Where Has Graciousness Gone? Practicing Self-Control
“In your anger, do not sin.” Ephesians 4:26
Scrolling through Facebook and other social media sites, it is clear that we are increasingly feeling free to express our rage, disgust and disappointment however we choose. Regardless of the issue and which side of the fence we land on, emotions are running strong and a lot of blood is boiling. Differing opinions are nothing new. There have always been issues where people don’t see eye to eye. But the way in which we are discussing those differences has changed in recent years. And the consequences are anything but good.
It seems we have lost our ability to listen first, to only post something we would be willing to say to someone’s face. Distance demonizes, and the social isolation that results from communicating screen-to-screen, instead of face-to-face, is hurting us.
We are relegating character and integrity to the backseat as our emotions are unleashed, and sadly, Christians are not the exceptions to the rule. And all the while, a watching world observes us not practicing self-control becoming unhinged by our hatred and disgust.
When I travel across the country and speak, there is one thing that remains consistent no matter which state I am in. We are worried about passing on the faith to our children. We see that they are disengaged from our faith and are bored by it, and we aren’t sure what we can do about it. A 2015 study of Catholic family life found that 68% of Catholics with children under the age of 18 have not given their children any form of religious education. One in three parents did not find it important that their children celebrate their first Communion, and one in four didn’t consider it important that their children be confirmed.
In the words of Kathleen Cummings, the director of the Cushwa Center for the study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame, “For the first time in history, young Catholic women are more disengaged than their male counterparts. That is a huge, important shift. If you don’t have women, you lose the children.”
What part does our lack of practicing self-control with our anger and expression play in this? Studies of Millennials reveal that they greatly value authenticity and are repelled by hypocrisy. Is it possible that they understand enough of our faith to wonder why our religion isn’t impacting the way we talk about our enemies or those who are different from us? James 1:26 reminds us, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
‘They do not need to see our rage; they need to see us practicing self-control. They do not need to see our judgment; they need to see our mercy.’
In Colossians 4:6, St. Paul writes, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Salt enhances flavor—it makes food more appealing. In the past, salt was used to preserve meat. When St. Paul compares our words to salt, he’s encouraging us to communicate in a way that is winsome, drawing someone closer, preserving unity whenever possible. Being behind a screen or in the midst of an angry group does not give us permission to let graciousness go by the wayside.
Shifts in culture and moral decline unsettle us. Many Christians are feeling increasingly powerless as we see that in a very short span of time, we lost a seat at the table and no one is really listening to us anymore. And it’s true. Millennials will not listen when what they hear smacks of judgment, anger, and a sense that we are looking out for our own interests instead of caring for the poor and defenseless.
We might look to politicians to fix the problems we see. But the truth is, it begins with us. The hard work of reaching your hand across the aisle, of being an agent of reconciliation—that begins in our communities, our churches, our neighborhoods, and our homes.
Nowhere in Scripture will you find Jesus exhorting us to defend our rights. But there are countless times when He implores us to lay down our rights for another. We are able to do this because we have our eyes fixed on heaven. We have a sure hope as an anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19), and because of this, we don’t need to be afraid. God is in control—His purposes and plan will not be thwarted.
As our children watch us engage in a culture very different from the one we grew up in, they do not need to see our fear; they need to see our courage and hope. They do not need to see our rage; they need to see us practicing self-control. They do not need to see our judgment; they need to see our mercy.