I regret that we don’t utilize confessional booths. Maybe you can be mine today? To my Catholic friends, we obviously have some differences; but on this point you are dead right. And if you have one in your Parish, you should go. The evangelical church has missed this as an opportunity for spiritual formation, and specifically for the development of self-control. Yet it can be reclaimed if we can learn to worship like King David did.
You may be wondering…where is he going with this!? Where are the funny stories about the kids!? Hang on, you won’t be disappointed.
During these 2 weeks focusing on self-control as a family, my wife & I keep coming back to a core truth: people are powerful. All people have power given to them at birth. Even a baby has power. He or she screams until it gets what it wants. You’ve been played. Our children figure this out quickly. The great task of parenting is teaching these little people to use their power wisely. If they don’t learn to control their power wisely, then it will be controlled for them when they are adults. And nothing is scarier for a kid than an adult that is out of control.
The default for most of us parents is not self-control but me-control-you. “You’re on restriction because you didn’t do what I asked.” “You’re disrespectful so I’ll spank your bottom.” Not that this is never called for, but this doesn’t teach self-control. It is a hard lesson for me, but I can’t be afraid of my kid’s deliberate sin or his accidental mistake. God will use those things to teach him how to control himself, and God uses me as the coach to reveal those truths to him through speaking truth & giving grace in those moments. So as much as is possible, we try to give them an option. Here’s an example:
Last week the eldest son broke the get-ready-for-school-rule: No media until you have eaten breakfast, gotten dressed, brushed your teeth & have gotten all your stuff together. Then you have to be in the car at 7:45. At 7:44, he was still on his phone with no things together. Calling him on this caused a tirade on his part on how the late-ness was not his fault, and many verbal justifications proceeded of why he needed to be on his phone. The rest of us calmly walked to our cars and began backing out of the driveway with the other 2 responsible children. He bolted for the car, threw his things in and continued his defense all the way to school. Within 15 minutes, the following text conversation began:
Mom, I forgot my trombone.
I’m so sorry bud.
Can u bring it?
Sorry…I wasn’t planning to come back to school today.
What am I gonna do?
You could make due without it or hire dad as a taxi for $2 to drop it off.
I’ll hire the taxi.
So, I wrote out an invoice–seriously, I did–stuck the invoice in the trombone case and delivered it to the band room. Viola! He just developed some self-control! How do I know? Because that scene has not repeated itself for days. (And yes, he did pay the $2 when he got home.)
When people get out of control, it affects everyone around them. All of our actions have consequences. I want my actions to be good consequences. (For a great laugh, view the attached picture on our refrigerator. This is the “I Forgot” list. In other words, things our boys have gotten in trouble for during self-control week. Their initial response is frequently “I forgot;” so we just started making a list posted publicly so that they will not have that excuse again. The magnet is just a bonus.)
So how do I keep myself in control? Because honestly there are times I think I will completely lose it. If I could have a moment of complete transparency as a pastor let me say this: the most wonderful, jaw-droppingly gracious, loving, kind, peaceful people I’ve ever known are in the Church. Thank God for the blessing they have been in my life. But unfortunately the most mean-spirited, hurtful, spiteful people I’ve ever known have also been around the Church. Not tons, but enough to leave a mark. I expect this from the world, but not from those who wear Christ’s name. There is no other place I know of where cross-training in grace is more pronounced. I’m glad to be in the middle of this grace. For all her flaws, the world is certainly not practicing this.
In many of King David’s Psalms, we witness something we simply don’t do: confess what is truly in the heart. It’s not just “I’m angry, LORD.” It’s more like “God, I wish my enemies would fall into the hole they dug for me. I wish terrible things would happen to them. I want them to hurt the way they hurt me!” A strange, sadistic smile has crossed my face before while reading many of these. Sandwiched between verses of praise are honest, raw thoughts like these. Check out Psalm 69:27-28 for example:
Charge them with crime upon crime; do not let them share in your salvation. May they be blotted out of the Book of Life.
Right here in the middle of his praise, David admits that in his heart he wishes his enemies would burn in hell! And he tells God this. (I bet you never heard anything like THAT prayed out loud in church!) What on earth!? What is happening? It is the formation of self-control. The admittance of what is present in one’s heart to God and recognizing Him as the Divine Judge releases the one praying. If I am that honest with God, I am far less likely to seek revenge myself. I place my trust in God to be the one to control the outcome & bring justice. But if I am not honest with God then I push these negative emotions down deep into my soul. I’m tempted to think they are hidden there, but these embers will eventually manifest themselves by turning me into the aforementioned “christian” terrorist. Anyone who has ever been to counseling knows that what is shoved down, will eventually come out in destructive ways. What is present in our hearts needs to spill out before a Holy God.
Thank you, Catholic friends.
Thanks to the rest of you who listened…may you absolve me.
Wherever you worship this Sunday, somewhere in the midst of all the praise, be like David. Work on some self-control. Direct your raw honesty to the LORD rather than at others. He can take it. And He will change your heart if you will give it to Him.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness & self-control. Galatians 5:22-23
P.S. Thanks to all of you who hung with me through this series!