I’ve never been very good at self-control. In some areas I’m better than others, but when I look at the fruit of the Spirit this is the one that I usually feel like I’m failing in the most. I don’t mind confessing that. I also don’t mind confessing that since we lost our sweet baby, I’ve gotten worse. Much, much worse.
I have many vices that I like to use to help myself “feel better,” and the worse I feel the more I give into these vices. Sadly, the more I give into my vices, the worse I feel. Its a vicious cycle. I feel completely and utterly out of control, like I’m on autopilot just reacting to whatever comes along rather than thoughtfully considering how to respond and what is best to do.
I’m slowly starting to connect some of my behavior to my grief. Not long ago I visited a friend who had a new baby. As I sat there tentatively holding that precious little person my one recurring thought was “the last time I held a child, he died.” I couldn’t shake that thought, and by the time I’d said my farewells and gotten in my car I was sobbing. I sobbed from my friend’s house to Wal-Mart, where I bought myself a pint of ice cream, a new dress, and a package of cookie dough. I sobbed from Wal-Mart all the way home, where I finished off the pint of ice cream and a dozen cookies. In that moment of grief I couldn’t think of one single thing to make myself feel better other than food and new clothes.
How often I’ve done this over the past few months. After a hard day at work, we order pizza because I don’t want to cook. After a night of restless sleeping and bad dreams I’m at the coffee shop buying a deluxe latte and looking for a new book to buy. When our small group reaches out to check on us and difficult topics come up, I feel too worn out to take a walk and end up on the couch watching movies in my sweats. Anything at all to make myself feel better.
Its so very clear that I’m not comfortable with grief. I’m not any good at it, I don’t like it, and I would like for it to go away. How much of our society is like this! We just want to feel comfortable, and life in general is not a comfortable thing.
All of the advice out there for those of us who are grieving seems so contradictory. “Take care of yourself,” they say. “Eat well, avoid caffeine, get lots of rest, go for a walk!” But then they say “Be patient with yourself, do things that make you feel good, look for things that bring you joy!” When you’re me, that’s like saying “Walk east! But make sure you walk west!”
So what to do?
I know I need to become more comfortable with grief. To let it be, to accept that grieving is a necessary part of my day to day life and to be comfortable in my grief rather than wishing it away. But there is way more than that. I need to stop using my grief as an excuse to live an out-of-control life.
I’m working on a theory; it’s incomplete, but its the best I’ve got for now. I was sitting in church last week, as we were starting a sermon series on the Holy Spirit. One of the scriptures mentioned was Galatians 5:22-23: the Fruit of the Spirit. It suddenly dawned on me that its the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruit of Amanda. Here I’ve been trying and trying to grow my own self-control, thinking I just needed to work harder, be better, and punish myself when I failed.
That little prepositional phrase “of the Spirit” has reminded me that because I am a broken, flawed, sinful being I cannot grow my own self-control. The Holy Spirit must be active and working in my life to result in self-control.
Here’s where I’ve got a hole in my theory: I know that I must play a role in the growth of the fruit of the Spirit. I can’t just sit on my righteous bum and assume that I’ll magically become self-controlled. But I really and truly do not understand how to cooperate with the Spirit in order to develop self-control. I feel stuck in Romans 7:15 – “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Fortunately, Romans 8:1 says that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.
I think Paul must be on to something. I’m going to spend some time this week in Romans 7 and 8 to see if God, through Paul, can help me fill the holes in my theory and give me something to put into practice. Look for updates on my journey to self-control coming, God willing, in the upcoming months.
How are you developing self-control in your life?