When most people think of self-control, they generally think of denying themselves this or that food or some other physical thing or controlling their temper, but last week I had a dream about words that I want to share. It was a dream what I really didn’t understand until this morning.
I was with someone and we were walking together through a marketplace where there was just a ton of obvious pagan stuff – I mean witchcraft, spells, amulets and all that sort of thing. I can’t remember what the vendor asked me, but as we were walking away I said something so incredibly insensitive and pointless (not to the vendor, but just as a casual, flippant remark) that I don’t even want to write it here for fear of offending someone. Unbeknownst to me, what I said actually applied to the woman I was with. But suffice it to say that it’s the kind of thing I used to say all the time, “no big deal” of course. “Just an expression” and “no offense meant.”
Well, I said it and I could see the hurt on her face. What did I do? Did I tell her what an insensitive jerk I was? No, I said I was sorry and told her that it was no big deal and tried to explain myself. But trying to explain myself was the absolute last thing I should have been doing. I should have owned that ugly remark and asked forgiveness. Instead of being honest and admitting that I had said something that shouldn’t have been said, instead of controlling myself – I decided to control her perception of my actions. It is horrifying to me, thinking that my only real concern within that dream was to look righteous and justified in her eyes. Everything I said was to redeem myself, and none of it was about undoing the damage I inflicted. In the dream, she did the right thing – she abandoned me and my careless, insensitive mouth – as well as my attempts to manipulate her into thinking that she had not really heard exactly what she heard.
So, this was a dream that was weighing heavily upon me, because my behavior was so inexcusable. I wondered what on earth it was about. And so, in a turn of events, that same person did to me in real life what I did to her in the dream. And so the dream and the incident combined gave me an up close look at probably the greatest deficiency of self-control in this world – our words vs our intentions.
My intentions didn’t matter because truly – my intentions didn’t matter. I said what I wanted to say, “off the cuff” and just “saying what I felt.” I never stopped to think what the consequences of my words would be. I just blurted them out, like somehow I had the right to speak whatever popped into my mind. And I used to be like that – in fact when I am nervous I still tend to do it. I have had to learn to put a harness on my mouth and think about everything. I don’t speak every time I want to – in fact, I have learned that when I want to speak most, I generally should keep my mouth shut. My flesh compels me to speak, but the Spirit very often tells me to be silent.
I say less now. I hurt people less often. I try to agonize about my words, I ask myself not only if they are true – but are they necessary? Should they be given in public or in private? Do I want to speak because I have an agenda, or an axe to grind, or because something is bothering me, or maybe because I think that everyone should be a little bit more like me and see things my way? Truth is, people don’t need to hear everything I have on my mind, Honestly, they don’t want to know and they shouldn’t have to be subjected to a lot of the stupid things that I am tempted to say. And a lot of times, I just want to say something in order to clandestinely rebuke people under the auspices of teaching them something. But I ask myself this – “am I willing to own my true intentions if I get questioned about this? Am I even being honest with myself or am I clothing a critical spirit with a facade of loving concern?”
Self-control means that I speak less, but it also means that when I do speak it means more.
Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Am I the police officer over all the world? Can the world survive without my opinions? Am I being absolutely honest and upfront about my reason for saying something, even to myself? Do I still spend way too much time trying to assure myself that my terrible motives are actually genuine?
I ask myself these things all the time, and I restrain myself – usually. When I don’t restrain myself, I often have cause to regret it. Without self-control, intentions don’t really matter because a lack of self-control obliterates intention, rendering it irrelevant. It doesn’t matter why I said what I said if, in the end, it served no purpose but to hurt someone else or to promote myself and what I am doing or think they should be doing. There will be times when hurting people will be unavoidable, but if we conduct ourselves as blamelessly as possible then we will have built up the necessary collateral required for them to give us the benefit of the doubt when we do hurt them. If we have built up no such collateral, then they will see the inflicted hurt as just “same old same old.”
We need to control every impulse. We need to control our tongues. We need to control ourselves or we will spend our lives trying to control others instead.