Devotional Days: Grief and Self-Control

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?



12 thoughts on “Devotional Days: Grief and Self-Control

  1. Thank you for sharing your heart. I haven’t held a little baby since I lost Daniel and the thought just hurts. Grief has made me feel broken. My heart is broken. My ability to be a mom. My ability to love myself. Asking lots of questions why and yet still knowing that the Lord is in control. Not wanting to be alone and yet not wanting to talk because I may just break out in tears. May you find His peace and allow Him to heal your heart not just cover over the brokenness. xx

    • Such familiar feelings, Katie – I understand every one of them. Better than my understanding, Jesus understands every one of them and has promised He will use them to draw you to Himself. I think of you often, and pray that you will be encouraged. Much love to you and your sweet family today.

  2. Amanda–Thanks so much for sharing your grief (and the hard, often heart-shattering lessons that God is teaching you) with us. I appreciate your honesty and desire to pursue Truth in the midst of the Enemy’s lies. Making war with our flesh is a most defeating and discouraging thing, and yet the Spirit leads us through so many defeats in order to show us the victory that has been won for us. May God give you hope and clarity on this crucifying journey toward the Celestial City. You’re loved and appreciated. While I cannot fully relate the the tremendous grief that you and Dan have experienced, your words resonate with my experience of grief in other ways. After years of relational frustration and grief, I found that I often indulged sinful patterns to cope when the pain of loneliness was most debilitating. Giving in to lust rather than pursuing self-control was one way making myself feel better (for a short while), but it only compounded my guilt and pain and loneliness. Gradually, and with great difficulty, the Spirit has brought me to an increasing place of self-control that has brought with it greater trust in God’s plan and provision for my life, as well as increased contentment and joy. It doesn’t mean the pain or void has completely left, but I find my hope and satisfaction are most fulfilled through Spirit-given pursuit of God rather than the desires of the flesh.

    So, all of that to say, thanks for speaking honesty and truth and pointing toward Him. It’s a most difficult road, but it’s not a dead end. It’s not always a straight path (because of our sin and the challenges of this fallen world), but the Spirit will lead you toward the place where your heart most longs to be: with our King in His Great City. Thanks for your example of walking that road with perseverance–even though you often feel that you fall off of the path–the Spirit is guiding you through every moment of the battle. He makes war when we struggle to fight. Even an inch of territory stolen from the Enemy is victory. You may only win the fight a few inches at a time, while at times losing some ground, but He has overcome. The Spirit who gave Christ victory over sin and death is committed to living out the victory of Christ in us so that where He is, we might also be. He takes sons and daughters that were enslaved to harlotry with sin, and He makes us a pure bride before Him.

    In closing, I wanted to share a quote that has given me great hope in the moments when I am most acutely aware of my sinful indulgence:

    “At the heart of [The Freedom of a Christian] is a story of a king who marries a prostitute, Luther’s allegory for the marriage of King Jesus and the wicked sinner. When they marry, the prostitute becomes, by status, a queen. It is not that she made her behavior queenly and so won the right to the king’s hand. She was and is a wicked harlot through and through. However, when the king made his marriage vow, her status changed. Thus she is, simultaneously, a prostitute at heart and a queen by status. In just the same way, Luther saw that the sinner, on accepting Christ’s promise in the gospel, is simultaneously a sinner at heart and righteous by status. What has happened is the ‘joyful exchange’ in which all that she has (her sin) she gives to him, and all that he has (his righteousness, blessedness, life and glory) he gives to her. Thus she can confidently display ‘her sins in the face of death and hell and say, “If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all his is mine and all mine is his”.’ This was Luther’s understanding of ‘justification by faith alone’, and it is in that security, he argued, that the harlot actually then starts to become queenly at heart.”[1]

    So much to ponder…
    Know that I am praying for you!! Be blessed, my sister, as you yield your heart to His power to overcome.

    [1] Michael Reeves, The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009), 50.

    • Brother Gabe – as always, your words are a blessing to me. God has given you such wisdom and a gift for sharing it. Thank you for sharing your journey, and the encouragement that comes with seeing our Father graciously work in someone’s life. I love the idea of separating out the sinner’s heart from the righteous status. Its a very powerful concept, and so well put. Thank you for sharing. Blessings on you!

  3. For what it’s worth, I think you have handled grief admirably well. If you hadn’t faced your grief and did not write out your tiny boy’s story, I never would’ve “met” you and I saw strength in the story as you shared it and even now as you look to learn how God can speak to you through what happened. You’re not ignoring it. I know there are times when it gets to be overwhelming and the pint of ice cream and a new dress are the only ways you feel that you can get away from it. But you also have those times when you haven’t given in to the ice cream and clothes and have faced that grief head-on. Remember those times as well!

    I can also completely relate to not being able to understand how to cooperate with the Spirit. That idea is so abstract to me that it’s something I’ve struggled with for all of my adulthood in my quest to be more Christ-like. What do we do to do nothing? Or how can we possibly just 100% rely on the Spirit to change us? If you get any answers, let me know! 🙂

    • How thoughtful you are! It is easy to get lost in the failures and forget the triumphs, and I’m grateful you’ve reminded me of that.

      If I come up with any helpful insights, you can bet I’ll share them. We’ll see where God takes me!

  4. Amanda, I read your note with tears in my eyes. I cannot imagine what you and Dan have gone through…and yet, there is something universal about grief. We will eventually lose all we hold dear, if we live long enough (and I often wonder why people are continually trying to live longer…that’s another subject!) and the only right, sensible, and spiritual response to loss is grief. It would be wrong NOT to grieve loss…because it’s loss. I can’t pretend those losses away. They HURT. And they should because the lost things were and still are valuable to me. Your loss is greater than any of mine, though – in some small way I realize that and I know your heart is broken in ways I can’t understand.

    The “author’s note” at the end of Chapter 6 (The Infinite Fatherliness of God) from the little book With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray is a devotional passage I cling to. The whole little section (four paragraphs) broke my heart the first time I read it…how much I have misunderstood God’s heart toward me. I’ll quote a little (emphasis added in caps):
    “We are to begin in the patient love of the Father. Thank about how He knows us personally, as individuals with all our peculiarities, our weaknesses, and our difficulties. The master judges by the result, but our Father judges by the effort. FAILURE DOES NOT ALWAYS MEAN FAULT. HE KNOWS HOW MUCH THINGS COST AND WEIGHTS THEM CAREFULLY WHERE OTHERS WOULDN’T.”

    Who’s to say you’ve failed with self-control? No one is judging you except yourself. 🙂 Is it possible that when Jesus calls some “the least of these” that YOU are one of the least of these? Give yourself the same grace He does.

    (And I struggle with emotional binge eating too…it helps sometimes if I can come up for air long enough to ask myself what it is I am really wanting/craving/needing at that moment! If I need to cry, talk to someone, pray, read the Word or something else, sleep, or exercise, then eating won’t fix it!)

    Perhaps none of this applies or resonates with you…I pray that nothing I’ve said will cause more pain. I do think of you often and pray for you and your families. I look forward to seeing you and little William reunited someday, healed and joyous. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

    • What sweet, thoughtful words, Paula! I agree 100% that grief and pain are universal, they are common to the human condition, and we really shouldn’t be as surprised by them as we are.

      I love that quote from Andrew Murray – Failure does not always mean fault. How I wish I would have been able to carry that with the previous 30 years of my life, as I will be able to carry it into my future. Its interesting that at the thought of being “the least of these” I cringe – that’s not a moniker that I’d prefer to have, but in humility I know that it is probably true. Thank you for speaking truth when it was needed. God bless you!

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