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Soup and Buns

Poise, aka self-control

“When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” – Proverbs 10:19


The lights inside the large sanctuary dimmed, and I sang the first two stanzas of my memorized solo. Suddenly, my mind went blank. Blank! Panic rose, as there were no lyrics available to me. But I had learned during voice lessons that poise should be the immediate reaction to a problem. I stood in position quietly, praying “Help!” Thankfully, my experienced pianist kept on playing, spoke the phrase that I had missed, and followed me when I resumed singing.

After the concert, my cheeks flushed with embarrassment as I faced everyone. But the Chorale members empathized, and my friend in the audience said, in surprise, “Oh, I thought you were just pausing for effect!” defines poise as: “a dignified, self-confident manner or bearing; composure; self-possession.” Perhaps we could also think of it as a type of self-control. I chose not to act on my strong, surging emotions, in order to achieve a higher purpose: in this case, not ruining the concert nor embarrassing myself.

Another example occurred years later.

I drove our son David to Baltimore for an overnight college visit during which our six-year-old Amy and I would visit with friends about 90 minutes past there. The 2-hour drive developed into a 7-hour ordeal due to an overturned HazMat truck on I-95. We survived the situation with acceptance and good humor until after we dropped David off at midnight. I ran out of poise then as fatigue overwhelmed me. With no fortitude to drive another 90 minutes, I phoned my friends that we would stay at a motel and come in the morning.

The night clerk at the motel refused to take a check and I had not taken a credit card with me – $57 cash, period. In my exhaustion, I shouted at her, a counterproductive move, indeed. Then I looked at Amy. To this day I can remember her little face, eyes wide, mouth open, beginning to be frightened by my actions. I stopped my words and stood there quietly, praying. The poise that characterized me from then on did not reflect the tumult inside of me, but it subdued Amy’s fear, and brought the clerk back to the counter. Thankfully, I found some school fundraiser change in the depths of my purse, which I borrowed for this emergency. The clerk slowly counted each nickel and dime, testing my self-control for endless minutes until we reached $57. Never was I so happy to climb into bed!

These are two examples of reasons for practicing self-control. But I admit to finding it easier to control emotions in these situations than when my temper is flaring or my goals are being thwarted. Then the task has always been much more difficult.

It doesn’t help that our culture emphasizes “being real” and “expressing oneself” by always saying exactly what is on our mind. Thus, too often, we feel entitled to act and react in whatever manner we decide, especially when someone has infringed on our happiness. “Consideration” seems to be a lost art.

The fact is that we are all sinners, prone to do what pops first into our heads and what feels best to us at the moment. As the refrain of the song Thank You, Lord states:

But it goes against the way I am to put my human nature down,
And let the Spirit take control of all I do;
‘Cause when those trials come, my human nature shouts the thing to do,
And God’s soft prompting can be easily ignored.  

Honest emotions need to be expressed, but the time, manner and place must be carefully considered. More often than not, our first thought derives from our self-centered hearts; therefore we fall into anger, impatient behaviors, and gossip. Jeremiah 17:9 states that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” We must take care not to absolve ourselves too easily! Developing poise – a moment, or ten, to stand quietly and think and pray despite the hurricane-force emotions within us – is our responsibility of love to God and others, and thankfully, self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

Self-control means stopping to consider more aspects of the situation than were visible to us in the initial moment, including the feelings of others. Let’s practice poise when we are surprised or overwhelmed and stand quietly from the outset; we will surely find help in our time of need.

“He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.” – Proverbs 21:23

Find more of Sharon’s articles by clicking here. This column is one of several dozen collected in her book “Soup and Buns,” which you can purchase by contacting the author at sharoncopy1@ 

Soup and Buns

"Lord, how can I help?"

There's a difference between doing what is right because you have always been told to do so, and doing it from your heart. There's a difference between helping others because it is your duty – even if you truly wish to obey – and being prompted by true empathy for someone. I'm not saying that one is holier or more correct. In fact, it is not usually possible to tell why someone else is helping you, and no one should even ask. I'm just saying that when someone has faced a trial and experienced the strength and comfort of the Lord, it can make one very eager to encourage others. Empathy awakened When I was 20, I fell off a horse and broke my right collarbone. It was the biggest trial I had ever faced in life. It was painful and inconvenient, and it seemed it would never end. The week after my clavicle brace came off, I was walking towards Sears when I noticed an older person with a cane walking towards the door. With more compassion than I'd ever felt before in such a situation, I sprinted forward and held all the doors open for her. I was truly glad to be of help, and I was surprised at myself. For the first time, I had discovered what it is like to need help. I had appreciated all of the help I received and I had been very disappointed on some occasions when people didn't seem to want to help or to care. Compassion awoke within me. I have often observed that there are three kinds of people in the church. There are those who do not help, those who help and whine about it, and those who joyfully serve. I am certain that I have been in each of the three categories at one time or another – haven't you? I don't always like that word "serve." All of the ads I hear or read tell me that I "deserve a break today," and that I "should take care of myself." Even when people are being recruited to help somewhere, the reason given is often that it will "help them feel good about themselves." Can we not even help others without our pride and selfishness sneaking in? True understanding Hebrews 4:15 teaches us: "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin." How wonderful it is that Jesus understands everything that we experience, and truly cares as well! Verse 16 goes on to say: "Let us, therefore, draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need." We are so sinful and yet He gives us mercy and chooses to use us in the lives of others. Recently some online friends and I were discussing our difficulties in an effort to encourage and challenge one another. It often seems like those very honest conversations are easier to have over the Internet than they are in person, although it would be better if that were not true. We discussed how often we find ourselves praying for strength, guidance, etc. as well as for particulars that might make our lives a little better. We talked about our roles as helpmeet and mother and sister and church member, and how it is too easy to become focused on our own needs rather than the needs of others. I was very challenged by one friend's remark. She said, "Maybe each morning instead of praying, ‘Lord, help me,’ I should pray, ‘Lord, how can I help?’” We are still, of course, asking to help through His strength, but the perspective is entirely different. When someone has a "time of need," let us seek to help. And at the same time, let us look to Him for grace to help us in our time of need: that we may serve with a willing, uncomplaining, and humble heart, in His strength. This article first appeared in the October 2006 issue. Sharon L. Bratcher’s “Soup and Buns” book includes 45 of her articles, very much like this one. For information on purchasing her book, contact [email protected]....

