I am on a diet. I have been for a few months. But, this is not about that. Not really. I have nothing against people being public and writing about their weight-loss journey. I really don’t. Whatever you need to do to stay accountable is good by me. In fact, years ago, I had an entire blog dedicated to my weight-loss journey. It was called, “Get Thee Behind Me Fatty” which I thought was a pretty funny and catchy name. Your mileage may vary.
As I said, though, this is not about that. Ideally, it is a bigger conversation than dieting and weight loss. During my recent efforts to get healthier, I have learned a few things about myself and perhaps, on a broader level, about human nature. And it all comes down to self-control.
The ramifications of a lack of self-control
I’ll start with my overall point and work backward from there. Virtually every area of my life benefits when I am disciplined and exert self-control in regards to my diet and health. What do I mean by that? Simply put, when I am conscientious about what I eat, how much I eat, daily exercise, and other healthy habits, most other parts of my life begin to fall into order. I have no idea if that is the case for others, and I have not done any serious research on the subject, but it’s true for me without a doubt.
When I grow lazy and undisciplined in my diet and health, I tend to grow lazy and undisciplined in other parts of my life as well. This most recent go-around has brought that into stark relief for me. Daily disciplines like reading, quiet time, Scripture reading, and prayer suffer when I fail to take my health seriously.
It takes daily, hourly, by the minute focus and self-control for me to lose weight. I don’t say that for anyone to feel sorry for me. That’s just the way it is. I cannot take my eyes off the prize at all or things go bad very quickly. And, what I am grappling with now is that this is not a temporary thing; this is how I will need to live for the rest of my life. More importantly, this truth is resonating in every corner of my life.
Why should I care about self-control?
I doubt most people would ask that question out loud since the answer seems pretty obvious. But, if you are anything like me, and I suspect some of you are, living a life characterized by self-control probably feels difficult bordering on impossible. I spiral into adolescent groaning when the topic of self-control comes up. I whine, “But it’s soooo hard!” Yes, it is hard. It is brutally difficult. But, as I am slowly learning, it is unmistakably worth it.
Using my dieting as an example, I absolutely cannot lose weight unless I spend time thinking and planning. I have to really pay attention to what I put in my body. I count calories and all sorts of other nutritional information. I do my best to replace unhealthy foods with a healthy variety. It takes a large part of my concentration and willpower to not only plan my menu but to actually stick to it. Simply put, none of this happens by accident. When I stop thinking about my diet, stop working on it, and stop implementing it, I gain weight.
If this is true for my health and my weight, how could it not be true for other areas of my life? That is what this recent weight-loss attempt has shown me. (How did I not put these things together years ago? I’m an idiot. That’s how.) It has become very clear that if I am to be all that I should be, achieve all I should achieve, and do all that I should do, I need to treat all aspects of my life with the same attention and discipline as I do when I am dieting. A lack of self-control speaks to a lack of character and that in turn speaks to a lack of spiritual maturity. I can no longer argue my way out of that.
Lack of self-control is a sin
That’s harsh and I don’t want to come down too hard on others, but as for me, that is the truth. I can’t speak for anyone else and to be honest, I have no desire to do so. As always, this is written for me first and foremost. When I take a step back and examine my life, I can pinpoint areas that need work. Inevitably, those areas match up perfectly with the parts of my life where I am coasting. The areas where I am unfocused and undisciplined. Before anyone objects, I am not advocating salvation by works or anything like that. We are all saved by grace through faith. Period. But, the hard work of growing in the faith is very much my responsibility.
The Bible has a lot to say about self-control. In fact, if you do a search for that topic, you will be inundated with verse after verse. Scripture is not silent on this matter and when it does speak, the message is incredibly clear: God expects us to be disciplined and self-controlled. Verses like Titus 1:8 come to mind. “Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” That is the job description for an overseer/deacon of the church. The idea of being self-controlled and disciplined is so important it is mentioned twice.
Or, the opposite of this verse can be found in Proverbs 25. Verse 28 says, “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” Or, as the ESV puts it, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” A city with no walls, or walls that had been “broken through” is a pitiful thing. It is defenseless and vulnerable. That is me when I lack self-control. I open up my gates and throw down my walls and invite all sorts of sinful things to walk right in and take up residence in my house.
Seek and you will find.
God does not leave us aimless and alone in our attempts at self-control. If we are connected to the Vine, the Spirit will produce fruit in our lives. Galatians 5 gives us that list and wouldn’t you know it, self-control made the cut. And as Peter says in his second letter, “His (God’s) divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” Our response to this gift is to “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.”
God has given us everything we need including the ability to develop self-control. I am holding on to that as I work hard to lose weight and get healthier but, more importantly, exert self-control in every area of my life. It’s definitely a work in progress on all counts. I’m nowhere near where I need to be. But, my focus is clear and I am taking the baby steps I need to reach the prize. Like Paul wrote in I Corinthians 9, I am learning to ” exercise self-control in all things.”
The easy road is to eat what I want when I want and do what I want when I want but that way leads me away from Christ and the Vine. The more difficult but more rewarding road is the one of self-control. I hope and pray I don’t lose sight of this newfound wisdom.