Dear Self, Control Yourself
So how are you doing with your New Year’s Resolution? Remember that thing that you said you would do, but then didn’t and then forgot that you didn’t. Maybe you started with a commitment to exercise for an hour a day, that eventually became half-an-hour a day, then fifteen minutes a day, then you find yourself siting on the couch watching TV and eating donuts for supper and wondering, “What in the world am I doing?” Then you finish the donuts telling yourself you’re just preparing for your “before” picture like in those weight-loss ads. What is it about us that makes controlling ourselves so difficult sometimes?
We all have areas of our lives that we wish we could improve, whether its exercising more, or eating better, or sticking to a budget. The worst part is we even know the damage that is caused by not pursuing these goals, and yet we still fail to accomplish tasks that we wish to do. I know that donut will eventually turn me into the Pillsbury Doughboy, but they smell so good and they’re beckoning me saying, “Eat me.” Well okay, but this is the last time.
Why is it that we struggle so much with this? Why is self-control so hard? You think it would be easy, after all, aren’t I the self that needs to be controlled? Aren’t I the best person for the job? Maybe, but maybe not. One reason that we struggle so much with self-control is that we don’t have an adequate purpose. Desiring to develop self-control is a noble goal, but is it possible to be desiring self-control for the wrong reasons? It’s like if you were to climb a steep ladder in hopes to get to the roof of your house. A difficult task would be made even harder if you didn’t know why you needed to be up there in the first place. Do I have to remove an ice jam? Do I need to fix a leak? Do I need a place to hide from my family so I can eat donuts? You’re much more likely to struggle through climbing a difficult ladder if you know there’s a motivating purpose for the whole endeavor.
In 2009, researchers Michael McCullough and Brian Willoughby studied the relationship between self-control and religion and found a strong correlation. They discovered one study from the 1920’s that shows that children who went to Sunday School scored higher on tests measuring self-control. These findings are hardly surprising. Religion promotes behavioral accountability. Also, believers tend to give more spiritual significance to their endeavors. Turns out couples who view their marriage as having been put together by God have less marital conflict. People who believe their bodies are gifts from God tend to treat their bodies better. Workers who see their careers as callings from God perform better and are generally happier. It turns out that seeing life through a spiritual lens has incredible benefits. All these benefits are less the result of the buckle-down and try harder approach, but more so the result of viewing your life as sacred. These benefits don’t come through more self-focused efforts. Refraining from eating that last donut is a lot harder if the only reason I’m doing it is for my own sake.
So, does this mean you can take your life, add a mix of God, and presto! a more self-controlled individual will pop out? Hold on a minute. There are no phonies allowed here. Hypocrites won’t last. Only those who truly believe God has a purpose for them can stand. That purpose is to love Him above all else. After all, it’s true that we will follow what we love. It’s true in all areas of life. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” That’s not a command, but a fact of life. What you treasure is what your heart is drawn to and your actions will be an expression of that. In other words, you’ll have an easier time pursuing your goals when you believe you have an ultimate purpose. It can provide passion to endure even when it’s tough. Don’t get me wrong, devotion to God does not solve all your problems. It won’t turn you into an immediate beacon of consistency. I’ve been trying to follow God’s will long enough in my own life to know that I still fall on my face sometimes. However, I also know that I’ve come a long way from where I used to be. So, here’s my point: be devoted to God, your future self will thank you. Now how do I get down from the roof?