“My stupid mouth has got me in trouble. I said too much again.” Those lyrics from John Mayer’s song “My Stupid Mouth” perfectly captured my day. I had talked too much in class, annoyed my roommate, and hurt my small group coleader. And though that day happened over a decade ago, I still remember it.
I wish I had more control over my words.
When I started following Jesus, one of the first things that changed was the way I talked. I dialed my cussing way back. I reigned in my coarse joking. I found myself speaking kindly, even in environments that didn’t value kindness. And though all of that happened over two decades ago, I still remember.
For years, my way of talking was what marked me as a Christian. People knew I loved Jesus because of what I would and wouldn’t say.
But then a funny thing happened. Old patterns re-emerged. I got tired of constantly reining in my words. And I found myself out of control. My stupid mouth got me in trouble again. And on that day a decade ago, I discovered some things about my lack of self-control.
My problem with cussing wasn’t just about the words I said but also about my inability to filter. And that inability led to me being a distraction in class, frustrating my classmates and professors.
My coarse joking wasn’t just about lewd comedy but also about a hunger for attention. Look at me. Laugh with me. But that pattern, unchecked, led to me annoying my roommate as I repeated the same joke over and over and over again. (I’m sorry, Brad.)
Speaking kindly actually did not come naturally to me. I had harsh and critical things to say; I gave truth without love. And though my unkind words were held in check in the tough environment of the locker room and the ball field, there was little to restrain them in my small group.
Experiences like mine happen to all who walk with Jesus. We experience beautiful transformation in our lives. But we also discover that our transformation is incomplete or needs to be renewed.
Perhaps this is why the paradox “self-control” made it onto Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit. We can’t control ourselves. We need God to take control in order for us to experience self-control. This is true in every arena of life: eating and drinking and sex and work and money and Facebook and Sabbath and everything else.
But here’s the good news: with God’s help, with his Spirit at work in us to connect us to Jesus and his kingdom, we can experience a growing measure of self-control in every arena of life.
Just this week, I saw the fruit of self-control. A friend shared a story over coffee. Immediately, I remembered a funny story of my own. As I started to share it, I felt a tug in my spirit: God’s Spirit calling me to wait. I took a deep breath and then I smiled. I’m walking in step with the Spirit, joining him in what he’s doing in the world. I don’t need to be the center of attention. What is God doing in this moment?
My friend followed up his story by sharing very honestly about something that’s causing him a great deal of fear and anxiety. He needed to share it with someone, but hadn’t. And I had some insight and perspective that could help him. He visibly relaxed as I shared. God’s Spirit used me to bring him peace—which meant a lot more to him than my funny story would have.
I’ve found that the discipline of mission—daily deciding to follow Jesus in his work in the world and in the lives of people around me—helps me walk in step with God’s Spirit, which, in turn, has led to the fruit of self-control in my life.
So what about you? Where has God helped you experience self-control? Where do you need his help to experience self-control today? Imagine if God gave us all greater self-control—how would the world be different? That picture can become a reality as the Spirit works in us, helping us to become people who bless others through our self-control.
Steve Tamayo is a strategist serving with InterVarsity’s Latino Fellowship (LaFe), Creative Labs, and Multiethnic Initiatives. You can can support his ministry using this link: donate.intervarsity.org/donate#9101.