Your Spirit—How Can You Control It?
ALL of us have a genetic makeup inherited from our imperfect parents, and this to some extent determines the kind of spirit we have. Also, our environment and background influence our personality to a large degree. Should we, then, just shrug off the matter by saying, “I can’t help the way I am”? This definitely is not the way the Bible directs us. Instead, we are encouraged to ‘make our mind over’ and “put on the new personality.” This means grappling with the “old personality” and getting rid of its wrong inclinations.—Eph. 4:20-24; Rom. 12:2.
We will fail at times, since no man can perfectly control his spirit. However, by meditating on God’s Word and praying for his spirit to guide us, there is much that we can do to counteract any unwholesome “spirit” that we may have, thus controlling it. (Luke 11:13; Gal. 5:22, 23, 25) What can help us to do this?
HELPS IN CONTROLLING IT
Whatever the cause of our agitated spirit, there are various things we can think about that will help us to remain calm under stress. Let us take a look at three suggestions that some have found helpful.
Examine Yourself. It really does help if we try to analyze our feelings. We can bring reason to bear on the problem, asking ourselves why we are disturbed. Often when we do this we find that our “reasons” are quite petty. Or we may discover within ourselves a motive that we did not realize existed.
The advantage of self-examination is that we then focus on our own share of the problem, which we can do something about, rather than becoming frustrated by focusing solely on the other person’s fault, regarding which we can do little. Some questions we can ask ourselves are: Do I get upset over the habits or shortcomings of others? If so, is this because their habits are unscriptural? Or is it because my own background and training differ from theirs? (In this latter case, it may be that the problem lies more with us than with the other person.) Do I quickly get irritated when something derogatory is said about me, my race or my family? Or is it when I am counseled that I get hurt? If so, could it be that I think a little too highly of myself and am overly sensitive? Does a particular person irritate me? Do I (if an overseer or a parent) become frustrated when counsel is not followed?
Through such self-examination, we may learn to recognize our own particular weak spot. Then we are in a better position to ‘pummel our body’ and fight hard to control it.—1 Cor. 9:27.
Take an Objective Look at the Other Person. When someone upsets us, we tend to see only his weaknesses. So it helps if we can see him as God sees him. Is he or she dedicated to God and loved by him? Overall, is the person showing a good “spirit,” perhaps falling short on just one or two points? If so, will it not help if we concentrate on his “righteous,” “chaste” and “lovable” qualities, thinking on such things?—Phil. 4:8.
Really, would it be fair or proper to judge an individual on the basis of one or two “irritating” traits, as if we deliberately refuse to see any good at all in him? Why should we want to judge others, since our judgments too often will be influenced by our personal feelings of the moment? James put matters very frankly, asking: “Who are you to be judging your neighbor?”—Jas. 4:12.
Try to See the Other Person’s Point of View. This is not easy to do, especially when his viewpoint may seem diametrically opposed to ours. Yet the very effort we make in trying to see things his way will often serve to offset our own feelings and have a calming effect. At least we will be able to understand to some extent how he could feel or act the way he does. In fact, when we do this we are applying the wise counsel given by the apostle Paul to the Philippians, to consider “that the others are superior to you, keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.”—Phil. 2:3, 4.
This helps us to avoid the trap of prejudging without really considering both sides. (Prov. 18:13) At first sight it may seem to us that we are 100 percent right and that our brother is wholly in the wrong. But as we look into things more carefully, we generally find that it is rarely that simple. Proverbs 18:17 wisely observes: “The first man to speak in court always seems right until his opponent begins to question him.”—Today’s English Version.
KEEP WORKING ON IT
By following these suggestions we are really working to solve our problem. We are not adopting a defeatist attitude and saying “I cannot help it.” The very act of working at the problem will reduce the likelihood of our losing control. It also keeps us conscious of the need to adjust our thinking, especially if we are constantly irritated by others’ failings.
As we cope with our feelings, it is necessary to seek the help of our God, Jehovah, at all times. One young lady in New Jersey (U.S.A.) had a serious problem in this regard. She was constantly losing her temper and was easily offended. While fighting strenuously against these tendencies herself, she also tells us: “I prayed hard to Jehovah to please erase my doubts. I asked that he would search deep down into my heart, even to the inmost part of my body, and please remove any bad thoughts.” Evidently Jehovah answered her sincere prayer, for she adds: “Now for months I have not said any bad words; my temper is much milder.”
But what if, after applying these suggestions and having some success, we find ourselves seriously agitated on occasion? First, we should never allow this to cause us to become overly downhearted to the point where we want to give up. Rather, we need to ask for Jehovah’s forgiveness and for his help to keep up the fight. Second, during the time we are actually disturbed, it is beneficial to remember the counsel at Psalm 4:4: “Be agitated, but do not sin. Have your say in your heart, upon your bed, and keep silent.”
IS IT THE BEST WAY?
But some may ask, ‘Is it not better to “get it out of your system” when you feel irritated?’ That is how many feel. However, one wife who tried this at breakfast one day to get her husband to hang up his hat admitted after she lost her temper: “Of course, I hardly ever get really mad, and when I do I am sick two or three days afterward. To tell the truth I felt terrible after that breakfast, and believe it or not my husband still leaves his hat on the table more often than he puts it away.” Does this sound as though the venting of anger benefited either this lady or her husband?
Others who lost their temper reported the following effects: “Upset stomach.” “I shake all over, and things sort of blur.” “I really do see red.” Are these beneficial effects?
But this is not all. Besides the physical injury, there is also the damage caused to personal relations with others. Many things said and done in the heat of anger cause deep hurt and are irreparable. Finally, there is the feeling of guilt due to knowing that the losing of control is displeasing to Jehovah.
Also, how true to life is the proverb: “An enraged man stirs up contention, but one that is slow to anger quiets down quarreling”! (Prov. 15:18) There is no doubt that a man who fails to control his spirit ‘adds fuel to the fire,’ thus complicating the problem, whereas one who manifests a mild spirit can calm things down. “An answer, when mild, turns away rage, but a word causing pain makes anger to come up.”—Prov. 15:1.
Yes, the controlling of our spirit can be truly beneficial. Not only do we thus avoid bad effects, but we learn to get along with others. We also learn to trust our spiritual brothers, to have confidence in them. Is this not much better than constantly harping on their weaknesses? We find joy in looking for their good qualities and imitating these. As a result, likely we will find that others are drawn closer to us and we to them. This certainly results in a more loving atmosphere.
Actually, when a group of people come together for any purpose, they manifest a certain “spirit” or dominant attitude. (Philem. 25) Whether this is upbuilding and encouraging or is negative and discouraging depends largely on the individuals making up the group. Jehovah’s Witnesses, in tens of thousands of congregations worldwide, generally manifest a wholesome spirit that attracts others.
If you are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, why not make it your goal to contribute to the wholesome spirit of the congregation with which you associate? You can do this by controlling your own spirit and by being warm, friendly and upbuilding in your dealings with others. In this way you will help to spread a happy family spirit among your spiritual brothers and sisters. As you give generously in this way, you will reap the added dividend of receiving help yourself in controlling your spirit. This is because a good spirit is contagious, and generosity begets generosity. As the wise man said: “The generous soul will itself be made fat.”—Prov. 11:25.
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Do I get upset over habits or shortcomings of others?