It is early morning. I have watched darkness slowly succumb to light. There’s a metaphor here, though I’m struggling to find it.
Every morning, I read short sections in several books. One of them was written by A B Simpson, a Canadian Christian who lived in the late-nineteenth century until the first world war. Often, I don’t understand him. He writes pithily; each statement is crammed full of meaning. It’s a bit like parsing philosophy.
Today he wrote on temperance. This is a word we rarely hear as it is quaint and old-timey. Temperance, he says, is self-government.
“It involves the grace of self-denial and the spirit of a sound mind. It is that poise of spirit that holds (me) quiet, self-possessed, recollected, deliberate and subject ever to the voice of God and the conviction of duty in every step (I) take.”
“Am I even close to being temperate,” I wondered as I read this?
“The grace of self-denial” is the giving up of one’s own desires to help someone else meet his or her desires. It’s the practical outworking of selflessness. This is difficult for me, I confess. I feel as if I’ve put my life on hold for other people for many years, and selfishly, I want it to be my turn to live. It is wrong of me to feel this way. Wrong thinking, too.
“The spirit of a sound mind” refers to peaceful, clear-headed times of life, the lulls between crises. Often, they are dull periods. Character growth comes only after a time of crisis but isn’t realized until the lull. As I yield or submit to the crisis, God, the potter, reshapes my character. As my character develops, I become more useful to Him. Though I’ve been in difficult circumstances for several years, I am quickly coming out of it. Soon, I’ll have, once again, the lulled spirit of a sound mind.
There’s also “Quiet.”
“Subject ever to the voice of God and the conviction of duty.”
All of these qualities take a lifetime to develop but, in myself, I do see incremental progress. I keep a very very very detailed journal which clearly shows change. Internal change. I have managed to grow and even thrive during the worst years of my life.
Many people have neither poise or a recollected spirit, notes Simpson. They are led by impulses, insecurities, a need for praise, approval, fame, prestige and a strong desire to be respected and put on a pedestal. Their perception of what other people think of them dictates their response. People without temperance, he notes earlier in the book, are slaves to opinion and circumstance and are neither self-possessed nor self-controlled.
The way I’ve learned to deal with other people’s lack of temperance is to only see the best in them. This takes quite a bit of deliberation. (Yes, it is a bit Pollyannaish.) When family members jab at me, I don’t respond. Instead, I double down on thinking only the best in them, the things I love about him or her. Though I’m highly critical of nations, policies, political stances and public leaders, I try to be as insensitive as possible to the critical attitudes and misjudgements of the people around me. I willfully choose to see good in people I know best. To love them unconditionally.
To be temperate, then, is to temper both perception and reaction, but not superficially. It has to be real, to emerge from one’s real character, that which is deep. The conviction of duty … even love, can’t be faked for very long. Either one chooses to develop in this way or not. It’s always a choice and then a willful determination.
One chooses to be temperate.
This is how a Christian thinks, or should think though it takes a lifetime to live up to these thoughts. The twisted irony which so characterizes the Bible and the Christian life is this — by serving others with an attitude of temperance one finds perfect freedom.
Self-subjection is liberty.