I heard that a lot growing up. I’m pretty sure my dad was the one who would say it to me, but it could have been my mom or both of them. It was a warning when I would get either too excited and was starting to get too “rambunctious” or was working up to a meltdown over something. It was a long way of saying “calm down” or “chill out.” Without that outside discipline, I would have been wide-open, full-throttle all the time. I just never really developed that as a self-discipline whether happy, sad, angry, or whatever so that out on my own, there was little restraint in acting out.
Slowly, I have come to understand that acting out rather than taking a moment or so to “get a hold of myself” results in destructive behavior one way or another. No matter the circumstances I tend to speak or act without thinking about the effect on others. Or I sit and stew on it internalizing until I end up metaphorically vomiting on someone who probably didn’t have anything to do with what I was stewing on. Or I just act out without knowing all the facts and/or giving the benefit of the doubt and then find out I was completely wrong about the whole situation.
The past few weeks, there has been a recurrent theme popping up in sermons I’m listening to (both at my church, and podcasts), some of the blogs I read, and a book I’m currently reading. When the same thing keeps popping up, it’s a good indication that I need to be paying close attention. And so I’ve been mulling all this over. Chewing on it, if you will. It makes perfect sense, but there was just still a little bit gnawing at me with it with regards to application. Sometimes I’m slow. For instance, years ago, I heard a sermon (I think it was more of a series of sermons) about a particular topic. I “got it,” but I wholeheartedly disagreed, and therefore didn’t believe it applied to me at all. Years later, I heard another sermon, and “got it” to the point of believing it applied to me. I even heard another teacher teach on it, fully agreeing, and later found myself chewing it all over when the light bulb went off. It was the same thing I had heard as a kid and completely rejected, and this time I really “got it.” The whole concept. Better late than never right?
Anyway, I’m now seeing a twist to this latest thing that I hadn’t expected. Since I have already put it out there once, I’ll put it out there again. Because that’s how I roll. My husband is an alcoholic/drug addict, and it is a sickness that spreads throughout the entire family. I struggle with it probably as much as he does because I think (wrongly) that it should be easier for him to give up the drugs and alcohol than it is. I fall into that thinking because I was relatively easily delivered from my porn addiction (which was just a portion of the problem). When my drinking gets to be “problem drinking,” it’s relatively easy for me to just not drink. I can carry around percocet with me 24×7 and not take it. But then I “conveniently” forget how hard it was to quit smoking and stay quit. And how many years I would still crave a cigarette. I still got an occasional craving.
But since I forget what is difficult for me, I fall into that trap of thinking I know the solution. “Just go to AA! You know it works!” Here’s the problem. He said once that at AA all they talk about is drinking, and that just makes him want to drink. That did not make a lick of sense to me despite the fact that I can spot a lit cigarette smouldering in the street as I am driving and crave so bad it takes every bit of willpower I have not to stop and buy a pack. I think it was Pastor Benji who was talking about what we concentrate on saying that for an alcoholic that’s trying to quit drinking by saying “Don’t drink! Don’t drink!” over and over to themselves is always thinking about drinking. And so, eventually, they will drink again. And now I get it.
Therefore, all the sermons, blogs, and the book are all saying the same thing. If you are always (or mostly) thinking about not committing a particular sin (or sins), your focus is on the wrong thing. It’s not merely a battle of wills. It’s like when Jesus was walking on the water toward the boat the disciples were in, and had Peter to walk out to him. Peter was walking on the water just fine as long as he was looking at Jesus. When he looked at the wind and the waves, he began to sink. He lost his focus on who was keeping him on top of the water in the storm. If any of us could overcome our sin by sheer willpower, we wouldn’t need Jesus at any point in our lives. Bottom line, we never stop needing Jesus. So instead of looking at our temptations and trying to overcome it by white-knuckling through the weakness, we need to look to Jesus and reach out to him. We will be overcome with exhaustion eventually trying to do it ourselves, but He will never let us go.
Rather than “getting a hold of myself,” I need to let go of myself. Rather than spending my energy on trying not to do what I don’t want to do, focus on doing what I know to be good, looking to Jesus to lead me where He wants me.