We have come to earth and gained a body. Now we must learn to master it. President Brigham Young taught that self-control is essential to receiving eternal life: “The [body] must be brought in subjection to the spirit perfectly, or your bodies cannot be raised to inherit eternal life. … Seek diligently, until you bring all into subjection to the law of Christ” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young , 204).
Fundamental to gaining self-control is learning and living divine doctrine. Each successful effort strengthens us and brings us closer to “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). Our goal is to so control our desires that we can say to our Heavenly Father, as did our Great Exemplar, “Father, … not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39).
Resisting temptation at its first appearance and rejecting the thought that would lead to an improper act are important components of gaining self-control (see 1 Thes. 5:22). This is especially true of addictive substances and habit-forming behaviors. Overcoming such addictions and habits may also require ecclesiastical and even professional help. It certainly requires divine help.
In seeking self-control, we will find great power in prayer and fasting. Both are exercises in self-control and bring to our aid the powers of heaven. Indeed, much of what the Lord asks of us can help us master ourselves. President Spencer W. Kimball observed: “To be able to take from [one’s] purse one-tenth of all that [one] has earned and turn it over to leaders to redispense is a test of faith. To fast is self-mastery. … To be unselfish totally, always thinking of others before one’s self, is a great step toward self-mastery. To forgive one who is mean and offensive is the act of one near to perfection” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball , 204).
It can be easy to find fault when someone else is struggling with self-control. But God would have us help, not hinder. Elder Marvin J. Ashton (1915–94), a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, told the story of a woman in a Relief Society presidency who, frustrated by home pressures, lost her temper in a presidency meeting. Afterward, embarrassed, she called to apologize.
“Her friends in the presidency were generous and told her not to think another thing about it. Still she wondered if they might think less of her, now that they’d seen her at less than her best. But that evening the doorbell rang around dinnertime, and there stood the other members of the presidency with dinner in hand. ‘We knew when you lost your cool this morning that you must just be worn out. We thought a little supper might help. We want you to know we love you.’” (“The Tongue Can Be a Sharp Sword,” Ensign, May 1992, 20).
A small child learns to walk by falling and getting back up. Self-control often comes the same way. Jesus Christ was the only perfect being on earth, and as we try to follow Him we may sometimes stumble. Seeking His help and being forgiving—with ourselves and others—can strengthen us to begin again.