Self Control – Learning How to Wait

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“Brown Thrasher” 20 x 16 acrylic on canvas; painting overlaps on barn-wood frame.

There’s an adage that says “Be careful what you wish for.” Conversely, there’s another one for believers: “Be careful what you pray for.”

As the mother of six children, I was constantly on my knees praying for patience. The Lord took me at my word and gave me strong-willed children, a critical spouse, and many opportunities to serve my church and community. In the process, I gained the skills I needed to serve my family and my God better.

Of course, the road was bumpy and difficult. I discovered my dependence on God for strength, and I learned how to wait for the things that I wanted.

Berry Picking Time 16 x 20 oil on canvas

“Berry Picking Time” 16 x 20 oil on canvas

If you think it’s easier to indulge your physical and emotional urges and let the “chips fall where they may,” you’re wrong. If that’s how you operate, you’re the one being controlled because you’re constantly at the beck and call of your passions and desires. You couldn’t stop even if you wanted to.

Once you cross the line from choice to addiction, your life becomes a living hell. You’re no longer cool and attractive because you’re no longer in control. It is much harder to break a habit than to shape constructive behavior.

On average, it takes 30 days to form a new habit and at least twice that long to break a bad one. But if you replace a destructive habit with a good one, you will heal in the process.

Whether it’s a craving for food or a sexual addition, all appetites and passions are difficult to break. If you gain two pounds every Christmas, and you don’t take that weight off, in twenty years you’ll have 40 pounds of excess fat. What if the amount you gain every year is five pounds, or ten? Is it really worth giving in?

Looking Outward (16 x 20) acrylic; frame: Old Window

Looking Outward (16 x 20) acrylic; frame: Old Window

Our government has self-indulged to the tune of almost $20 trillion dollars. Politicians are continually being “found out” for seeking prostitutes or taking bribes. Where did this lack of integrity come from? How did this unwillingness to take ownership and responsibility for one’s actions become so commonplace? It starts in the home and it begins in childhood.

Self-gratification always has a price either in divorce, disease, addiction and ill health, or in the downfall of success, prestige, and integrity. We have seen it across the nation in the lives of the rich and famous whose weaknesses are exposed in the finality of death

We should show our children the principles of self-control and integrity by example. We should teach them to wait for fulfillment instead of giving them what they want the minute they whine or throw a tantrum. We should help them learn how to plan and to save, so they may experience the joy of earning what they want.

Helping our children experience “delayed gratification” will increase their willpower, teach them how to save money, and how to endure when it comes to their own future education, marriage and parenting.

Today I see my personal struggle to overcome as an advantage and blessing. Instead of running up my credit cards, I have learned to sit back, reassess my needs and wants, and wait for the right item at a price I can afford. Instead of fretting over what I don’t have, I simply make a list, plan and adjust my budget, and watch for the right opportunity.

A friend helped me shop for a much-needed chest. She fretted for me. She urged me to make a decision and just buy one that she thought was appropriate for my bathroom; but I dug in my heels. I needed the drawer space for towels, but I was willing to wait for the right one.

It took me three years to finally buy the piece I wanted. It was the perfect fit! I didn’t have to move or alter the position of the wall art. Its size required no changes whatsoever between the door on the right or the towel rack on the left. The chest slipped easily under the large mirror hanging on the wall. I found exactly what I wanted at a price I could afford.

Peace Plant

Peace Plant

This “patience thing” has put materialism where it belongs: somewhere down there with “things,” and well below my priorities of God, family, church, community.

I admit I once was a “hot head.” But the Lord helped me count to ten, and then to 50 as I tried to weigh my words. We could use a little more self-control in our out-of-control-world. Road rage, shootings, stabbings, mob violence and destruction have never been higher. We can’t always control others, but at least we should be able to control ourselves.

What do you get in return for your self-denial and patience?   A peaceful center from which to deal with others. Your anxiety and worry will melt away as you stand fast on your convictions and beliefs. Self-confidence will replace doubts. I tell you from my own experience, the pay-off is well worth the effort.

Illness always reminds us of our Fragile Humanity

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Looking Outward (16 x 20) acrylic; frame: Old Window

Looking Outward (16 x 20) acrylic; frame: Old Window

I was bitten by a brown recluse spider one Christmas; a near fatal experience that increased my faith. I had severe bronchitis one year that ended up being the turning point for change in a long and difficult marriage.

This year it was traveling by plane to a wedding. Somewhere along the way I picked up a virus (no wonder when the plane was filled with crying, coughing children and barking dogs). I vowed I would never fly again during the holidays, but how could I miss my grandson’s wedding?

The festivities brought my three daughters and me together for the first time in years. Since all of us live great distances from each other, the wedding gave us a welcome chance to share stories and laughs.

The reunion also brought back treasured memories of my own mother who always shared her joy of life through laughter and tears. Relationships are the glue that heals all wounds. Without them, we would shrivel up inside.

During a difficult period in my life, my friend Alice gave me a prayer plant. “It will remind you of where your strength comes from,” she said. Sure enough, every evening as the sun went down, the prayer plant extended its leaves upward. I was reminded to turn to God more often, and I also remembered my friend.

When a move across country forced me to leave the plant behind, I photographed it. Sometime later, I created an oil painting of the plant sitting beside a garden glove and a trowel. The painting still hangs in my kitchen. Whenever I look at it, I remember my friend and her reminder to reach up in times of need. Her priceless gift of love was simple and inexpensive, but never forgotten.

My dear mother died of lung cancer and I will always regret not being there for her when she needed me most. I was working full time and would have lost my job and my home if I’d taken six months off to assist her. Looking back, I wish I’d have done it. I lost precious time being with her. Like my daughters, I was separated from my mother by time and distance.

Sometimes the things that matter most suffer by the things that matter least. What seems important at the time loses its value on close examination. People always matter more than things. Our possessions tarnish with time. Everything wears out with use. Love and the relationships that grow out of unconditional lasting love endure and weather the ups and downs of turbulence and trouble.