Control Your Circumstances to Maintain Self-Control

For the Lord’s Day, June 14, 2020

Dear Saints,

I see an interesting connection of wisdom with something I read in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, along with a small section of the Westminster Larger Catechism’s (WLC) teaching on duties required in the Sixth Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill” (Exodus 20:13).  Here’s what the WLC 135 includes as required positively from the negative command:

“ … a sober use of meat, drink, physick, sleep, labour, and recreations …”

Why is such required in the commandment to not take the life of someone else?  Because there is wisdom in recognizing how strain on our physical state of being can cause us to be in danger of impulsive reactions that could, in extreme moments, endanger the life of another.  We all understand we are more irritable when we have gone too long without eating (or eating properly) or getting proper rest.  Sometimes the best thing we can do for the good of others is to take a nap (my children have learned this about me!).  Notice also how important it is to recreate (encouraging me as we prepare to take a long-needed mountain-lake cabin vacation).

Here’s the connection with Mr. Gladwell’s book.   The environmental factors we find ourselves in (and which we often should look to moderate) can have a significant impact on how we or others behave ourselves (well or badly).  In his sections on “The Power of Context”, having cited historical and psychological case studies, Mr. Gladwell shares:

“Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions of the times and places in which they occur … The impetus to engage in a certain kind of behavior is not coming from a certain kind of person but from a feature of the environment … there are instances where you can take normal people from good schools and happy families and good neighborhoods and powerfully affect their behavior merely by changing the immediate details of their situation.”

We are not here teaching bare behaviorism.  But the truth is, we are human and weak and limited.  He continues,

“Character is more like a bundle of habits and tendencies and interests, loosely bound together and dependent, at certain times, on circumstance and context.  The reason that most of us seem to have a consistent character is that most of us are really good at controlling our environment … small changes in context can be just as important in tipping epidemics … a number of relatively minor changes in our external environment can have a dramatic effect on how we behave and who we are.”

What’s the point I want to share with you this evening?  The same as the WLC section noted above.  We are responsible to do the best we can to control our environments in our home, church, and state for the best possible outcomes.  Instead of complaining about ourselves and others, how about we proactively seek ways to support one another to improve their situations where we recognize their weaknesses?  Set yourself and others up for success by how you try and provide a helpful environment that avoids surprises and stress with things like appropriate and adequate diet, medical support, sleep, work, and play. 

So much of how we can do good and handle challenges is by seeking to maximize opportunities and minimize difficulties for ourselves and others.  We don’t need to test ourselves in the extreme — in fact, we should avoid it.  And this can help us understand ourselves and others and be forgiving and patient when we consider life phases of dramatic circumstances.  And it can help us try and set up the best situations to help one another shine our brightest.  Especially for those who are in higher responsibility, thinking ahead for how to create environments that tend toward tipping to pinnacle points rather than being tipped over beyond our natural limits is a wise consideration.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant