The Ill-(de)lusion of Self-Control

“William Willimon: ….the Trinity teaches us the joy of living our lives out of our control. In his resurrection, Christ forever defeated our fantasies that life is under our control.

Stanley Hauerwas: Of all the ministerial practices, pastoral care may be the most corrupted by the modern North American psychological culture’s promise of self-control. People are encouraged to believe that the purpose of being born is to be free to self-construct your life as you please.”

(From a conversation at 7/27/21)

Cathy’s take: When I teach the fruit of the Spirit I tell recovery students that “self-control” is an illusion, or more accurately a delusion. True self-control is the product of surrendered Holy Spirit living to the extent that it is the Holy Spirit that provides the control, the restraint, the fulfillment of God’s will within one’s “SELF” – defined as the entire person – spirit, soul ( intellect, emotions, will, personality, and conscience), as well as body. THAT is something to be desired!

Further, one may think of the first three in the group of nine fruitful benefits of the Holy Spirit- love, joy, and peace- as the low hanging fruit provided to one who is embracing new life. God makes it so abundantly available to the new believer it is like picking strawberries up off the fruit- laden plants after a cleansing rain and eating to satiety everyday! And for some, as soon as they feel those three and the renewed hope inspired by them, the new believer thinks the spiritual work is done and she is good to go!

But it is then that the real work begins. The next three aspects of the fruit- patience, goodness, and kindness- require cooperation with the Spirit to obtain. They are more like a thick skinned navel orange that requires peeling and stripping away the tough outer skin, then pulling off the white fibrous inner skin and digging out the tough seedy navel with your thumb and dividing the sections to fully enjoy all the flavor and nutrition it offers. That takes more time and practice.

Then finally, as consistency and fullness in the first six are becoming honed, the last three begin to emerge – faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. More practicing. More time. More sustaining of the foundation that is being built. And that final triad of fruitfulness is, as I have described it, like trying to get to the meat and milk of a coconut with a fingernail file. It’s going to take a while….. but it’ll be worth it. As you participate with the Holy Spirit and practice bringing all of this fruitfulness to bear on the world around you, the faithfulness, gentleness, and steadfastness of God will give to the persevering self/soul the blessing of being led by, guided by, and under the authority and control of the abiding Holy Spirit.

Only by surrender do we come to know the fullness of grace and gratitude that one living a Holy Spirit-centered and controlled life can know.