As I was washing the dishes tonight, I realized something profound. I'd like to call it a "God moment." I try to do a lot of things in my own effort, by sheer willpower you might say. Sometimes that works temporarily but ultimately I'm inconsistent and resentful. That's why I want to practice self-control instead.
So what's the difference?
Willpower is not eating anything. Self-control is eating a little.
Willpower is holding in my emotions. Self-control is holding back my emotions.
Willpower is deprivation. Self-control is moderation.
Willpower is an oxymoron. I am inherently selfish (we are all born into sin), so there is no power in my will. My will is exactly that. Mine. me, me, me. My will is the very thing I must yield. I must give myself to God's control in order to be self-controlled.
If I try to get by on willpower, I won't grow. Instead, I'll shrivel up as my strength is sapped. I'll become hard and prideful...and eventually disillusioned and full of despair.
Self-control doesn't originate with me. It comes from the source of life. My creator. When I cast all my cares on him, he cares for me (2 Peter 5:7) and his spirit living in me, which entered when I invited Jesus into my heart, will enable me to exercise self-control. But it is a daily practice--even hourly, and sometimes moment by moment.
It is not a making up of my mind or of whipping myself into shape or of duct-taping my mouth. It is a letting go and a resting and an obedience rooted in love. It hurts but only for a moment and then it passes and is replaced by a gentle yet exhilarating sense of wonder and peace. It is losing the battle to win the war.
Doing those dishes was a minor act of self-control. I felt like putting it off until the morning but if I had, this wouldn't have dawned on me, because it was only by submitting myself to a menial task not requiring the use of my intellect that my mind was uncluttered enough for just one moment to hear that still, small voice of the maker of the universe.