I have anger issues. It’s not something new – though most people who know me are probably completely unaware of it. I cannot face conflict, or stress, without bottling it and bottling it, and only taking off the stopper when I get home and letting it all pour out onto my poor husband.
The problem is, if I truly believe in the God of the Bible, I cannot just accept myself for who I am in this moment – I must act on the invitation and calling from God to shed off my old skin, and clothe myself “with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12), “the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14) – to allow him to chip away at me, like a sculptor would shape a sculpture, slowly and painfully, but with a clear goal and to the highest standard.
I was thinking about this analogy today, and it suddenly occurred to me that while God may be sculpting us and perfecting us, we may also be exposing ourselves to bad influences – influences that are not of God. These influences chip away at us too, but carelessly and roughly, with no clear intent of a finished masterpiece.
It made me think about my own exposures, and how things are likely to affect me. In the daily devotional that I am reading, the author writes about the wilderness and its struggles. He writes, “[In the wilderness], what God wants is to remind us of is that our deepest needs, and therefore our total security, lies within him. Each of us carries a desire for God, yet it is so often drowned out by the many other desires that capture our heart and attention.”
I wonder how my prayers would deepen if I switched off the TV/ laptop/ phone. My husband and I have given up chocolate for lent. I love chocolate, but whilst I hated the idea of giving up such luxury and comfort, there is something very appealing about cutting something out from my being that I know to be toxic to my system. I substitute chocolate now with apples, and my mood is a lot better, and while I don’t have concrete evidence that the two are related, the whole process of cutting something away from my life – thinking about how it affects me – has certainly stirred up the motivation and desire to be pure, cleansed, a better person for this planet, one which resembles Jesus more than it does at this very moment.
Research has shown that when cutting out bad habits, it can help to replace them with good ones. In addition, the article quotes Dr. Roy Baumeister, a psychologist at Florida State University, “self-control is like a muscle. Once you’ve exerted some self-control, like a muscle it gets tired. […] Any regular act of self-control will gradually exercise your ‘muscle’ and make you stronger.”
The chipping away of our old selves is painful, and can fill us with fear and doubt. But the good news is that God includes us in our transformation; He gives us the freedom to put as much effort into it as we want. We get to choose whether we exert that self-control or not and we get to be creative with God as He shows us our pure selves; the one He intended us to be in a world void of sin. Ironically, we gain our freedom through learning the art of discipline and walking away from that which our bodies deeply desire, but which we know is no good for our souls. For if we can resist much, we can overcome much. But in order to learn, we must stick at it and exercise the muscle regularly, especially when we are weary. It’s not easy, but I’m learning to replace my angry remarks and self-pitying thoughts with gentle reassurance and prayers for empowerment. My self-control muscle will grow stronger in time, and my emotions will not be far behind.