This is the eleventh of a 12-part, once-a-month series on the Fruits of the Holy Spirit. This month’s fruit is Self-Control. Be sure to see previous posts beginning with Charity and check back next month as another contributor explores the fruit of Chastity.
A troublesome partner ~ this is how the allegory King of the Golden City describes Self, every person’s life partner:
“A constant struggle for the upperhand went on, therefore, in most of the huts. Now if any of you think it would have saved trouble to let Self be the ruler in every hut, that the poor owner might have a chance at a quiet life…once master, Self shows himself (or herself, as the case might be) a cruel tyrant. He made a slave of the hut-owner who should have taught him better, and treated him so badly that life was a misery to him. No: the only way to secure any kind of peace was to keep this unruly comrade in his place and put him down firmly when he gave himself airs.”
Self-control, or continence, or temperance, or enkrateia (if you are interested in the Greek), means possessing power; strong; having mastery. It is the least pretty of the fruit of the Spirit, for no one creates memes with striking scenery or poignant pictures heralding temperance like we see with sweet sentiments like love, patience, or gentleness. But one cannot bear any of the fruits without it. To be charitable instead of hateful; to be joyful instead of slothful; to be patient instead of prideful requires self-control. Or more specifically, Spirit-control. Ceding control of Self to the Spirit involves sacrifice, which is messy, uncomfortable interior work, but is a great relief with beautiful consequences in ourselves, our Church, and the world (like the relief after Confession, listening to a priest absolve our sins in Jesus’ name).
When the ancient Israelites brought their animals to the temple for sacrifice, the animals knew. They smelled blood and death and probably balked mightily, needing to be dragged to the altar. So it is for us, dragging our anger, jealousy, fear, etc., kicking and hollering, to Jesus. This is the work we do to get more of ourselves controlled by the Holy Spirit, so that our lives become better fertilized for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and faithfulness to grow as we work out our salvation.
“…offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (I Peter 2:5b).”
“…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Romans 12:1).”
“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things to receive a perishable wreath, but we, an imperishable (I Corinthians 9:25).”
Let us ask Our Lord for help in allowing His Spirit to control our Self, dragging our sacrifices to Him. A priest once told me, as I wept over losing my temper too often, not to count to ten because that was too high. “Just try to get to three,” he said, “before responding. Just a little window for the Holy Spirit to speak first.” Lord, help me get to three; I want You to control my Self; I want the strength and courage to bear Your fruit.
In the final chapter of King of the Golden City, the King is coming for Dilecta’s soul and we read this about controlling Self:
“Little by little she learned to know her place, which is saying a good deal for one so inclined to be forward and to give herself airs. True, she was always at hand, but less troublesome, less given to arguing, more easily silenced and made to do as she was told. She came at length to understand the meaning of that short word ‘No’ and to put up with what it meant, if not with a good grace always, at least with patience. I think we may say that she turned out a credit to her trainer.”
We can do it. We can be self-controlled, with the Spirit of the Loving Lord. “For God has not given us a spirit of cowardice but of power and love and self-control (II Timothy 1:7).