I was never a bad kid. I didn’t have that kind of reputation with friend or teachers, yet I received my fair share of punishments and detentions. Why? Because of a little talking problem I had. I talked to my friends during class. I talked to the teacher without raising my hand. I talked aloud when I had a question. I talked standing in line or during assemblies. You name it, I talked. To be honest, I haven’t completely outgrown it. My mouth still gets me in trouble to this day.
Self-control is not my strong suit, but truthfully is it anyone’s? Perhaps there’s a reason that it’s listed last out of the nine fruit of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and then Self-Control.
These days, I have another self-control problem, and it’s one that many people struggle with: the overuse of social media. Unfortunately, there’s no detention for it. No one is there to monitor my behavior, or dole out punishments if I spend too long scrolling Facebook. The platforms themselves are designed to be addicting. There’s no natural end to it, because scrolling can last forever. There’s no end to the likes and the comments that are possible. Each positive interaction receives a dopamine hit in the brain. Social media gives the essence of social interaction, but without most of the positive benefits. Even knowing all of this, I struggle to maintain control over it.
Over the years I have been through cycles of how to manage my social media use. After all, awareness is the first step, right? I desire to have self-control in this area, but somehow I always find myself overstepping the boundaries that I put in place. I can tell myself that I won’t look again for two hours, but, without meaning to, I impulsively check Instagram again as soon as boredom arises.
A few years ago, I heard Henry Cloud, co-author of the bestselling book, Boundaries, speak about this issue. He told a story from his own life, explaining that when he was at home he could eat well and work out regularly, but, whenever he went on the road for business, he inevitably started gaining weight. He couldn’t seem to stick to his healthy lifestyle choices while traveling. So, he reminded himself that whenever self-control fails, it’s important to bring in outside accountability. He then hired a trainer or life coach that he could check in with while he was on the road and found that afterwards he was better able to maintain his healthy lifestyle while traveling.
I have tried to remember this wise advice: Whenever self-control fails, bring in outside accountability.
Outside accountability can look like many different options. For phone use, it could mean having a timer on social media apps. It could mean shutting off all internet at a certain time of day. It could look like having an accountability partner. There are no limits to the creative ways that one could employ the use of outside accountability.
Usually, when we think and talk about boundaries, it’s within the context of relationships. Sometimes, however, we need to set boundaries with ourselves. Sin exists in others, but it also exists within. Solomon wrote about this concept long ago:
A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.Proverbs 25:28 ESV
Self-control is our boundary line. Without it, there’s little with which to keep the good in or the bad out. We alone have control over how we spend our time, what we consume, how we behave, or what we say.
If only it was easy. There’s a reason that self-control is listed not as a trait or characteristic we should exhibit but as a fruit of the Spirit. By my own self-will, I cannot achieve self-control. I can’t white knuckle it long enough to maintain goodness, patience, kindness, or peace either. They are fruit given by the Holy Spirit.
Gifts can be desired. They can be prayed for. They can be cultivated.
Although self-control may not be a fun fruit to cultivate, it sure is worth the effort.
Pause: Inhale deeply, then slowly exhale. Take a few moments to meditate on the above verse.
Renew: In what area of your life are you like a city broken into and left without walls? In what areas of your life do you have self-control, and in what areas is it lacking? Pray that the Lord would reveal these areas to you.
Next: If there is an area of your life in which you lack self-control, think about how you might begin to use outside accountability to help you have better boundaries in that area. Pray for self-control, and, if you feel so led, ask a trusted friend or mentor to pray for you as well.
May we strive to be cities with sturdy walls.
Pause, Renew, Next!