Self-control is the ability to govern ourselves in righteousness. When we are able to control ourselves, we increase our self-esteem and our ability to help build God’s kingdom on earth.
Explain that one of Heavenly Father’s greatest gifts to us is our freedom to act for ourselves (see 2 Nephi 2:27). Without that freedom, we could never develop self-control; instead, we would be controlled by forces outside ourselves. Although we cannot change other people nor always control circumstances, we can control the way we react to people and circumstances. We decide our own emotional responses, and we can change and control them. The following tells how one man was able to put this principle into practice.
Almost every day on his way to work, a man gave a cheery greeting to his neighbor. The neighbor either did not respond at all or did so sullenly, with a scowl. One day a friend asked the first man why he continued to be courteous to the neighbor. “Why aren’t you as rude to him as he is to you?” the friend asked.
“Why should I let him decide how I am going to act?” the cheerful man responded.
Discuss ways family members could react to each other as this man did to his neighbor. If someone shouts angrily at them, what can they do instead of shouting back? If someone hits them, what can they do instead of hitting back? Discuss other areas where self-control is important, such as going to bed and getting up on time, deciding to do chores or homework rather than to play.
Discuss the fact that just as the body gains strength from exercise, the spirit gains strength from discipline. This strength allows us to feel good about ourselves and to accept and deal patiently with the everyday irritations and problems.
Have each family member identify one area he wants to work on to improve his self-control. In a few weeks, discuss the progress that has been made and how developing self-control in that area has helped other areas of the person’s life.
Write the following scripture references on wordstrips and put them in a bowl. Have family members draw them out, and then read and discuss each scripture as it relates to self-control.
Drop a small handful of toothpicks (or regular “pickup sticks”) in a small pile on the table or floor. Let each family member take turns picking up a toothpick with his fingers or with the end of another toothpick. Only one toothpick may be picked up each turn. If, in the process of picking up a toothpick, a player jostles another toothpick, he must put his toothpick back and wait until his next turn to try again. After the toothpicks are all picked up, the one with the most is the winner.
Discuss the game you have just played.
What enabled the winner to win? To what degree was self-control involved in winning? How is “winning” in life dependent upon controlling our actions, thoughts, and words?
Read and discuss the meaning of Proverbs 25:28.
Name some of your goals as a family, as individuals. Decide how you can use self-control to achieve those goals.
Point out that some people become so obsessed with a desire for revenge after a real or imagined wrong that the desire takes control of their lives. Read and discuss the following story:
In the early part of this century, a man living on an isolated cattle ranch discovered he did not have enough hay to feed his cattle through the winter. The closest source of help was a neighboring rancher who lived several miles away.
The man went to his neighbor, explained his need, and asked to buy hay. “Yes, I’ll sell you some hay,” the neighbor answered. Then, knowing there was no place else to get hay, added, “but it will cost you double the price.”
The rancher said nothing, paid the price, and made the long haul by wagon and horse team back to his own ranch.
Several years later the neighbor found himself in the same predicament—no feed for his cattle. He had no choice but to approach the man whom he had treated so shamefully with the request to buy some hay.
“No,” said the rancher, “I will not sell you any hay.” The neighbor had begun to walk dejectedly away, when the rancher stopped him. “But I’ll tell you what I will do. I’ll give you hay—all you want—and my sons and I will haul it to your place for you.”
Why was the rancher able to live up to these laws? (Because he had developed self-control. He could control his feelings and do what was right.)
Discuss how each man must have felt during the two episodes of the story. Identify the gospel principles involved.
Have your family suggest situations in your home when someone might give in to negative emotions such as anger, laziness, revenge, or lying.
Discuss the following ways to control or change such emotions (then role-play the above situations, using one or more of these solutions):
Delay an expression of anger until you find a constructive way to deal with the situation.
Get involved with a physical activity to help release tensions and drain off the poisons they produce.
Recall a motivating poem, scripture, or thought. Two good ones are, “Master yourself and you can master anything” (old proverb), and “No Man is free who cannot command himself” (Pythagoras, in The Home Book of Quotations, sel. Burton Stevenson [New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1956], p. 722).
If another person is involved, express your feelings to him without condemning, labeling, name-calling, or accusing.
Pray for help in controlling your feelings or for strength to do the difficult task.
Discuss the rewards that come from learning self-control. Some of them include enjoying the guidance and direction of the Spirit, gaining self-esteem, and increasing harmony in the home.
Matthew 5–7 (The Sermon on the Mount.)
Matthew 7:12 (The Golden Rule.)
John 18:1–12 (Jesus set an example in self-control.)
Alma 34:32 (Now is the time to prepare to meet God.)
Alma 38:1–5 (Alma’s advice to his son.)
Doctrine and Covenants 10:5 (Pray always to conquer Satan.)
Doctrine and Covenants 88:121–25 (Cease from evil doings.)
Doctrine and Covenants 124:116 (Cease to do evil.)
See also “Self-mastery” in the Topical Guide.
“Do What Is Right,” Hymns, no. 237.
“Did You Think to Pray?” Hymns, no. 140.