to the temptation to binge eat. During that five minutes, I was to do something else that was constructive, such as watching a comedy, calling a friend on the phone, or writing in my journal. Today, I would replace that “something constructive” with reading the Bible or spending time singing praise & worship songs to God. At the end of the five minutes, if I still could not resist the temptation to binge eat, I could give in with no guilt. I found that about half the time, I was able to continue engaging in the constructive activity and not give in to the urge to binge eat. God then led me to extend the “cooling off” period to 10 minutes … and then to 15 minutes … and then 30 minutes … until the binge-eating dragon lost its hold on me.

What I failed to grasp at the time was that this process taught me that I did, in fact, have the fruit of self-control inside of me. I simply had not been exercising that muscle. With each success, I built more confidence in my ability to exercise self-control, but it was not through willpower: it was through changing the way I thought. I believed that I was powerless to control myself around food, and what I believed became my reality. As God challenged my thinking about my ability to control myself, I gradually developed the fruit of self-control, the seed for which had been planted inside me all along.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sitting in traffic. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

We are Powerless to Exercise Self-Control on Our Own

weakContinued from here.

One of the biggest lies people tell themselves is that they can exercise self-control through sheer willpower. Anyone who has ever blown a diet knows how useless willpower is when facing down the object of their temptation. Been there, done that more times than I can count.

For decades, I wrestled with binge eating disorder, and no amount of willpower, shame, or guilt was strong enough to overcome the lure of overindulging in food to “stuff down” my emotional pain. If it were possible to overcome an eating disorder by sheer force of will, I would have done it because I put my heart and soul into the fight, but I repeatedly lost. I did not experience victory over the eating disorder until God changed me, and He did this by changing how I thought. As I grew to recognize that my God was bigger than my eating disorder, the seed of self-control that God planted in me when I became a Christian took root and began to grow. Today, fasting is not difficult for me whereas it was once one of the most difficult things I was asked to do, such as fasting overnight before a morning doctor’s appointment.

One reason the binge eating disorder controlled me was that I fixed my gaze upon my problem rather than upon my God. I thought about food all the time, and I saw food as a refuge – as an idol that would provide me with temporary relief from my emotional pain. This was idolatry because I repeatedly turned to food to meet a need that only God could meet in me. For a long season, God allowed me to experience repeated disappointments so I could recognize the folly of seeking comfort through food. Before he could break me free from the eating disorder, He had to awaken me from the self-delusion that I was addicted to bingeing on food.

One of my greatest struggles was trying to slay my binge-eating dragon once I became mindful of the power the eating disorder wielded over me. I did not appreciate that my thoughts were fueling my bondage. If you want to develop the fruit of self-control, you must change your thoughts to align them with God’s thoughts.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace’s legs sticking out from under the words, “I’m Weak.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Meekness as One Form of Self-Control

cover_faceContinued from here.

Meekness is a topic I don’t hear discussed much in church settings, but it’s a very important aspect of developing self-control. I used to think that meek = weak because from the outside, it can appear that way, such as in the story I shared in my last blog entry. Apologizing to someone who is being unreasonable and rude can look like weakness from the outside. It can look like giving the other person his or her “own way” as that person walks away triumphantly after forcing an apology out of you.

However, that’s not what’s happening on the inside. Here is Merriam-Webster’s definition of meek:

enduring injury with patience and without resentment”

Meekness is actually quiet strength. It took much more strength, or self-control, for me to endure the injury of this person’s sharp words patiently, and especially without resentment, than if I had chosen to take offense and fight back. When someone comes at you with a knife in hand, the natural response is to take out your own knife and fight back. It takes much more strength to leave your knife sheathed and allow the other person’s knife to plunge into you. People only do this for two reasons: (1) They are too weak to fight back; or (2) They love too much to fight back. People mistakenly believe that allowing someone to metaphorically plunge a knife into them is always a sign of weakness, but it can actually be a choice motivated by strong love.

God values meekness:

But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy peace and prosperity.” ~ Ps. 37:11

“But I will leave within you
the meek and humble.
The remnant of Israel
will trust in the name of the LORD.” ~ Zeph. 3:12

“Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.” ~ Matt. 5:5

This person was looking for a fight but instead received what was most needed: grace. People who seek to bully others with their words don’t “win” when they plunge their knives into the meek. They instead get a glimpse of God, whose Son embodied meekness as he submitted to the cross.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace covering her face. Courtesy Bitmoji.]