The Rev. Geoffrey Butcher, Priest-in-charge Trinity Episcopal Church, Russellville

When thinking about the gifts of the Spirit we may bypass the ninth one, self-control, which implies self-discipline. The others are all more attractive: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and gentleness. (Galatians 5:22-23) These are the kinds of attributes that we would like to make our own. But even self-control doesn't need to mean "the domination of our will over our emotions." Thomas Keating writes, "It is rather our awareness of God's abiding presence and is the result of the infusion of God's steadfast love." It can mean that we learn not to have a compulsive desire to reach out for "security, affection, and esteem, power and status symbols" which ultimately will let us down. Only the Spirit of God within us can assure us of God's abiding love.


While that understanding of self-control may be good, getting there can require self-discipline. In my daily prayers, I include reminders of foibles I'm likely to engage in. Such reminders help me exercise self-control by choosing positive actions rather than those that would hurt me or someone else. This practice reminds me of Fred Rogers' song, "What Do You Do." In particular, what do you do when you're mad? Here are his helpful thoughts intended for children but just as good for adults.

"What do you do with the mad that you feel, when you feel so mad you could bite? When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong and nothing you do seems very right? What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag? Or see how fast you go? It's great to be able to stop when you've planned a thing that's wrong, and be able to do something else instead and think this song; I can stop when I want to, can stop when I wish, can stop, stop, stop any time. And what a good feeling to feel like this, and know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there's something deep inside that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a woman and a boy can be someday a man."

What a joy it is to know that "there's something deep inside that helps us become what we can." That interior "something" could be described as the living presence of the Spirit in our lives. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit that helps us to stop when we are tempted to do something wrong. This kind of self-control doesn't hinder us but gives us the desire to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, and gentle.