Wow, this is a hard one for me.
I can hear some of my friends reading this saying, “No way. You don’t struggle with self-control. You are a long distance runner. You ran in college. After college, you ran a marathon and qualified for the Boston Marathon. You homeschool your kids. You wrote a book, after all. You have to have self-control.”
Well, yes and no.
I have alcoholic blood running through my veins. I myself have never even drunk half a glass of alcohol. The only alcohol I have tasted has been no more than a sip here and there that I’ve almost spat out. It smells and tastes nasty to me (no matter how sweetened and doctored up it is, no matter how much it is supposedly “burned off”). Furthermore, I have two strong reasons not to accustom myself to it. One is the aforementioned alcoholism in my family going back at least two generations.
Two is that I inherited the same alcoholic “all or nothing” attitude. Yes, as long as I have the motivation, I can and will exercise regularly and with intensity (a fact that gets me injured quite a lot), eat fairly well, and do whatever else I need to do in order to reach my goal. I will do it with all of me. But without a strong enough goal, I am as weak as a two year old told not to touch anything in a toy store. I will go from exercising six days a week to none at all.
Without some kind of external or major internal motivation, I don’t last long. Take something small like my New Year’s resolution to drink more water. I know I need water for my body to function well. It will help me have more energy; it will keep me from getting kidney stones–something I fear; it will even help my wrinkles. I even enjoy drinking water! However, I can never remember a time when I’ve done well at drinking enough water for long–even when I have a pitcher of water sitting out to remind myself. Even when I set a hourly timer for myself on my phone. Not even when I set up a reward chart for myself (If I drink enough water every day for a week, I get to read whatever I want for half an hour on Saturday!). If I have trouble drinking water, which is not doing what I’m supposed to be doing, you can imagine how hard it is for me to have self-control in harder areas where I have to stop doing something I’ve already started doing. For example, putting down that bag of potato chips (or chocolate chips), going to sleep on time, or keeping my temper with my kids when I’ve already started losing patience. I try and try and try to have self-control, but I fail again and again.
Last week, I was so frustrated with myself; my self-control was so lacking. I cried to God, “Please help me! I’m a mess! I have so little self-control. I can’t make myself do what I know I should be doing. I keep trying, but I can’t do it.” This is where I should have gone in the first place. After all, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, not a fruit of my will. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).
After my prayer, I didn’t become super self-controlled right away, but I did notice a difference. Although I was still tempted to do what I shouldn’t do, I had a much stronger ability to say no. I’m still struggling with this, but I know if I ask God for help with this every day and ask Him to fill me with His Spirit so I might have the fruit of self-control, my struggle will be less. Praise God that even though I can’t no matter how hard I try, He can.