Chaplain's thought for the week

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Chaplain's thought for the week

Revd Tom considers the value of self-control

In the Junior School this week our theme has been ‘self-control’ in our series on the nine fruits of the Spirit. Self-control doesn’t sound like a particularly exciting topic, to be honest; we might fancy having a bit more joy or peace or love in our lives, but self-control is rarely at the top of the list of prized virtues! I want to suggest, however, that is really worthwhile for a number of reasons.

In Chapel we enjoyed watching a clip of children undergoing the ‘Marshmallow test’, based on a famous study conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel in the 1960s. In the study children were given a marshmallow, told that they would get another one if they didn’t eat it, and left in a room with it for fifteen minutes. How well could the children ‘delay gratification’? There was a range of reactions! However, the particularly interesting thing was that Mischel tracked these children over the years that followed and observed that those who were able to delay gratification at a young age had better concentration and self-control as adolescents, and did better in school examinations.

Self-control can help young people and adults alike in so many situations: healthy eating; getting enough sleep; completing a ‘to do’ list; taking exercise; practising an instrument; resisting peer pressure… We all have our own areas in which we find it challenging to exercise self-control!

In particular, I have spoken with our pupils about the need to have self-control in their interactions with other people. In the Bible it says in the Proverbs ‘a fool gives vent to their anger, but wise people keep themselves under control.’ While it is important to acknowledge our feelings and not repress them, we need to be careful about the time and place when we do this. Self-control helps us to check how we express our emotions. Targeting anger at other people in the heat of the moment is rarely – if ever? – the correct thing to do.

Furthermore, self-control means that we keep a careful watch over what we say. One of the Psalmists appeals to God ‘Set a guard over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips’. How many problems in our world would be solved if everyone made this their prayer each day? Careless words may not now cost lives, as the Second World War posters warned, but they do cost. We know this is true because we can all think of times when careless words have hurt us.

Self-control isn’t easy. It isn’t something we always want (especially when we’re confronted by chocolate cake or the television at the end of the day when there’s still work to be done!). However, self-control is hugely valuable and I commend the practice of asking God for this fruit of the Spirit at the beginning of each day.