Self-control is the most fundamental, and most difficult, task a Christian has to accomplish.
In Baptism we renounce slavery to Satan and embark on a life of freedom. In death we are judged on whether our freedom served God or ourselves. But it’s hard. St. Paul sums up freedom in Christ this way: “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh … to prevent you from doing what you would.”
Precisely because I’m terrible at self-control, I have developed six points to motivate me. And because I’m bad at remembering six points, I’ve come up with a mnemonic device to remember them. Here’s how it works.
1: HE is the first person who motivates my self-control — Jesus Christ.
H is for Honest.
“Lord, you have searched me; you know me … with all my ways you are familiar” (Psalm 139:1).
Be honest — with yourself and with God. It is easy to rationalize behavior you should be controlling. You tell yourself you need to check your phone; you can pray later. You say you need to buy just one thing on Amazon — the budget can handle one small purchase.
But I was recently convicted by a random Facebook meme that said, “What is it that you won’t give up — even for God?” I know what it is for me. You know what it is for you. So does God. Hiding it will do no good. Be honest and give it up.
E is for Endure.
“He who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).
Jesus Christ sacrificed his life on the cross, even though he didn’t want to — and we are meant to imitate his suffering.
But how will we ever die for Jesus, if we can’t offer up a piece of cake for him? How will we ever put ourselves in harm’s way for our family if we can’t save money for them?
I try to be thankful for the small cross in front of me — skipping that drink or that binge-watching time. If it irritates me to do it, good. That will prepare me to endure far worse.
2: WE are the next people to motivate me: My family and community.
W is for Well-being.
“Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one” (1 Corinthians 9:25).
We are used to thinking about health all wrong. Our health isn’t primarily for ourselves. In fact, if it is all about ourselves, it’s unbalanced. Our health is for others: Those who count on us for service, provision, or evangelization.
They count on our physical well-being, so we should eat and drink in moderation. They count on our emotional well-being, so we shouldn’t be addicted to social media. They count on our moral well-being, so we shouldn’t indulge our sinful curiosity online.
E is for Engage.
“Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
The best way to build virtue is to spend time with virtuous people. The best way to ruin it is to spend time with unvirtuous people — in person or online or in movies and television. Flee temptation by engaging in activities with good people: Your family, your friends, your shut-in neighbor — or through enriching entertainment.
Don’t just sit there and struggle, walk away and engage.
3: ME – I’m the last (and, yes, least) person to motivate myself.
M is for Model.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Moral compromises leave us depressed, anxious, and unhappy. They also set a bad example for those who look to us — and, believe me, people notice.
You know who you’re supposed to be — the friend, spouse, parent, volunteer or apostle Jesus Christ needs. By becoming that person, bit by bit, you will become a model for others.
E is for Excel — or Effort.
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
There are two futures available to each of us: One is to live an excellent life of holy effort that gives glory to God. The other is to surrender to comfort and selfishness while doing the bare spiritual minimum.
The only way to live the first is to start controlling the things that derail us. In fact, the only way to begin is to start with one thing, beat it, then move on to another.
I, for one, plan to try to put forth the effort to try to excel at self-control. Why? For HE, WE, and ME.
He wants it, we need it and it’s about time the “me” in the mirror matched the “me” in my mind.
This appeared at Aleteia.
Image: Flickr, Donnie Ray Jones.