The Lost Art of Self-Control

Following the Queen’s death, one young man interviewed by the BBC described her as a model of how to behave.

The Lost Art of Self-Control

A white, upper-class woman in her late nineties isn’t someone you would expect many members of the public to find much in common with, yet here again was proof of her almost universal appeal. Anti-monarchists would claim this admiration was because she never did or said much that gave away her own thoughts or views but I think this does her a disservice. What they saw as dull reserve, others recognised as dutiful restraint – the art of self-control. It’s an art we, as a society, have lost as surely as we have lost our Queen.

There can be little doubt she presided over a period of drastic change during her seventy-year reign; from lives of restraint and rationing in 1952 to those of exposure and excess in 2022. Social media now provides everyone with a platform to “virtue-signal” at every opportunity or, conversely, to “cancel” anyone who expresses an opinion or belief that offends them. Women have been particularly encouraged to shamelessly reveal as much of themselves as possible – emotionally, intellectually or physically – thanks to decades of feminism. Against such a backdrop, the Queen’s refusal to reveal too much and, instead, to consistently keep her temper and her counsel throughout her long reign, makes her stand out rather than blend in.

Many believe her forbearance and self-discipline were modelled on someone who is a far greater example of these values, One whom she professed to follow – the Lord Jesus Christ. Despite being the most influential human being to have walked the earth, the Gospels which recount His life show He was a man who was circumspect in His words. Indeed, on several occasions He is recorded as keeping completely silent (e.g., Matthew 26:63, Mark 14:61). Scripture prophesied that this would be the case:

“He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street” (Isaiah 42:2 ESV).

Further, the Bible is full of verses which promote values Christ personified, such as meekness, humility and self-control:

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (James 1:19 BSB).

“Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32 ESV).

Those of us who profess to follow Christ should ultimately strive to emulate His example, upholding values which will no doubt be even less appreciated in the post-Elizabethan era. We can resist the temptation to promote ourselves and put others down, both in conversation and on social media; think carefully before we post that barbed comment or send that angry message; respond graciously and not impulsively when we are provoked by those around us. Behaviour like this may be interpreted by some as weakness but in fact it takes great strength. If, like me, you feel daunted by the task, be encouraged by some of the last words of another follower of Christ, the apostle Paul:

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7 NIV).