Thursday, July 26, 2012

Building Character: Self-Control

 As a family, we are studying a character trait each week, and are beginning with the Fruits of the Spirit.  This week we are finishing up the Fruits of the Spirit, but you can go back and read Love, Joyfulness, Peaceable, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness and Gentleness.  If you want more information on the nuts and bolts of what we are doing, you can read how to get started on this post.

This week we are talking about one our greatest challenges - having SELF-CONTROL.

I find this very interesting:  In Titus 2, Paul gives lists of things Titus needs to teach to different groups of people.  We are probably all very familiar with the list of 8 things older women are to teach younger women in verses 4 and 5 and one of those things is self-control.  Older men are given a list of six things, one of which is self-control.  Older women are given a list of four things and are the only ones not urged to work on their self-control.  And the young men are given only one exhortation:  "Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled."

My husband says this is because working on self-control is a full-time job for a young man.  He also said that we could spend an entire month JUST talking about self-control if I felt it would be helpful for our two boys.  We talk about self-control many times a day in our house, so this week's lesson will be a helpful focus, but the practice of it will likely continue for my sons for a lifetime.

SELF-CONTROL   vs. self-will
Ruling over my spirit; bringing my heart and actions into line with God's will.

Proverbs 22:28 - "A man without self-control is like a city broken down, without walls."

Self-control is really one of those blanket character traits.  When we have it, we are able to restrain all of those bad character qualities such as anger, selfishness, lust, self-pity, meanness, fearfulness, covetousness, etc...   By ruling over our spirits, we are able to will ourselves to take on the Fruits of the Spirit.  And for most of us, developing self-control will take a lifetime.  We start out as babies, totally unable to rule over our spirits.  If a baby is hungry and tired, they are going to fuss and cry, and at that age, it is to be expected.  But when a four year old is hungry and tired, we expect a little more self-control.  We expect that child in just a few years to learn to wait just a little bit longer and to do it without ugly meltdowns.  We also expect a four year old to learn that the needs of others come before his own.  When told no, he ought to have enough rule over his spirit not to have a tantrum about it.

WARNING:  Controversial parenting advice below!!!  
We are not "time out people" in the traditional sense.  It is because I feel very strongly that there is a bigger picture.  I do not believe just sending a child off by himself to throw his fit is an effective way to teach self-control.  Starting with toddlers, I will sit the melting down child in my lap and gently restrain, urging with a calm voice, "Get some self-control" until he yields.  If the fit only escalates and there is further rebellion, we use negative consequences*.  Our four year old now has enough rule over his spirit from all of that practice on my lap, that he can be told to sit by himself and "Get some self-control" and have it in a few minutes, though sometimes we still need those negative consequences*.  This way there is no intrinsic reward for throwing a fit.  And I think sometimes we don't realize that being allowed to throw crying, kicking tantrums without restraint is rewarding self-will.  Of course, you need to look at your individual children and your family to determine what will work for you, but that is how I begin teaching self-control at a very young age.

I really believe starting young with self-control is important, because if you choose to just "ride out" the toddler tantrum years, your child will eventually learn that throwing kicking screaming fits is socially unacceptable and they will stop.  But they will start to practice the subtle, more dangerous forms of self-will including sulking and emotional manipulation.  I think we all know adults that have little more self-control than a child and it is not a pretty thing.  Those people struggle in their marriages, in the workplace, and with friends.  Yes, it is much happier for our children if they begin practicing self-control while they are young.

*Negative consequences:  Proverbs 22:15, Proverbs 29:15
End of controversial parenting advice.

Now preaching to the parents:
How is your self-control?  Kids will test it and challenge it more than anything.  Do you "lose it" from time to time with them?  I'm going to say two things that I want you to take to heart.  Let these words rattle around in your head when you are called upon to discipline your child and hopefully they will help you maintain self-control in that tough moment -

1.  Never, never, never spank in anger.

2.  Training your children is a time where there is no place for anger.  NO PLACE! 

As I say to my son, "Put all of that anger out of your heart."  Rule over your spirit and get control of yourself before you lose it with your kids.  Because if you regularly lose your temper with them, you will lose their hearts.  You can't just teach about self-control, you have to live it.  I cannot stress enough how important this is.

Ok, I'll stop preaching now and get on with our Bible story.  I hope we can still be friends.  :)
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This week's Bible story:  Luke 4:1-13
Satan Tempts Jesus

For forty days, Jesus endured intense temptation in the wilderness.  He was alone and he was fasting.  Even in his weak physical state, he endured every temptation Satan sent His way without giving in.  I read the entire account out loud, but since the first temptation is by far the easiest for young children to understand, I dwelt upon Satan tempting Jesus to turn the stones into bread more than the others.  Sometimes there is a misconception that Jesus endured these forty days of temptation and then Satan left Him alone, but verse 13 says, "Now when the devil ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time."  Even Jesus was plagued by the devil all of His life on earth.  And we can see that Satan looks for our weakest moments.  We can't let down our guard!

  • How do you feel just before lunch time?  What if you felt hungry like that for a whole day with no food or snacks?  That is the way Jesus felt for forty days, and that is longer than a month!  Jesus wasn't just hungry the way you feel before lunch, He was weak and sick with hunger.  How much do you think He wanted that bread?  And yet He had the self-control to tell Satan, "No!"  
  • How does Jesus answer Satan each time?  (With scripture!  He knows the power of God's words!  We can use God's words to help us have the self-control we need.)
  • If a man without self-control is like a city with broken down walls, what is a man that HAS self-control like?  (A strong city)  Will Satan be able to get in to that man's city?  
  • We need to have a strong mind in order to have self-control.  We need to be able to do the hard things and make ourselves stop before we do bad things, and instead, do the good things.  Jesus was able to rule over His spirit and we need to work very, very hard so we can do the same.  
  • Role play some scenarios that you know would tempt your child's ability to have self-control.  Urge your child to be a "strong city with strong walls" and have them come up with positive and self-controlled reactions to tempting situations.
  • My son asked about Samson and if he was a person that had self-control because he was so strong.  We took a little tangent discussing how Samson was physically strong, but weak when it came to self-control.  His dying act of bringing down the pagan temple with his own strength is a good illustration of those broken down walls that come from a lack of self-control.  
  • Discuss that the work of learning self-control will be their job for the rest of their lives. 
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  1. What you say about time outs, practicing self-rule of spirit v. indulging temper, etc. is so very spot-on! Yes, yes, yes!!!

  2. Excellent. Thank you for being this voice in my life.


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