OF SELF-CONTROL AND SELF-RESTRAINT

In a world where everyone is ready to compromise and satiate their desires, what makes you stay afloat – holding onto your values and maintaining self-restraint and self-control as much as possible? Apart from God and His divine strength what are the things that boost you to stay self-controlled?

In my response to this question, the first impression that I would like to make is that ‘self-restraint’ and ‘self-control’ are not easy. Looking at the different philosophies and belief patterns across the world today, it seems as if humankind has woken up to a desperate attempt to propagate and exercise ‘self-control’. The recent school of thought which I came across just a few days before was that one needn’t do anything to exercise control over oneself. The reasoning being that the moment a person attempts to control something in himself/herself, it generates stress. So the way out, according to the speaker, is to live the desire and let it die out in the process.

While I would not mince words to label the above as faulty reasoning (as did many others in the audience), I wouldn’t go into the details of justifying the same in this space – because then, that itself would consume the entire writing space!

How do I face my desires? When and how do I exercise self-restraint and self-control?

The question that is put to me seeks an answer – ‘apart from God and His divine strength’ what helps me to stay self-controlled. But as I set to think of it, I can say that all reins of self-control and self-restraint that I have and continue to practise in my life revolve solely around God and His divine strength.

Desire to acquire/possess

When encountered with the desire to acquire and possess things which are over and above my needs, what keeps me grounded is the faces of people who are deprived of even the basics that I am blessed to have. And so I acknowledge that what I have to satiate my needs and many of my wants as well, are enough.

A strong human urge is to want to acquire the things someone else has. It may be a piece of clothing, a particular vehicle, a house, a more lucrative career, better education to one’s child than a relative’s child and so on. In a day and age of increased materialism and digitization where the global market and the best of cross-cultural products are just a few clicks away, the temptation to indulge is difficult to resist. The desire to show that one’s possessions are unique and better than someone else’s is pretty strong. In such times the following verse from the Bible pulls my reins –

“You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife . . . or anything that belongs to your neighbour.”

Neighbour, here, doesn’t necessarily refer to someone who stays next door. It broadly refers to anyone whom one is closely acquainted with. And so when I find a good possession with anyone, I make sure to appreciate it but I do not go further thinking – ‘I wish I had it as well!’

Desire to achieve

We are living in times of cut-throat competition to achieve. There is nothing wrong to aspire for greater career goals. In fact, the higher the bar we set for ourselves and push ourselves towards it, the more we tend to discover our hidden potentials and God-given abilities. However when it comes to having an endless desire to achieve, one tends to neglect certain more important goals in life.

I’ve been there. Having had quite a decent academic record, it was quite natural to aspire for greater goals. To be surrounded with expectations from friends, family, teachers and well-wishers to aim for loftier heights was indeed motivating. But in my desire to achieve, I came to a stage where I needed to ask myself the reason behind it all. And, I discovered that to want to achieve just for the sake of it or for the sake of people around is a vain goal. What is more important is to follow my God-given passion to create a difference around me.

It’s not always easy to walk in this path. On one hand are the lures of power, position, financial affluence and recognition in aiming to achieve what the world calls ‘achievement’. On the other hand are obscurity, lack of fame and recognition, possible financial constraints and being an absolute nobody among the who’s who around.

I have dealt with this in realising that achievements of this world stay back in this world. They won’t matter much. All life comes to an end. The most illustrious person dies one day leaving all behind and so does a tramp on the street who has not much to call his/her own. But creating a difference in at least one person’s life no matter how insignificant a position I may be in, would matter a lot – not only on this earth but in eternity. As Jesus Christ says – ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

I still am not there completely. But, this is what helps me to exercise restraint in the face of mindless desires for achievement.

Adolescent desires for relationship

This is something I have been mostly quizzed about by friends and the teenagers that I deal with. In senior school and college years, I was one of the few who didn’t have a boyfriend. Most of my friends were into fluttering relationships. And some who didn’t, often lamented the fact that they didn’t have anyone interesting in their lives. On being told that I didn’t feel the need for love-life then, a few of my friends felt that though I was intellectually gifted, perhaps I was lagging behind in a component of emotional development J  

Well, what kept me in control? The love of Jesus Christ. I was so saturated with the highest form of love from my early teen years, that I never felt the need for the love of a man in my life before God’s appointed time. The love of the One who loved me with His all (giving His life for me), forgave my sins (which no boyfriend claiming to love me, could), gave me the assurance of eternal fellowship with my Creator (which surpasses any precious gift given by a lover), promised to be by my side at all times no matter where and in what situation I was (which even the best of all lovers cannot do) – was so encompassing and overwhelming for me that I didn’t feel the need to look beyond.

And so I didn’t fall prey to youthful temptations. Of course, it has been none of my doing. I am eternally grateful to God for helping me experience the depth of His love on His own accord – for loving me first before I could even think of anything of that sort.

Having answered the question in sharing the ways in which I exercise self-control and self-restraint, I also confess that there have been times in which I have given in to temptations – at times unintentionally, but sometimes with full conscious knowledge. Each time in reflection and introspection, I have realized that those were the times that I shifted my focus from God onto something or someone else. That’s when I tripped.

So yes, it’s not easy to practise self-control for long by sheer determination or willpower. It’s the power of God’s spirit that keeps me going.

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