Self-control: A boxing match with my own thoughts
Have you ever had your plans shift in an entirely different way than how you planned? Or been so disappointed over something you thought you just might die right then and there? Me too. And until I learned how to manage the story I replayed over and over in my head, I really sucked at this.
When one of our family trips went awry, I was disappointed but more than anything, I was filled with fear. Could I actually do the thing I had set out to do, when it looked like this? It looked nothing like what I pictured in my head. If there’s one thing that I feel threatens my self-control, it’s traveling with kids–now imagine traveling with kids when nothing has gone to plan.
We were sad. But in a situation like this, where there was no good way around any of it, we had to accept our new reality that the trip we had planned would look entirely different than we had imagined, and maybe exceedingly, abundantly more than we had hoped. A small voice inside my head recited scripture. Just me and my children in a foreign city all alone. The thought sent my stomach for a loop.
God did not create me in a spirit of fear, I reminded myself. (2 Tim 1:7)
During the next 12 hours of layover time, I had to remind myself why I drag my kids through airports and plane rides to get to a faraway place. I have to tell myself a positive story to drown out the negative story playing in my head. I re-read the very words I typed on an airplane when one of our past trips went awry…
“We see buildings that have seen a revolution and two world wars – in kidspeak, that’s cannons, gun fights and guillotines: starvation, rations, and selflessness! I want to see them feel incredibly small as they take in the expanse of a beach where American soldiers willingly died for a cause greater than themselves. I want to see culture speak to their spirit. I want to see beauty and history move their souls. I want to be there for that. But also, I want them to see me. The real me. Not the one barking out orders and running them around to activities. I want them to see how I’ve carefully curated an environment where we don’t just talk about the things we’d love to do, we do them.
Maybe they’ll always see me as wild and crazy, a mama who followed her dreams. They’ll see following those dreams is hard, and there are obstacles, and sometimes you have to go it alone. But in the end, we see each other as mere specks on the planet, here for a vapor of time, and gone. The real me is a curious adventurer, a wanderer, a dreamer. I want them to see me this way and remember I’m a person, not just their mom. I have hopes and dreams and one of the biggest ones is to take my family to see the world. So, yeah, traveling can be tough, but the price of the journey will be worth every uncomfortable moment in between.”
The fight over my thoughts felt like a boxing match.
I had to fight for the lovely and praiseworthy thoughts to emerge. I get it: nobody was in dire straits here, being forced to take a trip alone, but the fear and anxiety welled up inside me with fists ready to pummel. I had to employ every bit of wisdom I had learned and every bit of truth I could speak over this situation to get my mind right.
I recognized that I could be nervous, wary, and even fearful, and still do something incredibly brave. If we had come this far – and it felt very, very far – then it must be a good thing to go ahead and get on this plane and realize one of my lifelong dreams. But I still couldn’t entirely shake the “what-if” thoughts.
I had to flex my self-control muscle pretty hard.
Speaking of self-control, a simple definition that anyone can find online is: “to master the dominion within oneself.” You’re not going to argue with that definition, are you? Well, what did our good buddy the Apostle Paul say about it? What if I included the word “lordship?” as in “to be mastered by our Lord?” It turns out it’s one of the translations of self-control in Greek. 1 Timothy 4:7 reads, “God did not create you with a power of fear (timidity) but power, love, and self-control (discipline).”
When I think about self-control, I remember that Paul’s letter did not say “power,” “love,” and “gentleness” when he wrote the Galatians. He explicitly used fighting words: power, love, self-control.
This is a war. It’s either the enemy or God. There is no in-between. Nothing depicts this better than what I’m about to tell you.
Have you ever thought about the secret place? (Psalm 129:13) You know, the place where God crafted each human that would roam the earth? He crafted you to do wonderful things. The secret place where he sang praises over you is filled with luminous light bouncing off space itself. Darkness is not a thing. He hummed purpose to your unformed ears. You understood the language of heaven without being able to talk. He equipped you with spiritual gifts. Fear was not present. Darkness did not exist, and it was not present upon your making, dear one.
You are so dear to God. You and I were made in light, the very light that illuminates from God Himself. His light is so vast that there is enough for all. His powerful mind and hands knit you together and placed you in your mother’s womb after all that crafting and humming and angelic harmony.
If you’re still not convinced that you’re amazing, Paul used the word “poiema” in his letter to the Ephesians when he stated that we are God’s workmanship or craftsmanship. The Greek word “poiema” is where we get our word for “poetry” in English today.
As a writer, I know how it feels to craft a beautifully perfect sentence. I can only imagine how God felt when he was done with you and me. We are the works of his mighty hands. Can you see it? Do you believe it? As he hummed and pieced you together, he gently swayed to the sound of creation as it rejoiced at the actions of a God who knew what He was doing when He made you.
This is what I think about on days when my mental banter gets me down. You may not care to travel with your children, but you may want to do something difficult with them—maybe something as simple as taking them to a restaurant for dinner. But instead of staying in the negative loop of what ifs… tell yourself the story you want to see. Focus on the story laced with truth from the Bible. Be comforted and equipped to fight that spiritual battle that rages in our minds. Now, that is an excellent way to practice some self-control.