Healthy Isolation, Inner Conflict, Self-Discipline, and Self-Mastery
In a Corner with My Anchor Manila, 9:17pm I think one of the most important abilities a person must develop, particularly someone who aspires to make a dent in the world, is the ability to cultivate times of healthy isolation. For me, this is a time to recalibrate from the busy of work of doing back to the deep work of being. It’s a moment to correct my regularly erring perspective, to remind myself of the whys behind my whats, and to repent of my sins, of which there are many (I don’t say that to be self-effacing). Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I’m a bag of conflicting traits. I’m a writer who has a hard time finding the right words during normal conversations, many times saying the perfect wrong thing and causing myself a lot of embarrassment. I’m a disciplined individual, waking up while it’s still dark, exercising regularly, working diligently, yet have a hard time with moderation – If I’m going to do something, I find myself taking it far – which can be great for good activities and bad for things such as my temper, self-pity, and overworking. I can list more contrasts but the point I want to make is beyond a description of my conflict but a reminder of something I wrote about before: WE ALL HAVE INNER CONFLICT. While some may seem less of a contradiction than others, everyone suffers from the ebbs and flows not only of the thoughts, feelings, and conditions within us, but also of the environment and people around us. We all must navigate the great world we live in and our own vast soul. Having contradictions doesn’t make someone more or less special. Contradictions make us human. But they also get us into trouble. They hurt our reputations, our reliability, and our ability to be consistent, which is an important part of success and growth in anything. So while we all have inner conflict, we must all strive towards SELF-MASTERY, and we do this through the practice of SELF-DISCIPLINE. As we do something in a disciplined manner, we develop mastery of that thing. It’s the same with life. When we are faced with frustration, and if we react to it, we reinforce the power of circumstances over us. But if we don’t react, if we pause and chart a wise response, we increase our power over circumstances. If we are afraid and we let the fear dictate our next steps, we allow fear to define our decisions, and fear has a great way of making our decisions smaller and more selfish. But if we face the fear, we strengthen our character and in the process develop courage. If we are faced with injustice, and all we do is grumble and complain without taking on the responsibility of our part, then not only are we useless to Justice but a partner of Injustice for it is unjust to hold others accountable for what we ourselves have failed to fulfill. But if we aim the judgement on ourselves, focusing on the plank in our eye instead of the spec in another’s, we find that we become agents of beautiful change, not because we are self-righteously attacking the wrong in others, but humbly dealing with the wrong in ourselves. These examples are hard and I have to admit I have a long way to go when it comes to responding properly instead of reacting, but with the practice of self-discipline, I believe that self-mastery is achievable. Someone once told me that we shouldn’t be mastering ourselves but should make God our master. It’s the type of uniformed comment that I find is typical of people who have not taken the time to refine their latest favorite sound bite. It’s the type of comment I tend to hear from people who are uncomfortable with doubt, naturally narrow minded from being spoon-fed, and have the luxury of a superstitious worldview. I do believe that God should be our master, but not in the way that He will somehow magically drop that one right decision I’m supposed to make, or lead me to that one right job I’m supposed to take, or that God mastering us is exclusive of us mastering ourselves. On the contrary, I believe that making God our master means offering ourselves up to Him as living sacrifices, not so much saying, “God, You make the decisions.” but instead “God, not my will but Your will. I CHOOSE to do Your will.” I believe that to make God my master is not to surrender the act of decision making to Him, a privilege He gave us when He gave us freedom and choice, but to use that freedom, my free will, to choose Him. That may seem like a simple difference but the implications are totally different. The belief that we’re supposed to let God make decisions for us puts the responsibly of our decisions on Him. But believing that our decisions are our own keeps the responsibility with us. Are we going to use our freedom for Him? Without the practice of self-discipline, we will be reactive to the things around us and within us, and will find it difficult to use our freedom for God. To say that the self-discipline that leads to self-mastery isn’t part of making God our master is to forget that God Himself is love, and that the Bible tells us that the “greatest of these is love”, and that true love requires the freedom of choice. To love someone is to choose them, not because you are unable to choose otherwise, but because you find them most beautiful. I believe that self-mastery in the Biblical sense is to become so awesome for the pleasure of the God you love, and for the people He has called us to love, who He Himself loves most. You choose to believe not because you don’t have a choice, but because you choose to please God with faith. You become a hard worker not because you don’t have a choice, but because you choose to be a good steward of the talents and time He gave you. You become a good husband or wife, not because you don’t have a choice, or because you’re obligated by society, but because you choose to love your spouse the way God chose to love you. You serve others not because you don’t have a choice or because you have an obligation to some institution but because you choose to love others with action. You choose to run back to God over and over and over again, not because you’re perfect, or some robotic holy man, neither because of your obligation and accountability to others, but because you love Him, meaning that at the core of your heart is a deep desire to choose the path brings you closer to Him, simply because you find Him most beautiful.