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Week 9: Self-Control

Published November 2, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your Faith Goodness; and to Goodness, Knowledge; and to Knowledge, Self-Control; and to Self-Control, Perseverance; and to Perseverance, Godliness; and to Godliness, Mutual Affection; and to Mutual Affection, Love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:5-8

Wow. Week 9 already? It’s hard to believe that we’ve come to the end of the challenge. Whether I expected to or not, I learned something every week and was expecting this final stretch to be enlightening and hit me like a bolt of lightning, and I would be struck with immense insight (and some potential third-degree burns). Nonetheless, I fully anticipated to go out with a bang. I mean, the end of these nine weeks had to be epic, right? I found the verse above and thought that it was so appropriate for our final week, since it basically covers the transition from each Fruit of the Spirit and says that they help us to be productive in our knowledge. I highly recommend reading this a few times and just letting it sink in.

I went through the list of obvious manifestations of self-control the first few days. I tried to keep from being rebellious, to be kinder to others even when I didn’t want to, and watch what I said more, saving the sailor’s mouth for football games only … Just kidding (I mean, I can still kiss my mother, and all). But I worked pretty hard to curb what I said to others and try to only speak positive things. Let me tell ya, not always that easy. At the beginning of Self-Control, someone said something that normally would make my blood boil and receive a snarky remark. It was on the tip of my tongue, but then I suddenly remembered Self-Control. I’ll tell you that it required quite a bit of ye ol’ Control as I took a deep breath, exhaled, and actually managed to compliment my offender. The strange thing was that it completely threw them and changed their attitude, and I felt surprisingly good over having held my tongue. That was kind of s shocking bit of insight, and after that I worked really hard to watch my tone with others and what I let slip from my lips. But then something occurred to me (of course, it dawned on me last night).

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5

Suddenly it dawned on me that watching what I did on the outside, while very important, wasn’t the only form of Self-Control; I also needed to censor what was on the inside. Taking thoughts captive is much more difficult that simply not saying them aloud. It’s going to take me a while to master my mind, or even get a little hand-hold on it, though I’ve already begun to notice a difference in my thoughts as I try to think only positive and productive things (good news is that all that free space has left me a lot of “productive” room for creative insight for the sequel to Rising Shadows, so YAY!). I’m not saying it’s easy in the least, and sometimes you don’t even realize that you’re entertaining a rebellious or negative thought that even needs to be taken captive, but be encouraged that it does get easier over time when you’re conscious of your thoughts. It might seem like a lot of work for something that probably won’t affect your day-to-day life, but I guarantee those thoughts will eventually leak out into what you do and say later on. So save the space for something productive. Like everything else in this challenge, you’ll be glad you did it.  

I cannot believe that we have reached the end of our Fruit of the Spirit Challenge. What an amazing journey it’s been! I hope you all learned as much as I did and maybe even discovered a little something about yourselves that you didn’t know before. And don’t think that this practice round ends here; now the real challenge begins as you take your newfound skills and shed a little light in the world. This last week isn’t the end of the road. No, there is a long road stretching out before you, and these nine weeks were just a little start in the right direction. Which way you go from here is completely up to you…

Week 4: Patience

Published September 28, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

“Being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.” Colossians 1:11

This week threw me into a bit of a limbo over how I could better work on my Patience. My biggest problem lay in how I could practice it differently than I did Peace. That was when I realized how closely tied the two are and it reminded me, yet again, that each Fruit relies on the others. There were quite a few things that tested my Patience this week, and these same things also tried to erode my Peace. It was a little more difficult to attempt both of these qualities simultaneously, although challenging myself IS what I’m supposed to be doing throughout this challenge—why does it still surprise me sometimes when the water gets rough?

