image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The human heart holds a thousand desires and longings. In the age of social media, we are overwhelmed by information about goods, things, and entertainment, and it seems as if we are trapped in a train of competition going warp speed in an endless tunnel. We seek more, but we are never satisfied.

As a result, many of us suffer from mental exhaustion and fatigue. This condition then keeps us in a state of anxiety. We suffer from emotional disturbances, which significantly contribute to suicidal tendencies.

The Basic Health Research from the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Indonesia (2018) noted that the prevalence of emotional disorders in the population aged 15 years and over increased from 6% in 2013 to 9.8% in 2018.

Of course, this situation can be triggered by various causes, but evidently, the prevalence of emotional disorders stems from unfulfilled desires. There is a gap between desire and reality, and it is not always easy for anyone to accept it.

Let go of what is beyond our control

While there are things under our control, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus contends that there are also things beyond our control. And therefore, every human being is invited to learn to restrain oneself or control one’s desires.

Interestingly, self-control is also in line with Christian teaching. In Galatians 5:23, one expression of the fruit of the Spirit is “self-control.” This word is translated from the Greek word egkrateia, which means a virtue born of a person who controls his human desires or passions, including his sensual appetites.

In simple terms, this verse reminds the readers to try to control or restrain themselves in sorting out their wants or desires. As children of God, we are invited to understand this reality and control ourselves amid things within or beyond our control, including learning to let go of things beyond our control with the help of God’s Spirit.

One way to heal oneself from negative emotions – envy, anger, bitterness, anxiety – is the willingness to let go of unattainable desires. Of course, this may seem complicated, but through Spirit-enabled self-control and total surrender to God’s sovereignty, we can find and sustain peace, the shalom, in our souls.

Learn to Master Yourself

Self-control and the willingness to let go of the desire for things beyond our control will undoubtedly lead us to maturity. With self-control, we will not be easily swept away by the currents of self-interest and worldly desires (popularity, wealth, position, etc.).

Don’t we often feel tired and restless because our souls constantly chase desire things beyond our control? The Apostle John reminds us to beware of worldly selfish desires because they do not come from God (1 John 2:15-17).

Worldly desires can be in the form of the lust of the eyes (greed), the lust of the flesh (lust), and the pride of life (arrogance). Of course, we will face challenges to the passions that arise from within us for the rest of our lives. But let us remember this: God is good. He knows our abilities are very limited.

Efforts to control ourselves can be a never-ending test for each of us. However, the Lord Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to help us in all our efforts to control ourselves (John 14:15-17). The Holy Spirit can help to practice self-control.

Self-control is a long process. However, we are invited to train ourselves in the process faithfully. As Proverbs says, “One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and one who rules his spirit, than one who captures a city” (16:32).

Peter echoes this again, “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” (1 Peter 4:7a). This message serves as a potent reminder for those who fear God to heed against falling into the temptations of sin.

This also prompted Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, to write to his spiritual son: “But as for you, use self-restraint in all things…!” (2 Timothy 4:5). 

The practice of self-control provides the escape hatch from emotional disturbances. The discipline of self-control begins with discernment of what is within and what is beyond our power.

We are invited to say the same prayer Reinhold Niebuhr once said, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Michael Dhimas Anugrah is the Youth Pastor at Millennial Christian Fellowship, Indonesia. He is currently enrolled at Oxford Center for Religion and Public Life, UK