Lessons in Self-Control

Mother & DaughterHave you ever been on the receiving end of an a two and a half year old’s mega-meltdown screaming rage? If not, let me be the first to tell you, it is quite a trying experience. I just had my first, courtesy of my sweet-as-sugar daughter, and I was not really sure in the middle if either of us were going to survive on positive terms.

Olivia has been known, from Day 1, to be active, alert, and to have a strong little will of her own. Don’t get me wrong- it’s a delight to see our little social butterfly make friends almost instantly with perfect strangers (she had a 16 year old doing ring-around-the-rosie with her in the middle of the airport the other day, for instance). She’s congenial and sweet. And has a REAL stubborn streak.

A lot of people don’t see her stubborn, strong-willed side, because it is layered in there with such charisma and charm, and a great dose of flexibility. The other day she looked at me sweetly and said, “Mommy, I gotta poop. In my diaper. Coz I’m not potty training.”

But we’ve never, ever, had a clash of the wills so intense as what we went through the other day.

Olivia has, for her whole life, found that sleeping is one of the best ways to test her limits with me. She was NOT an easy sleeper as a baby, and although we have now taught her how to be good sleeper (she sleeps 12.5 hours at night and 1.5 hours during the day), every once in a while she gets in her mind to try to push the boundaries a little- see where mommy and daddy stand.

Usually that means she boycotts naps. She’s cried before during nap times, but the other day she took it to a whole new level. She was literally SCREAMING at me from her room. Screaming in rage and frustration, puffy faced, and crying uncontrollably. It made me feel scared, and super helpless. My baby!

Recently, Olivia and I have been talking about our emotions, how they are like wild horses that we have to learn how to control because they can easily get out of hand and hurt ourselves and others. We’ve also talked about how we are each in control of only ONE person: ourselves. Olivia is in control of Olivia. Mommy is in control of mommy. Mommy is not (ultimately) in control of Olivia and Olivia is not (although she’s constantly testing this one) in control of mommy. It’s called self-control, and it is a fruit of the Spirit (Galations 5:22-23).

Similarly, although Olivia and I have not actually talked about this yet, our conversations have reminded me that not only are we not in control of other people, but we are not in control of our circumstances either. We, very simply, have the responsibility to be in control of one thing: ourselves.

Certainly we can TRY a whole lot of tactics to control others or to control our circumstances. That’s how people become abusive. Or addicted. Or lost in religion or spirituality. Or entangled in an eating disorder. Or reclusive. The list is almost certainly endless.

We’re all, at some level, trying to take control of SOMETHING else. Isn’t that one of the allures of the forbidden fruit for Eve in the Garden of Eden? To eat from the tree and become enlightened- to become in control of her circumstances and her destiny. Interestingly, humanity has been hopelessly out of control ever since.

As I entered in to Olivia’s bedroom, and the direct fire of her flowing rage, praying for some sort of wisdom and grace, these thoughts were what came to mind.

DESPERATELY I wanted to take Olivia out of her crib. To rescue her from her misery and pain. To make her LIKE me instead of “strongly dislike” me in that moment.

But I also knew that I need to be consistent with Olivia. That she has to learn that there are circumstances, like nap time, that she may not always like, but that she still has to learn to make good choices in the middle of those circumstances. She has to learn how to exercise self-control, and wrangle her emotions instead of allowing her emotions to drive and destruct her.

Mommy has to learn those things too. I had to exercise extreme self-control to come in and sit and speak gently and calmly with Olivia, even as she ranted at me. To keep myself from giving in to her two year old demands and feel like a hero instead of mean old mom.

I reminded Olivia that she was in control of one thing: Olivia. And Olivia had choices that only she could make: play quietly in her crib during her nap time (after all, remember, mommy can’t control Olivia- I can’t MAKE her sleep), lay down and close her eyes and nap, or scream and carry on for the hour and a half she would be in there. Even if she couldn’t change her circumstance, she had choices about how she could respond to it.

Ultimately, she figured it out. She lay down (still whimpering about the INJUSTICE). She asked me to hold her hand. I decided that while I wouldn’t rescue her from her pain, I could still be with her in her pain. I could still walk alongside her in the midst of her circumstance. I lay down on the floor beside her crib, and closed my eyes with her to join her in her nap.

She was asleep within minutes.

It reminded me so much of my relationship with Jesus. How many times have I felt that out-of-control rage in the midst of my painful circumstances? How many times have a screamed and cried inwardly at Him for “not rescuing me.” And how many times has he calmly and gently sat beside me and held my hand in my darkest moment?

I know that happened during my miscarriage last year. And I know there have been countless other times in my life as well. I have not always chosen to handle myself and my emotional responses well. I’ve been the kid that raged in her crib for the WHOLE GOSH DARN nap time.

But I think recently he’s been showing me that there is a better way. I can have peace in the midst of trial as I learn to navigate my wild emotions- expressing them certainly, but not letting them control me- and I accept the fact that I cannot control anything but myself and my responses. In all things He gives grace to endure and press onward!

He does not always choose to change or rescue us from our painful circumstances (although we often will him to). But it is an absolute lie that he refrains from doing so because he doesn’t love us. It’s the very opposite- there are deep and meaningful things that need to be wrought in our hearts that cannot be without some fire. Without allowing us to learn that, yep, we feel out of control because we AREN’T in control. Never really were.

I need a lot of grace to exercise the only control I do have: self-control. The one thing that the Spirit of God has empowered and gifted us to be able to do. And honestly, it’s exhausting enough trying to control myself, let alone other people and circumstances! Thank God he only asks us to be in control of that ONE thing, and then gives us the strength and wisdom and grace to do so.

I hope that Olivia understands that someday.

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2 thoughts on “Lessons in Self-Control

  1. thank you for the reminder about self-control…I OFTEN remind my K kids that they are ONLY in charge of themselves, that they only take care of themselves, no one else. For example, “Bill takes care of Bill.” If you are not IN the story, you do not need to tell me about it! Good reminder for the teacher, too! 🙂

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