Growing up in the church, I learned no fewer than seven catchy jingles that listed the fruits of the Spirit. I colored countless fruity pictures where love was an apple, and peace was a peach, and joy was a watermelon or something to that effect.
I feel like those first three fruits were the all-star team. The Harry, Ron, Hermione. The Han, Leia, Luke. The Kerri Strug, Dominque Dawes, Dominque Moceanu.
I get it. I get why love is the star. Why joy gets the silver. Why peace finishes the trifecta.
love. God so
loved the world. The greatest commands
are to love God with all of ourselves and love others. I'm not saying that love isn't tough. It is. It takes grit to keep loving. To love everyone all the time regardless of what they do and what they say. It isn't always romantic and easy.
I am not arguing that love should no longer reign supreme. I am not saying it doesn't deserve top billing. I am just saying that self-control maybe gets glossed over because it's at the end of the list, and it isn't as romanticized. Self-control isn't cute like cherry or blueberry. It's like a coconut or a kumquat.
Restraint doesn't have a reputation for being fun or hip. Dying to self heavily implies pain and loss and, well, death. While love mostly fills, obedience often feels merely emptying. A pouring out.
But I don't think you can have love without self-control, which is why it is a Spirit attribute. Marriage, raising children--any meaningful relationship cannot exist without the selflessness that comes from self-control. You cannot feel real joy without restraint. Trust me, I don't believe I had ever known true contentment until I ended a fast by eating a cupcake. Pure, unadulterated bliss. Just kidding [but seriously].
I believe you can only know the peace of God--the peace that passes understanding--by first surrendering to His will and His way.
Being patient isn't even an option without self-control; they work in tandem always. I teach middle school. Do not fight me on this one.
Kindness, goodness, and gentleness demand a certain level of thoughtfulness. The inner-monologue that should occur far more often than it does where one asks oneself, "How does what I am going to do/say going to impact others?" And then the ability to not do/say that thing when the answer is "negatively." That takes self-control.
Faithfulness means keeping promises, showing up, staying put when every outside temptation begs you to go.
I get that this fruit metaphor can lose it's meaning when subjected solely to coloring pages and kiddie songs. Holy strawberries and sacred oranges. But when viewed as a gift. As a product of a life lived abiding with God. When I see self-control not as the least of these, but a partner working in time with all the others. When it is a bookend to awesomeness instead of the least cool member of N'sync (I'm looking at you, @joeyfatone). Then exhibiting self-control becomes beautiful...anything but drudgery.
Self-control can give far more than it takes. It can fill you by emptying you. I am trying to lean into that in this season. Answering the call to obey in ways that seem like I am forfeiting, but in all the ways that matter, I am gaining.