[Photo by Jerry Newcombe, to symbolize St. Augustine who is mentioned below]
How much discipline and self-control must it take to be able to compete in the Olympics? It must take years of sacrifice and choosing the best over the good. Denying yourself in terms of what you eat. Forcing yourself time and again to exercise, whether you feel like it or not.
And then to potentially throw it all away for a night’s “fun” because of lack of self-control brought on by drinking and carousing? This is so tragic.
I barely follow sports, but even I have heard about the brouhaha in Brazil surrounding Ryan Lochte and three other American swimmers. The details of exactly what happened (armed robbery or vandalism on their part?) are being ironed out. But there’s no question that some mistakes in judgment were made by the young athletes.
In a Google search, I was amazed to see the name of a TV show called, “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?” No offense, but I’d rather stick to the original—WWJD?, as in Jesus.
The lack of self-control on their parts is now causing the cancellation of some endorsements. This gets me thinking about how important it is to learn to control ourselves in all majors of life. Self-control is even one of the “fruits of the Spirit” mentioned in the Bible.
Think of the lack of self-control when it comes to alcohol or drugs today. There are recovery groups all over the place—thank God for that. But how much better it is when we are not in need of them.
It’s interesting that an article in the National Institutes of Health observed, “Despite the paucity of research in this area, spirituality has been shown to be a significant and independent predictor of recovery and/or improvement in indices of treatment outcome.”
Self-control in terms of what we say is tremendously important. The American sardonic humorist Ambrose Bierce once said, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”
I remember a few years ago, just before another Olympics, there was a woman from Austria who had made the team. But just before attending the contests, she tweeted out a racist “joke,” and her country pulled her from the line-up. Her self-sacrifice was undone in a thoughtless moment.
I like that quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
We often lack self-control these days not only when it comes to our tongues, but also when it comes to our finances. Tens of millions of Americans are in debt.
Robert Morrissette once said, “A credit card allows you to transcend time. For it allows you to put off until tomorrow what you bought today, while you are still paying what you bought yesterday.”
James Dean and Charles Morris point out in their book, Breaking Out of Plastic Prison, just how long it takes on average to pay off credit card debt: “Making minimum payments, it will take over fifteen years to repay a five-thousand-dollar balance on a credit card charging 18 percent interest. This glaring fact is not contained in the fine print of credit-card statements.”
But today many people are not only living beyond their means, many are living beyond their seams. They lack self-control when it comes to eating.
I used to joke—“I’m in shape. Round is a shape.” But usually it boils down to input versus output. If you want to eat more, increase your output. Americans spend billions of dollars on diet aids and diet plans in their ongoing battle of the bulge.
St. Augustine gives a perfect example of someone who learned self-control—by letting the Lord take control. As a young man, he prayed in effect, “Lord, make me sexually pure—but not yet!”
But over time, the effects of his sexual immorality drug him down, for we always reap what we sow. He became conflicted in his heart and soul.
One day, in a Roman garden, as he was weeping because of his lack of self-control and that he couldn’t obey what he knew was right in his heart, he heard the voice of a child saying, “Take up and read. Take up and read.”
So he picked up a book and saw these words from Paul to the Roman Christians written three centuries before: “not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”
The scales fell off his eyes, and in that moment he became Saint Augustine, and the rest is history.
Self-control is necessary to succeed in life, and I agree with Johann Friedrich Lobstein who said, “If you would learn self-mastery, begin by yielding yourself to the One Great Master.”