We know the fruits of the Spirit. Drummed into our heads – either by memory or by that catchy kid’s tune – you can probably rhyme them off: “love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” (Galatians 5:22-23).
We have no problem embracing and working on the first eight fruits. But that’s where the fun ends. It’s that self-control thing that most of us wrestle with.
Self control? Take stock of our lives and most of us register a “fail”. Not that we’re perfect performers with the first eight. But doing what we do not want to do, and not doing what we should do is arguably the biggest challenge in the “How now shall we live?” department.
Take our fascination with everything online, particularly social media. The news has been awash in recent weeks with stories of tech leaders hanging their heads in shame, admitting that the industry has known for a long time that we are latched to smartphones in the same way addicts are slaves to their substances: the technology relies on the same neural pathways.
The former president of Facebook admitted that they rely on dopamine, which is released when the brain expects a reward or gains knowledge. “You’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology,” he was quoted as saying. Another ex-Facebook VP told a business school audience that he “felt tremendous guilt … we are destroying how society works.” We are becoming antisocial, unhealthy, addicted and less intelligent. Sobering stuff. And quite possibly true. But does it have to be this way?
I get a lot of my news online, but I also read newspapers the old fashioned way. Old and new. Hmmm. Here’s a suggestion: what if we opened our eyes to our human frailties and tendencies and recognized all this as temptation and refused to give in?
Enter that crazy little thing called “self control.” As I admitted to my congregation last Sunday, I frequently get lost on a bunny trail of click bait. But when I become aware of my human nature (and the guiles of the devil) I take control. More than that: social media actually helps me focus. For example, I typically read a newspaper with a smart device at my side. When I want background, I tap and click and I get enlightened. But then – and here’s the key – I don’t go further. I return to the article in question and carry on. No rabbit hole.
Self control takes time, practice, endurance, and discipline. Imagine that. What’s old – taught by our grandmothers – is suddenly new again.