Self-Control: A Fruit of Self-Love

Last summer I did a study with some other believers on the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We tried to break all of those down individually and discuss them. But as always, there is still more to learn tomorrow than what you’ve gleaned today.

I recently red an article in The Atlantic about one precept: Self-Control Is Just Empathy With Your Future Self.

Needless to say, the title alone blew my mind. I had to think about it at first. Lots of time travel involved. The me now wanting to control myself will empathize for me in the future. Ok…

Then the subtitle: “The same part of the brain that allows us to step into the shoes of others also helps us restrain ourselves.”

So I know all about this idea, as a fan of reading novels, one of my favorite novels being To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. One of the most famous lines is spoken by Atticus, the father of the protagonist. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.”

In reading a novel like that, you can get into the shoes of other characters, understand them more, and get a feeling for what it’s like to be them. It should affect how you treat people. You will control your own behavior more. You’ll tell yourself, I bet this person is fighting a battle I don’t know. Maybe I won’t be so cruel.

You’re having a dialogue with yourself.

Anyway, in the article Ed Yong brings up the “Marshmallow Test” in which kids can choose to either eat one marshmallow now or get more marshmallows later. The connection is that the you now may want your mallow now, but if you consider the perspective of you later, you’ll get more mallow. And isn’t the future you in continuity with the you now, anyway?

“So think of self-control as a kind of temporal selflessness,” says Yong. “It’s Present You taking a hit to help out Future You.”

Self-control is about loving yourself. The hypothetical you that will exist as you choose for them to in the now.

Truly, the way we reason about morality is shaped by how we see others. It’s also shaped by how we consider our own future. How do I want to treat myself? Well, that may lead me to desire instant gratification. But how do I want to treat the me that exists in the long run?

Without acting on it, we’re unable to see beyond our present perspective. We’ve got to get out of our own head, and trust God that what we will see is revealing and beneficial. We need to see the future us as real. It will be. It is then that we will start to become less impulsive.

It makes sense why love is mentioned first and self-control last. Love moves to qualities that enable self-control, which then shows love. Fruit is a crop that takes time to grow, and any farmer or gardener knows that in order to do the work that requires growth, you’ve got to be motivated by what you will enjoy in the future.

Of course there is science to back this up, which the article gets in to. But I was comforted to know that the science not only backs up my spiritual beliefs, but helps explain the why to them. I actually feel more confident about practicing self-control as I understand this. It’s reassuring to know that this aspect of the fruit of the spirit is demonstrated in a laboratory.

Future me will likely be glad I read and wrote about it, just as present me is grateful that past me chose to click on the link.

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