Each and every day, more than once a day (if you can imagine!), I say some form of these words, “control your emotions.” I am a mother of two small toddlers. If you’ve ever interacted with a toddler, well then, you know what I mean.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:22-24, emphasis added).
Self–control literally means “holding oneself in.” Isn’t that just the perfect word picture? Self-control is like “Spanx” for your life — for your words, attitudes, emotions, etc. John MacArthur says that a “Christian is to control the flesh, the passions, and the bodily desires rather than allowing himself to be controlled by them.”
Each day we are faced with countless opportunities to indulge ourselves or prefer others and glorify Christ. Luke 9:23 says, “…If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” It is good to deny myself. With the help of the Holy Spirit, believers can find greater joy and superior pleasure in Christ and His glory instead of choosing to sin. Because Christ is greater, believers can deny their flesh.
My toddlers, however, have yet to find superior pleasure in anything but themselves at this point in their sweet, little lives. They are ruled by their flesh because they do not know Christ. They cannot walk by the Spirit because they haven’t yet understood and believed the gospel. So, do I resign to let them live in their toddler debauchery because they are simply without hope? As Paul would say, certainly NOT!
Thinking realistically, here are a few ideas that might help generate some self-control in your children.
1. Practice Practically
This can look really different for every family, but here are a few ideas. My little ones are really young right now, so asking them to sit quietly for more than fifteen minutes is a lot. Right now we are working on sitting still, without talking, while Daddy reads from the Bible during our family devotions. Another practice that some friends of mine have done (which I am wanting to start with my oldest) is sitting quietly while watching a sermon together — great practice for those getting ready to graduate from nursery. Other practices are not touching things on the shelf at the grocery store or saying “excuse me” when adults are talking. Then, praise them when they obey, highlighting the fact that they are honoring you and Jesus by obeying rather than always doing exactly what they want to do, immediately when they want to do it.
2. Model It, Momma
This one is hard. For the 100 times that you deny yourself for the sake of your toddler and the glory of Christ, your toddler is probably completely unaware. But do it anyway, because Christ is greater. Speaking to your children in a kind and gracious way will eventually catch on. They may not understand your motivations, but they will see your practice of preferring others.
3. Humble Yourself
Surely, though, we will fail in our efforts to remain self-controlled at all times. I wish I could say that I was the mommy who has never “lost it” with my children, but I am not. When that happens, we need to be willing to deny ourselves, forsake our pride and humble ourselves before our little children, say that Mommy was wrong, and ask for their forgiveness. By acknowledging our sin, we have an opportunity to speak of our great Savior who denied Himself in the ultimate sense by sacrificing His life so that we might know God — whose grace and glory is greater than all our sins.
Take heart, God has promised you every resource you need to honor him (2 Corinthians 9:8).