Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Fruits of the Spirit and Self-Control

In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul listed what are called the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Now, who wouldn’t want to experience love, joy, peace, and patience in their lives? And kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and gentleness? These are such wonderful traits. If our lives are filled with these spiritual gifts from God, it makes us happy and fulfilled. It truly makes our day-to-day lives a delight.

I can honestly say that I have experienced these eight fruits of the spirit—at times—and they really make a big difference.

But then there’s that 9th fruit St. Paul mentioned: self-control. Uh oh. I’m not sure Paul knew what it would be like to live in America in the early 21st century.

I mean, this is an instant gratification society we have here nowadays. I’m pretty sure St. Paul did not have all-you-can eat buffets on every street corner, like we do. And he probably wasn’t able to binge-watch his favorite TV shows on Netflix. Ah yes, there’s nothing like staring at 47 straight episodes of “The Office” over the course of a weekend. If we practiced self-control, we never would have the, um, interesting experience of walking stiffly around the house like a zombie on Sunday night with our eyes unable to focus, while being so overdue for a shower that the family dog takes one sniff of us and runs the other way.

They say the city of Corinth, where St. Paul spent a lot of time, was similar to Las Vegas. But I don’t think they had casinos open 24/7 with thousands of gaming tables and all your favorite entertainers appearing on stage. If Paul had the chance to see, say, Brittney Spears and Wayne Newton perform, and then spent the next 18 hours “doubling down” at the Blackjack tables, he may have decided to leave that 9th fruit of the spirit off his list.

Let’s face it, we do not like to delay gratification. We Americans have been trained from birth to desire something and then demand to have it—right away!

Which culture in world history invented fast food restaurants? And then when they weren’t fast enough, drive-thru windows?

Which culture in world history invented online shopping, where we can purchase anything and everything with one click on the computer? And then when having the item arrive at our house in three days wasn’t fast enough, demanded next-day and in some places, same-day delivery? Yup, that would be us, good ol’ America.

A lack of self-control is most likely the biggest reason so many Americans feel so unfulfilled and unhappy these days. When we wholeheartedly embrace the instant gratification mindset—as our culture encourages us to do—we quickly reach a point where nothing comes to us fast enough. It’s like being a drug addict. No matter what our particular indulgence may be—overeating, casino gambling, binge-watching TV shows, buying stuff online—we soon discover we are never fully satisfied.

Some people then turn to really destructive habits, like alcohol and drugs. Others just live their lives with an overwhelming sense of frustration and longing.

There is a big reason St. Paul used the words “of the spirit” when he listed those nine fruits. That’s because it’s virtually impossible for us to embrace and live out those traits without God’s help. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to take control of our lives so we can do God’s will rather than our own impulsive will.

If we do that, our lives will be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and yes, even self-control. We will discover that we don’t need casinos, buffets, Amazon, and Netflix to make us happy. The spirit of God can do that better than any modern instant gratification.

Also, if we allow ourselves to be filled with the fruits of the spirit, besides experiencing God’s peace and serenity, we just might find that at the end of each month, we actually have some money left in our bank accounts!

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