As Christians, we are under constant self-restraint. We are called to die to self, live righteously, and serve others. Self-restraint is exhausting; it involves self-awareness, control of your body and thoughts, and critical thinking. As humans, we’re actually on autopilot about 90% of the time. Have you ever been driving and realized you don’t remember how you got where you are? Our brain is made to think, but it also likes to relax.
So when you go through the day as a Christian, it can exhaust you just to say encouraging things, be pure-minded, do things for people. There’s the pressure of wanting to be Christ-like and knowing that you’re a representation of Christ to the people around you. Our flesh hates this.
For the flesh lusteth (sets its desire) against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
We have the Holy Spirit to help us out, but when it comes down to it, we’re still fleshly beings. As humans, we have a limit of how much self-restraint we can handle in a day. It varies from person to person, but we all reach a point where we’ve exhausted it. And once you’ve exhausted your limit of self-restraint, it’s a lot harder to resist temptation if it presents itself.
When you use up your self-restraint, you’re tired. Being tired lowers your inhibition, and makes you more likely to do things you normally wouldn’t do or wouldn’t like to do. It’s kind of like drinking alcohol, in that way.
My mom always said “Nothing good happens after midnight.” (Not always true; I’m writing this after midnight. :P ) But in the dating world, there’s some truth to it. By midnight, we’ve used up much of our self-restraint for the day. So if it’s midnight, and you’re really attracted to a person, and you’ve been restraining yourselves from “getting too physical” all night, and then you reach your limit… you’re more likely to do something that you’ll regret later.
That’s true for other situations as well. If you’ve been dealing with grumpy people at work all day and you’re already pushing your limit of self-restraint, it’s much harder to be patient with your husband/mom/dad/sister when you get home and he/she does something annoying.
So how can we make it easier on ourselves to not use up our whole reserve and to resist temptation?
We have to choose the things that use up our self-restraint wisely.
For me, I know it’s the things that I do in my spare time that deplete my reserve of self restraint, and I don’t even realize it!! Being on social media and watching non-Christian TV shows or listening to non-Christian music are big ones. Here’s how they actually use up self-restraint:
Non-Christian TV and music. Think about it. There is promiscuous sex, sexual references, selfish philosophies, other worldly philosophies, profanity, murder, sexism… And your brain is constantly trying to filter through all of that information. Why would we spend our relaxation time having to restrain ourselves too? And if we aren’t restraining ourselves from the negative influences, we’re on autopilot—watching it passively and absorbing. We’re letting in the negative influences and allowing them to become part of us. When you watch something passively, you absorb the information being thrown at you, and if it’s un-Christian, that’s not good. Your show or music may be something that “doesn’t make you think”…but you’re slowly absorbing and accepting what messages are being portrayed because you’re being passive. That’s dangerous.
Social media. Social media is constant self-restraint. It’s constant restraint to not post bad/rude things, to filter what we see, and to not comment on offensive posts or get involved in draining conversations that aren’t even worth it. Social media forces you to constantly filter. You’re picking out what’s good, what’s bad, what’s annoying, what’s funny, what’s funny-but-inappropriate, what articles you should read, what you should save, what you should respond to… etc. We even have a “like” button to help us tell people whether or not we approve. And then there’s coming up with our own posts: Is that appropriate? Is that clever enough? Is that annoying? How can I make it 140 characters? Will people retweet me?
I’m an English major. I’m constantly using up my self-restraint in the things I read, and I’m constantly thinking and analyzing. I’m also an introvert, so I love thinking internally, and I love reading articles and sharing ideas on Twitter. Between all that and trying to be Christ-like, I use up a lot of self-restraint in a day. This knowledge has been freeing for me because I finally realize why I’m so tired and why “relaxing” doesn’t really make me feel any more rested.
The tricky part to all of this is that we don’t even know that it’s slowly draining our self-restraint. It’s exhausting! You’re actually having to subconsciously filter things until you’re so exhausted from that that you just let it infiltrate into you—or until you’ve used up your quota of self-restraint and don’t feel like doing anything else more productive. Our homes should be safe havens; they shouldn’t take away our self-restraint like being in the world does. We need to learn to step away.
So we need to pick our entertainment wisely. We need pastimes that either use our self-restraint efficiently or won’t influence us negatively if we slip into passive absorbance. If you’re reading the bible passively, even if you don’t understand it completely, at least what you’re absorbing is a good influence and not a bad one. Same with Christian music. Or a Christian book.
I’m not saying that NO ONE should listen to non-Christian music or watch a non-Christian show. I just think that we should have an awareness about what uses up our self-restraint and gain control over what we want to use it on.
So instead of watching “Friends” when I want to relax, I can…
- Read the Bible, a book about the Bible/Christianity, or a fiction Christian book. (Chronicles of Narnia may be next.)
- Watch a PG or under movie, a TV show I know is appropriate, a movie/show that I’ve already seen (know what’s coming), or a Christian comedian… (This is tricky because the philosophy of the world is in everything, even kids’ shows!! I will probably blog about that some day.)
(Side note: We really need good Christian writers and movie producers. Everything is so cheesy and has no depth! How can you be a Christian and write with no depth?! Anyone who is creative, I encourage you to explore those talents. We need you!!)
- Read articles that I’ve already decided are worthy of reading, or look through past pins on Pinterest and actually try them out!
- Be creative: draw, free write, make a craft.
- Listen to Christian music. (Can be combined with any other option.)
- Sleep. (Duh.)
- Hang out with godly friends who you can be yourself around. Have you even noticed how good and relaxing it feels to be around people with your same values and goals? It’s because you don’t feel pressured to have so much self-restraint.
I’ve also found that actually hanging out in person is important. Texting or communicating over social media can actually zap up more of your self-restraint quota because you’re probably doing it while you’re doing something else. Talking on the phone is the second-best option.
Knowing all of this makes me feel so empowered. Living a godly life is hard, but it’s so worth it. I hope all of you feel as empowered as I do and start taking the steps toward using your self-restraint for what YOU want to.
Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding.
He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.