It all starts with self discipline
By Brooke Stacia Demott
A few Januarys ago, my husband Brian and I resolved to get in shape. Six kids and a decade of marriage tucked (a little too tightly) under our belts, made “healthy” a high calling.
We learned pretty quickly that bad habits don’t just disappear; they must be replaced with better ones. Goals can’t breathe in a vacuum. So, evening bowls of ice cream morphed into yogurt. Forty-five lazy minutes of morning coffee became 45 aggressive minutes of exercise.
That first year was hard; there was a lot of backsliding and frustration, most of which came from a wrong perspective. People are creatures of comfort, and often, our motivation comes from the desire to be “done.” We kid ourselves into thinking there’s an end.
In reality, everything requires maintenance. All systems tend toward chaos without frequent, purposeful intervention.
Why are so many New Year’s resolutions fated to fail? Often, our ambitions are lacking a critical element — the self-control to make these changes permanent.
Intentions aren’t enough; they must be coupled with a commitment to endure. There are no shortcuts to success. To make progress, we’ve got to surrender to the long haul — with full confidence that it’ll be worth the effort.
In essence, every resolution can be boiled down to this: “I need more self-control.”
What is self-control?
Simply put, self-control is when we bring our bodies under submission to our will. It’s the ability to bridle those unhealthy urges that try to lead us astray, and push ourselves toward beneficial disciplines.
Laying down fatty foods and lazy mornings while simultaneously taking up the salad bar and the treadmill — self-control means restraint and endurance.
A “you only live once” world like ours makes self-control a hard sell. You won’t find many peddlers of this virtue today; they can’t gain traction on these new roads to happiness, paved over with a slippery layer of impulse gratification.
Age of hedonism
Today’s mantra — “Satisfy every urge, and you will find happiness” — rings in our ears and nestles in our minds, leaving us vulnerable to a variety of deceptions that promise what they cannot deliver.
“He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.”
— Lao Tsu
Embracing this lie has brought us to a devastating societal crux. Sex and gender identity are under a bizarre attack, to the detriment of the next generation. Abstinence is scoffed at as unrealistic, and the strong benefits of maintaining sexual integrity until and throughout marriage are ignored.
Crash diets replace healthy lifestyles; depression medication mutes the need for mourning loss in the context of real community; demanding kids are pacified with iPhones in lieu of interaction and discipline from their parents.
“Like a city whose walls are broken down, is a man who lacks self-control.” (Proverbs 25:28). This is a powerful picture of one of God’s fundamental truths: Without self-control, you are vulnerable.
You aren’t free at all, but exposed and open to attack. Sin enters the gates of a person’s heart like the Trojan horse of the Greeks; outwardly beautiful, but filled with murderous intent.
How do we develop self-control? Not for just this year, but for life?
We need more than a good idea, and good intentions. We need a clear view of truth, and a whole lot of power. More power than we have within ourselves.
Self-control, like each spiritual fruit that we’ve discussed this year (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness) is not only available but increasingly abundant in us by God’s Holy Spirit.
Why? God’s spirit is not only essentially good, but unbelievably powerful. Powerful enough to train our minds to see beyond present circumstances and look with hope toward the future; to lead us in the right direction; and to strengthen us for every good work. “The Spirit of God, powerful enough to raise Christ from the dead, lives in (every believer).” (Romans 8:11).
We’re multifaceted creatures — body, soul (personality) and spirit. Our spirits are vehicles that carry us into eternity; either to be with God, or forever separated from him.
Because of sin, we are born spiritually dead. But the gift of God is eternal life — through faith in Jesus, our spirits are tethered to God’s and raised to life. The impossible, beautiful reality is that God’s spirit can resurrect your own, and walk you through this life and the next.
This year, resolving to develop self-control, our first step must be toward God, seeking his powerful assistance for a truly new life. It is, after all, what God delights to do.
“For God gave us not a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self control.” — 2 Timothy 1:7
• Brooke Stacia Demott is a columnist with In Good Health newspaper. Got a question for Demott? Feel free to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.