Healthy Self Denial Part 4
Updated: Nov 18, 2021
We have arrived at our last and final segment of our series exploring temperance and healthy self denial. As we continue down this path we further want to examine the definition of temperance that I stumbled across on Wikipedia.
Temperance in its modern use is defined as moderation or voluntary self-restraint. It is typically described in terms of what an individual voluntarily refrains from doing. This includes restraint from revenge by practicing non-violence and forgiveness, restraint from arrogance by practicing humility and modesty, restraint from excesses such as extravagant luxury or splurging, and restraint from rage or craving by practicing calmness and self-control. (my emphasis supplied)
As you can see from the emphasized portion of the paragraph above, we are scrutinizing restraint from rage or craving by practicing calmness and self-control.
To kick this off lets start with rage.
The American Heritage dictionary defines it thus:
a. Violent, explosive anger. (See Synonyms at anger.) b. A fit of anger.
Since rage is considered violent, explosive anger, lets also explore the definition of anger.
n. A strong feeling of displeasure or hostility
Anger is one of the most basic of feelings. There isn't a human out there that has never gotten angry. We are weak and so full of self that we often times look for things to be angry about, for supposed slights to us. What, though, is the effect on us of getting angry? Does it only affect our feelings? Does it only hurt the person we are raging at?
To answer that we need to take a look at what happens to the body when we get angry. The National Forum Journal of Counseling and Addiction published in Volume 2, Number 1 2013 an article entitled The Affects of Anger on the Brain and Body. Here is described some of the things that happen when we get angry:
Generally when an individual becomes angry, they experience some form of physiological sign ... common signs of anger include the following:
A dramatic increase in breathing rate
Unconscious tensing of muscles, especially in the face and neck
Sweating, feeling hot or cold
Shaking in the hands
Face turning pale or red and veins becoming visible due to an increase in blood pressure
A release of adrenaline into the body creating a surge of power. (Loo, 2005, para. 7)
I'm sure you've seen some or all of those signs in yourself or those you have had conflict with haven't you? But what is going on in your brain? The National Forum Journal of Counseling and Addiction continues to share that it actually affects our brains first:
Numerous studies have been conducted on how anger impacts us physiologically and psychologically. These studies have all revealed that before anger affects any part of our body, it has to affect our brain first. The brain is our internal alarm system. It signals to the rest of our body when we are happy, sad, angry, in pain, etc. this alarm system within our brain triggers the release of adrenaline which causes us to heighten our awareness and responsiveness. This causes glucose to gush through our blood stream and muscles giving us the ability to respond faster, run faster, and make quicker decisions.
The brain processes all emotional stress. When the brain senses threat or harm, millions of nerve fibers within our brain release chemicals throughout the body to every organ. When a person experiences anger the brain causes the body to release stress hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline. These chemicals help the body control the heart rate and blood pressure. The release of these chemicals also helps regulate the pancreas which controls the sugar balance in our blood (Boerma, 2007).
To get a even clearer idea have a look at this detailed visual from The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine:
This is a very serious problem! Anger affects our entire bodies and starts with our brain, as the graphic shows the effects flow down to the other parts of our body. We can assume that those effects are only intensified when you experience rage. Rage is, as we saw above, explosive anger, therefore rage, could be equated with a complete loss of control. Rage and anger damage our prefrontal cortex which is our moral center. Correspondingly the more we get angry the more harm is done and the harder it becomes to make right decisions. More frequent occurrences of anger make it increasingly easier to get angry. And the death of neurons in our brain causes a weakening of our short-term memory! As we get older we don't need any more help losing our memory.
The stress hormones released in response to our anger also affect the rest of our body as shown at the bottom of the chart.
When these symptoms become chronic, blood vessels become clogged and damaged. This can lead to stroke and heart attack.
Alright so how do we change directions and learn to be more calm and in control of our anger? First lets remember 1 Corinthians 10:13:
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
Therefore, first and foremost our "knee-jerk" reaction needs to be "God please help me!". Cry out to God for His help, because He has all the answers. And God has had to have the patience to contend with all of humanity (you and me) and all of our evil activities, so He truly understands and can help us successfully overcome. Speaking to God will turn your focus to Him and off of the upsetting situation. Reciting scriptures* will also help keep your mind refocused on God. Remember that anger and especially rage are not godly attributes. We must overcome and not let Satan take control of us.
Mayo Clinic also has 10 tips for helping to get our anger under control:
1. Think before you speak
In the heat of the moment, it's easy to say something you'll later regret. Take a few moments to collect your thoughts before saying anything — and allow others involved in the situation to do the same.
2. Once you're calm, express your anger
As soon as you're thinking clearly, express your frustration in an assertive but nonconfrontational way. State your concerns and needs clearly and directly, without hurting others or trying to control them.
