Which of the following, measured when a child is 11 years of age, is the best predictor of happiness and overall life satisfaction roughly 20 years later, when that child has become a 31- or 32-year-old adult? IQ? Grade point average? Self-Control? Openness to New Ideas? Friendliness? The Correct answer is: Self-control, particularly when it is joined with its sister trait of conscientiousness (Leonard Sax, The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups).
Happiness isn’t to be found in learning to control our environment, our circumstances, or the people we love. Most all of these things lie forever outside of our control. Happiness is to be found in harnessing the one thing we can control: ourselves.
What is self-control? It is the ability to maintain a grip on ourselves (our thoughts, affections, emotions, desires, words, and deeds) when everything in us and around us would naturally move us to behave without principle, restraint, and love. It is, as Rudyard Kipling memorably opined, “To keep our heads when all about us are losing theirs!”
To keep our heads: Self-control forms as we learn to keep a grip on our senses! By contrast, you remember, the fathers used to describe an hysterical person as someone who had “taken leave of their senses.” To be a person of self-control, therefore, we must learn to think Christianly, with right-reason.
To be self-controlled, we must learn to think clearly and concisely under pressure, to keep a number of truths constantly front and center in our minds: the presence and character of God, His gracious promises that are relevant to this particular situation, the reality that we wrestle not with flesh and blood but with the Spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places, our own propensity towards idolatry (a loss of control almost always indicates panic at the prospect of losing an idol— something we need so badly we feel we can’t live without it). In times of crises, much of these things lie hidden beneath the tumultuous waters of a very confused heart. We do well to cry with the prophet, “The heart is deceitful above all things, who can know it? I know, the heart, says the Lord and render to every man according to His deeds.” (Paraphrase Jeremiah 17:9).
Are you a person given to self-control? What situations stress your abilities in this area? When you are tempted to lose control, what thoughts, fears, insecurities, doubts, etc., go through your mind? What does this inner turmoil say about your functional god at that particular moment? What does the Bible say about such thinking? How should you be thinking? Can you develop a strategy for becoming more self-controlled (and in what areas)?
Such self-possession is by no means easy. It does not grow naturally in the soil of Adam’s fallen race. Only the Supernatural power of the Holy Spirit can take us there (Galatians 5:22). But when He comes into a person’s heart, self-control is always one of the beautiful scars he habitually leaves behind. Call upon Him, this morning. Ask Him to search you, to see if there be any hurtful way in you, and to lead you in the everlasting way (Psalm 139).