This Sunday afternoon one of our fellow radio players dropped by the house to rehearse a "new" episode of Fibber McGee. After we were finished, just for the fun of it, we decided to do a quick read of our latest Bickersons script, even though none of us would actually be the ones performing those roles this time around. As the title suggests, John and Blanche Bickerson spend every episode bickering, always in the middle of the night. It's rollicking fun to act out their skirmishes.
This is why, after our friend went home, I had the Bickersons on the brain as I closed myself into our tiny bathroom.
Paul and I have lived in our little house with two very small bathrooms ever since our marriage, over six years ago. It was clear from the earliest weeks here that Paul was never going to agree to use the second bathroom, ever, for any reason. I don't really know why, but that is the way it is. And so, all our toiletries, towels, laundry, and grooming tools, along with our overlapping work schedules are crowded into this space.
So, on this day as I pondered how odd our bathroom arrangement is, it occurred to me that it is even stranger that we have never, in all these years, had an argument or even a memorable bicker over the use of this room. How is that even possible?
The fact is I have often been annoyed about the bathroom situation. At times I have even thought, "I should just move all his stuff into the other room!" But I have never acted on those thoughts. I know he has his reasons (incomprehensible to me) for wanting to share this bathroom. I also know that he has been just as inconvenienced as I have been by this arrangement. Yet he has never uttered a complaint.
And a snippet of Scripture came to mind:
"...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control..." Gal. 5: 22-23aThe Holy Spirit?
When I was a teen attending a charismatic church, this is not what I was told to look for. Not even close. But, based upon what I had been taught, I if I did decide I needed self-control, I would have expected God to zap me with it, maybe as a result of someone laying hands on me. It would be a dramatic miracle. Poof! I'd be self-controlled. But self-control was not really on my radar. When the Holy Spirit is at work, people speak in tongues, or are healed. The Holy Spirit does hair-raising things. Or so I thought.
Self-control? Not bickering over the bathroom?
A few years back, I was enjoying a Puritan-esque sovereignty-of-God revival. The Puritans, thank God, did value the fruits of the Spirit, and by this time, so did I. Through them I came to see self-control as an evidence of God's work of grace. Its presence was something miraculous that God bestowed on us, a sign that we are truly saved. A work solely of God's grace - so only He would get the glory. It's absence was cause for self-examination - reason to doubt whether I was really saved or not. The only recourse was to repent, pray for my salvation, again, just in case, and pray harder for self-control to be given to me by God as a sovereign act of divine grace.
How strange it is that these two nearly opposite theological perspectives had left me with the same notion: that whatever work God does in our lives comes as if by magic. Just pray and wait.
But if there is anything I've learned over the last few years, it's that God seldom works that way. The day in-day out of the Christian life is miraculous alright, but it seldom feels like it. What this spiritual fruit called self control more often looks and feels like is me actually controlling myself, day by day and moment by moment making decisions about how I am going to behave. It is called "self-control" for a reason. It means I take responsibility for my own actions and take control of my own self.
So, what does this work of the Spirit look like in my life? What does it feel like? It looks like an irritated Me, deciding to let it go, for the sake of my husband. It feels like choosing kindness over selfish anger. It feels a lot like something I do, not something God does.
And yet, I know myself well enough to know that me making those kinds of choices on a day-to-day and minute-to-minute basis is an absolute miracle. The miracle is found in a heart that actually desires to love God and neighbor. Were it not for the work of Christ in my life, were it not for an understanding of the Scripture, were it not for solid biblical teaching, my married life would be one long miserable Bickersons episode.