3. Get some exercise
Physical activity can help reduce stress that can cause you to become angry. If you feel your anger escalating, go for a brisk walk or run, or spend some time doing other enjoyable physical activities.
4. Take a timeout
Timeouts aren't just for kids. Give yourself short breaks during times of the day that tend to be stressful. A few moments of quiet time might help you feel better prepared to handle what's ahead without getting irritated or angry.
5. Identify possible solutions
Instead of focusing on what made you mad, work on resolving the issue at hand. Does your child's messy room drive you crazy? Close the door. Is your partner late for dinner every night? Schedule meals later in the evening — or agree to eat on your own a few times a week. Remind yourself that anger won't fix anything and might only make it worse.
6. Stick with 'I' statements
To avoid criticizing or placing blame — which might only increase tension — use "I" statements to describe the problem. Be respectful and specific. For example, say, "I'm upset that you left the table without offering to help with the dishes" instead of "You never do any housework."
7. Don't hold a grudge
Forgiveness is a powerful tool. If you allow anger and other negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you might find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice. But if you can forgive someone who angered you, you might both learn from the situation and strengthen your relationship.
8. Use humor to release tension
Lightening up can help diffuse tension. Use humor to help you face what's making you angry and, possibly, any unrealistic expectations you have for how things should go. Avoid sarcasm, though — it can hurt feelings and make things worse.
9. Practice relaxation skills
When your temper flares, put relaxation skills to work. Practice deep-breathing exercises, imagine a relaxing scene, or repeat a calming word or phrase, such as "Take it easy." You might also listen to music, write in a journal or do a few stretching exercises — whatever it takes to encourage relaxation.
10. Know when to seek help
Learning to control anger is a challenge for everyone at times. Seek help for anger issues if your anger seems out of control, causes you to do things you regret or hurts those around you.
Initially becoming angry is not a sin, it's how you react and what we do with that anger that can really get us into trouble and take us down the road to sin. By putting all of these methods to use to dispel that anger is practicing Healthy Self Denial. We deny ourselves the "luxury" of really letting the other person know just how much they hurt us, or just how horrible they are. Anger and most especially rage, are most often (not always, sometimes it happens in defense of others) triggered by self and perceived wrongs committed towards ourselves, by giving into self pity of "oh poor me" and "I've just been wronged", turning our focus inward. To overcome we must turn our focus upward. Always looking to Jesus as our example.
Now let's alter our course and focus on craving, beginning by defining it. Again we will use the American Heritage Dictionary definition:
n. A consuming desire; a yearning.
Cravings can be as simple as really wanting a plate of pastries or they can be of a life and death nature, such as alcohol and drugs. God our Father cares about us and our cravings and can help us to overcome them through His power.
He can even work with human methods to give you strength to overcome. Always go to Him in prayer and ask Him to help you follow through. Smart Recovery has 5 steps to assist someone trying to overcome a craving in the moment:
For many people, urges and cravings to use drugs or alcohol trigger automatic responses. They are without conscious thought: I want [fill in the blank]. = I get it. Learning to say NO to these intense, ingrained desires is one of the biggest challenges in recovery. The good news is that you can understand these desires and learn to resist them.
In fact, “Coping with Urges and Cravings” is Point 2 of the SMART Recovery 4-Point Program®. The SMART Recovery Handbook has collected nearly two dozen strategies for dealing with them. Some of the approaches that work best for many are summarized with the easy-to-remember acronym DEADS – as in “Combat Urges DEADS.” Each letter stands for a useful approach:
D = Delay. The mental activities of cravings and urges disappear over time unless you actively maintain them with your attention. Given time, they will run their course and disappear. If they aren’t gone in 10-15 minutes, then chances are you are still exposed to the stimulus that cued the urge in the first place. Just don’t give in no matter how bad the urge is and it will pass. All the urges you have ever had have passed. Once you have denied an urge, you know you can do it again and again. And after a short time, there will be fewer cravings and the ones you have will diminish in intensity. Waiting them out is a great step to recovery.
E = Escape. Just leave or get away from the urge provoking situation. Run away from it. Leave the pub so that you can stop staring at the beer taps. Leave the supermarket where all the bottles of wine are so nicely displayed. If there’s an alcohol ad on TV, switch the channel. Just the act of escaping the trigger will focus your mind on something new – which will quickly lessen the urge.
A = Accept. Put your urges and cravings into perspective by understanding that they are normal and will pass. It’s important in the recovery process to learn to accept discomfort. It won’t “kill” you and will be gone pretty quickly. You’ll feel good about what you’re learning and achieving.
D = Dispute. If you’ve worked through the ABC or DISARM exercises, you may have developed a rational “Effective new belief” or counter statement to help you attack your (irrational) urges and cravings. These exercises help you productively diagnose past addictive situations and develop useful tactics for disputing them when they occur again – which will help them pass much more quickly.