“And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14

I had to remind myself of this fact more than once the past few days and continually caught myself as I started to lose my cool. I actually came up with an attack plan for this week—this I did instead of organizing the essay that is due in a few days; it’s amazing what procrastination can encourage you to do!—and I knew I had to recognize when I was becoming agitated. If you don’t realize you’re doing it, then you can’t correct it, right? This was probably the hardest part of the week, to admit when I was wrong and make the choice to change my attitude. But I knew I had to start here if I wanted to get anywhere else, and please, take my word when I say that it is far easier to identify bad behavior and put an end to it in the beginning. Let me tell you, though, that I was greatly relieved when I began to notice the signs of my slipping composure rather quickly—a tapping foot, a strand of twisted hair around my finger, clenching my jaw, rolling my eyes, and a litany of other anxious tells. Not saying I always stopped the action or changed my attitude, because it is hard to break habits, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It was a constant challenge (ah, yes, that pesky little word of improvement) to catch myself, but I made an effort, sometimes even begrudgingly so, but I really wanted to try.

“A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.” Proverbs 19:11

My epiphany about Patience and Peace being so closely linked came rather quickly at the start of this week. To practice Patience, oftentimes you have to be content and at Peace with something. It was hard to work on both at the same time, but this was actually one of my more productive weeks because I not only got to use a new Fruit (feel free to giggle, because it just sounds so funny … or maybe I’m just juiced up on java), but I was also forced to bring with me the previous skill that I had been working on. Up until this point, this whole endeavor was just a challenge, the results of which I was simply curious about. But now I am honestly excited to keep on with this and continue learning and improving.

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the LORD has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12

It is without a doubt easier to lose your cool and wallow in Grumpy Ville than to make an effort. As always, it is a choice. You decide whether or not you want to make the change. So, I guess the choice is up to you: The Easy Road, or the High Road? (Feel free to switch lanes at any time)    

Week 3: Peace

Published September 21, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” Isaiah 54:10

After my slightly less than successful week spent practicing Joy—okay, it was an epic fail—I went into this week’s challenge with a firmer determination to be more at Peace for seven days. Of course, like the other challenging weeks before this one—and I’m sure the ones to come, as well—it was not always easy, and sometimes I really had to work to keep my Peace. It wasn’t just about begrudgingly accepting the circumstances for what they were or trying to avoid at all costs any situation that might disturb my calm; no, I came to realize—and I’m glad I did—that the True Peace I was trying to exhibit and practice this week was all about being able to stand in the midst of a stressful circumstance and still come out unruffled. I honestly had no idea if I would be able to accomplish this, to actually be totally at Peace and tranquil when my human nature is just itching to freak out, but I knew this week was especially important, so I gave it the old college try … Whatever that means (I’m in college, and there are plenty of slackers out there, so I have no idea who came up with that!).  

Now, I’m not generally someone who gets stressed-out easily or panics over the little things, but we all know how Week 2 went when I overestimated my optimism and level of Joy, so I was a little wary over what this week of Peace would bring. Little did I know that because I had actually prepared myself beforehand, I was better equipped to handle stressful situations, and the instant I started to feel my calm slipping, I reminded myself that I actually needed to make an effort this week. Somehow, that constant reminder kept me from going over the edge and losing my composure completely, even in situations that normally pushed my buttons. Like I said before, it was not easy, especially when the general insanity of life crept in and wanted to make this week of the challenge an automatic fail. But I kept on it, constantly reminding myself to take a deep breath, count to five before speaking, and to not freak out when I was running late, because panicking was not going to get me to class any faster. And trust me, it doesn’t.

Actually, the longer I stayed at Peace, my Joy level actually began to increase because wasn’t worrying about certain things, and as a result I started to show more Love. I don’t know about you all, but I’m beginning to realize just how connected all the Fruits of the Spirit are and how each one hinges on the other. It might seem intimidating to hear that—I have to emulate all of them?!—but I have said it once and I’ll say it again: It is a process. I didn’t start this challenge as a forceful guide that has to be followed to the T (I also don’t know what that means, either; I gotta get out more). I began this challenge as a way to, well, challenge myself and improve my outlook on life and the way I treat others. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and you shouldn’t expect to excel at each one of these Fruits, either; though if you do, kudos! But if you decide to join me for this challenge, do yourself a favor and remember that nobody is perfect, so don’t stress it! We all stumble and fall, but the important thing is that you’re willing to run in the first place and are determined to get back up.   

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