Guided Living: Learning to Control Myself
Updated: Dec 4, 2022
I'll never forget one of my mentors telling me, "The most important thing you can teach a young man is self-control." As I grew in my own understanding of what this meant, it became evident that this is one of the most relevant principles of our day. Many of us attempt to control our external circumstances and relationships in order to manage our emotions. For instance, I keep a clean house or make sure I always arrive 15 minutes early so that I can avoid the anxiety and anger that ensues when my life does not go according to plan. I "make sure", in no uncertain terms, that my family, friends, and colleagues know what I expect from them so that I can avoid being let down, and thereby avoid feelings of rejection, hurt, and insecurity. However, these approaches have several drawbacks. The biggest of which is that we cannot control our relationships or our circumstances anywhere close to the extent needed in order to avoid the very inconsistencies that drive us to anxiety. In short, we must become controllers of self, versus controllers of others. This is much more than learning to be "flexible" or "just relax". It requires altering one's core belief that an external locus of control will ultimately bring the inner peace I desire. It is what Paul refers to when he says, "I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:12-13). Basically, as a mature Christian I am to grow beyond the everyday excuses I use to justify my lack of self-control. "If I had eaten earlier I wouldn't be so 'hangry' right now." "If they had just done what they were supposed to do then I wouldn't have lost it that way." "If people would just learn to drive," and "If I could only....fill in the blank." As children we learned to exert effort at staging our lives so that we could avoid hurt, pain, and anxiety. As men we must exert effort spiritually in order to quell our emotions and truly find peace in a world which is, and always has been, out of our control (2 Peter 1:5-7).