As our Season of Discord hit its crest, I started pondering things at the foundational level. I thought: once we finally got out of this reactive era, what proactive steps could we take to begin injecting Better Things into our midst? What anchors could we begin putting into place – things more solid than simply ‘trying harder’?
I opted for a high-level overview of the virtues we most needed MORE OF! at our house… no-brainer, kid-perfect ones like minding your own business, sharing, being patient. I made a list of our top ten and found a Bible verse to go with each. The list-topper, I knew, had to be self-control. We’d all lost every shred of it, or so it seemed, and it was contributing greatly to our chaos. Because we need self-control to hold back our complaints (or tantrums), curb our tongues, follow through with obedience and/or responsibility, choose kindness, seek God. I certainly need it every bit as much as my kids do… and maybe more. Goodness knows our culture does everything possible to erode this quality in the life of our corporate culture.
In the end, the Self-Control Focus of the past month has turned out to be a four-pronged attack.
1. The Verse. “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” (Proverbs 29:11). We learned it together, recited it every morning at breakfast, and talked about it. What does it mean to keep yourself under control? Why is it wise to keep yourself under control? What does “full vent” mean, and why is it foolish to give full vent to things like anger?
2. The Song. I remembered a song about self-control that I learned as a kid with comical lyrics and a catchy tune… I could still sing it basically verbatim, and I was sure I hadn’t heard it since at least 1986. But sure enough, “Self-Control” on the Music Machine album was still available on the interwebs, so I purchased the CD and played it for my kids. The apples evidently didn’t fall too far from the old tree on this one, because they love this song as much as I did (and do). The verses are about stubbing your toe (oh!) and not brushing your teeth (oh me!), and they’re just perfect. So we played it a lot and sang it a lot and laughed about how silly it is when you lose your self-control. Inject a little fun into the study at nobody’s expense – always a win.
3. The Silent Minute. When things get overly loud and chaotic and crazy at our house, as they often do, I needed a quick-turn method to reverse it. I needed to be able to pull something out of my pocket to quickly get everyone to regroup. What I came up with was the “Silent Minute.” I say, “Silent Minute — ready, set, go!” Then I pull out my stopwatch and clock 60 seconds while each kid sits individually and quietly, not talking or laughing. Afterwards they each get a chocolate chip as a reward (or, if they failed to get through the silent minute without talking or laughing, another Silent Minute). What do I get? Sanity, a game-changer, and enough time to figure out how to regroup and redirect. It was actually quite easy and quick to train and implement, and my kids love it. They feel they accomplished something, and who doesn’t love a random chocolate chip?
4. Habit-tracking. This one I’m still experimenting with… But what I realized was, low self-control yields poor habits and a continuation – even escalation – of problematic behaviors. I see it in myself – for example: when I don’t control my media usage well, I become a slave to my phone quite quickly, pulling it out whenever I get a quiet minute. This behavior then further erodes my self-control, and down the spiral goes. My kids have the same thing. With my eldest, I began having him write a tally mark on a paper every time he exhibited his poor behavior (in this case, self-pitying complaining offered in a fit-type manner), just so we could see the influence of the habit throughout the day. The very act of writing up the tally mark called attention to the habit in an objective way, allowing us to quantify it and work toward decreasing it. It was helpful, at least for a short season (we’re doing it for a week). The next step will probably be to reverse the tallies so they represent the triumph of self-control over the habit — perhaps say, at the outset of the behavior, “Now is the moment to choose self-control,” and if he can suppress the impulse, then chalk up a mark for that success.
These things have been helpful, and God has used them on our behalf. They have not – as you’ve likely guessed- been a panacea or a magic wand granting us all complete control over our actions. But I daresay that they have helped us bring the language and essence of self-control back into our daily landscape in a way that we desperately needed.Because self-control is a lovely gift that God brings us by his Holy Spirit, allowing us to bring His power to bear over our temptations, impulses, and emotions. So we need not be ruled by them, but rather can be ruled by Him and His goodness.
Originally published September, 2013