S = Substitute. When you get an urge, quickly substitute a thought or activity that’s more beneficial or fun. Take a walk or any other form of exercise. Pick up something new to read or turn on something to listen to. The possibilities to substitute (and lessen the craving more quickly) are endless. Think about and write down some possibilities to have a list on hand when an urge occurs. Then just pick one to employ an effective response.
If you are a parent you never want your children to fall for things like smoking, drugs and alcohol, so you should be talking to your children about them when they are young. It's much easier to teach them what self control is from the very beginning. When working with our children we must help them recognize what self control is and if they have difficulty, patiently teach them to seek God for help. Andrew Murray author of "Absolute Surrender" had this to say about teaching our little ones self control:
As we teach our young children to obey, they are learning to say “no” to their own desires and to say “yes” to something else, something harder, but something better. Such self-control will serve them well for the rest of their lives. Obedience during this short season will prepare them for greater freedom and responsibility as they grow. (See Prov. 25:28 and Titus 2:6.)
Obedience is a form of self control and is a lesson that must be learned. Even if we did not learn the self control lesson at a young age, we must and can still learn it, no matter how old we are. It will be much more difficult, but it is very necessary. We must go to God in humility surrendering our desires and cravings to His capable hands.
Some cravings can seem harmless. Let's take for example clothes....we need them to cover our nakedness and to keep us warm in the cold temperatures or to cover our skin in the heat of the day to protect from being burned. However craving clothes and purchasing more of them becomes a problem when we desire them for the pride of the complements we may receive and when we have more than we need. The clothes are not inherently bad, nor is having clothes. But what is the motivation for craving the clothes?
Let's look at it another way. Imagine you have a flower garden. Around it you have a wall and in it you are cultivating many different lovely flowers, when suddenly you find a lovely, healthy morning glory vine creeping around your rose bush. You exclaim with delight how beautiful the flowers are so you really don't see a problem letting it grow there. It is a harmless beautiful flower right? The flowers are so lovely!
It couldn't be something harmful could it? It's not inherently bad. But could it be a...
weed 1 (wēd):
n. 1. A plant considered undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome, especially one that grows where it is not wanted and often grows or spreads fast or takes the place of desired plants.
Hmmm, the morning glory is very beautiful so it's not unattractive, it could be considered desirable and it's not really any trouble...
But, OH! It's growing more and beginning to go where you don't want it to, it is quickly becoming more troublesome and spreading out and will soon choke out your flowers and grow over your wall. Your beautiful morning glory is ... a weed. Things that are not inherently bad can still be "weeds" in your garden.
We were put on this earth to know and love God and we are to reflect His Character. When we evaluate a craving to decide if it is good or bad we need to think about whether it fits the character of God. We can crave food, drink and even sex, which all within godly boundaries are ok, even good for us. There can be many other good things that we crave such as affection from family members or wholesome friendships. But most importantly we should crave God and time with Him, a close personal relationship with Him.
Here we must stop and think.....craving anything, even those things that are inherently good, that take our focus off of God, is of self.
Self Control/temperance is one of the desirable Fruits of the Spirit as shown in
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
And if we do not have self control/temperance we are no better than a proverbial ghost town as we are told in Proverbs 25:28:
He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:12:
All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
And again in 1 Corinthians 9:27:
But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
This is the essence of self control. The antidote for this craving is looking at Jesus and His example of self control, temperance or healthy self denial!
I can think of no greater example of self control than the man Jesus Christ here on earth. The only things that Jesus craved were the salvation of humanity and the approval of and communion with His Father. Matthew tells us in chapter 4 verse 2 that when He went into the desert to prepare for His ministry He went 40 days and nights with out food. He was denying His human flesh as He communed with His Father in preparation to meet His adversary, the devil.
Once his ministry began He had much to contend with from the Pharisees and those that did not see Him as the Messiah or did not understand the nature of His ministry. At His trial He knew when to speak and when to keep silent through all of the abuse that He bore for us. Everything Jesus did for us is out of His infinite love for us. He was the Master of self control and healthy self denial.
A lack of self control is a sign of immaturity. Therefore we are not mature Christians if we are unable to practice healthy self denial. Taylor Bunch shares in his book Love: A Comprehensive Exposition of 1 Corinthians 13 that we should:
Shun the state of perpetual infancy. Let love bring you to that "perfect state of things" when "all that is imperfect will be brought to an end." 1 Corinthians 13:10 (Weymouth). To reflect the Character of Christ fully should be the aim and goal of every Christian. This will come true for those only who allow themselves to be dominated by the power of love.
This then is the lesson for us, that being truly Christ-like is to have a mature love that actuates self control, calls forth temperance and demands healthy self denial as we show preference to others before ourselves. Doing so is exhibiting and acting in accordance with the Character of Christ.
**These are beneficial health suggestions. These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This is not a substitute for speaking with your health professional.