Self-Control and Willpower

Each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray —lead us not into temptation.  The truth is that most of us do not need to be “led” into temptation — we find temptation or temptation finds us easily.

So, how do we deal with temptation?  It seems we might learn something from a group of six-year olds.

In a test, students were told that they could have one marshmallow now or two if they waited ten minutes.  Most three-year old took the one marshmallow; they could not wait.  Most six-year-olds on the other hand, waited ten minutes and got two marshmallows.  What did the six year olds do in the ten minutes?  They tapped their feet on the floor, they  play games with their fingers, they rolled their eyes and made faces, they asked questions —- in other words, they change their focus from the marshmallows to something else —- they occupied their time by changing the focus of their attention.

So, the first lesson we can learn in dealing with temptation —- try to change our attention from that which pulls on us.  Being tempted to go to the fridge for another piece of pie?  Well, pick up a book.  Engage in conversation.  Eat something with fewer calories.  Believe in delaying gratification.  Picture in your mind what you want to be like in an hour/week/month.

A second lesson, stay away from those situations that pull us down.  Martin Luther once said, “people whose heads are made of butter should not sit too close to the fire-place.”  No control over chocolate?  Don’t buy it.  Certain people tend to cause us to gossip, see them only as much as necessary and create a plan to change the conversational tone when it turns to talking about other people [See # 1]  Problem with gambling?  Don’t go to the casino.

A third point of power building — stay close to people who will hold us accountable. When we feel alone or disconnected — it is easy to rationalize that we deserve to take care of ourselves — an extra drink, a special treat at the mall — a secret tryst.  When we are connected with others, when we are honest with another — we gain power and we live stronger in the face of temptation.  United with another we are made stronger.

A fourth strategy for dealing with temptation GET SOME REST — when we are tired, our resistance is low.  Our ability to face temptation requires that we be at our best.  Some good sleep — a break from work — a reconnection with God gives us a “hands up” in dealing with the challenges that come to us all.  When we are tired, we get angry more easily and once we are angry, we can do irrational things — even things we do not want to do and things that might bring some harm to us or hurt to our relationships.

Each of us knows our place of vulnerability.  Each of us knows where we are weak.  Each of us knows where we can be attacked.

Self-control and will power are more than the result of prayer.  Prayer helps, but we must be aware and attentive and develop strategies for making ourselves stronger and give us the will to be powerful.

Lent calls us to open our eyes before they are opened for us.  Repeated sin will eventually lead to the downfall that opens the eyes like nothing else.  By the grace of God and the work of our hearts, we can see what is ahead — we can delay gratification — and we can reject the enticement of the tempter.

CNN reported this week that a man who lost more than $500,000 at a Las Vegas Casino on SuperBowl Sunday is suing the Casino — THEY SHOULD have cut him off from drinking.  He had more than 20 “free drinks” over a 17 hour period and kept gambling.  Well, just maybe the casino should have cut him off …. but, what about walking into the casino —- and having 10 drinks before entering the casino — and then 17 more drinks.  Blaming the tempter is as old as the book of Genesis.  Accepting responsibility and being the person we are called to be is as wise as the Lord we worship.


About thegospelforliving

Retired Catholic Priest - now serving the community as a paralegal and charter school consultant.
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