Soup and Buns

Should Introverts be expected to act like Extroverts?

“You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush.” This quotation from a tongue-in-cheek article by Jonathan Rauch in The Atlantic Monthly summed up his premise that Extroverts do not understand or fully appreciate Introverts. Although I knew that I was an Extrovert, I found the actual definitions a bit surprising. Tiring… or energizing? Introverts are people who “find other people tiring,” who need to re-charge after a certain amount of socializing. They mull things over inside their brains and then talk about them. Being alone with their thoughts is as “restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.” One suggested motto for them is, “I’m okay, you’re okay – in small doses.” Rauch’s own formula is that he needs “two hours alone for every hour of socializing.” A Google search estimates that about 25% of people are truly Introverts, but in the “gifted” community they are a majority. Extroverts are “energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone.” They figure things out by discussing them with other people, and think by talking. They tend to dominate social settings with their “endless appetite for talk and attention.” Understanding is a one-way street Society in general views Extrovert behavior as more desirable, and this can sometimes be taken to a fault when Introvert behavior is criticized or not appreciated for its strengths. For instance, an Extrovert might be described as outgoing, happy, bighearted, vibrant, warm, and as a confident leader who is “a real people person.” Introverts are often described as loners, reserved, guarded, and taciturn (inclined to silence; reserved in speech; reluctant to join in conversation). It is as though an individual’s worth is determined only by their observable interactions in a group. Rauch suggests that Introverts more often understand Extroverts because the latter put all of their thoughts and feelings out on the table. His concern as an Introvert, is that: Extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through…. Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion.” I wonder if any other Extroverts find themselves cringing and remembering times when they too felt offended because someone didn’t want their company. Other differences Extroverts tend to think that a lull in conversation is a bad thing, and they can feed off of small talk or deep conversation and enjoy large groups. Introverts need more time to think through what they will say and tend to dislike small talk while enjoying more meaningful discussion, especially in a more private setting. Extroverts feel a need to “draw out” the Introverts and get them to participate, because to them participation is essential. Since they cannot imagine that a person might enjoy sitting quietly off to the side, they take on the role of encourager. Unfortunately, it often comes across to the Introvert as controller instead. Smiley face :) Expectations exist regarding facial expressions too. Smiles are expected as part of good manners, so we give them whether we feel like it or not. Often if a person’s face goes to its default serious expression, people jump to the conclusion that he is upset or depressed, whereas he might just be pondering a weighty subject or listening to conversations around him. Rauch suggests that Introverts may be less smiley, but not necessarily less joyful. The differences are something to be considered in regards to church and family activities. As one Introvert explained to me, “At Ladies’ Bible Study, I often start formulating an answer to a question, but by the time I figure out what I want to say they have all gone on to a new subject or maybe even several subjects, so I rarely get to say anything.” Perhaps this is why some people feel more at home studying the Bible and praying with only a few friends. I wonder if our quick-sound-bite culture has lured us away from valuing long pauses with time to reflect? I’ve read that in some Japanese company meetings, they present the information and then sit in silence for a long time while everyone just thinks. What an Introverted thing to do! My friend went on to say, “The same thing happens when our entire family is together.” Some family members would prefer more two-on-two social activities and fewer or less lengthy whole group situations. It is possible to consider both the Extrovert’s and the Introvert’s preferences. Conclusion God tells us to love one another, and the more we understand one another, the more we will know how to keep this commandment. We may have lived our entire life thus far “not knowing what we didn’t know.” But now, we know. This article first appeared in the May 2012 issue. Sharon L. Bratcher’s “Soup and Buns” book includes 45 of her RP articles. For information contact [email protected]....

Soup and Buns

Do not worry...

Cheer up, ye saints of God, there’s nothing to worry about! Nothing to make you feel afraid, nothing to make you doubt. Remember Jesus never fails, so why not trust Him and shout – You’ll be sorry you worried at all tomorrow morning. I have often sung this little chorus to remind myself not to worry. But it is hard not to worry about ourselves and our loved ones. We face ill health, accidents, fear of pain, career problems, loss of income, fear of poverty, and worries about all sorts of other sufferings! Dr. Richard Gaffin preached a very good sermon on the topic of worry. He began with the very familiar Matthew 6:25-34, which says, in part: “…do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?... For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” Why do we worry? Is it normal? Is it a solution, a part of life, a coping mechanism? 3 that lead to worry Let’s think about these three words: forgetfulness, pride, and ingratitude. We worry because we forget who our God is. He is the Creator of heaven and earth. He is our Father. “He loves me so much that I do not doubt He will provide whatever I need for body and soul. He desires to do so because He is my loving Father; He is able to do so because He is Almighty God” (Heidelberg Catechism, LD 9). But why do we forget? We forget because our pride gets in the way. We look at life as a circle where we are the center. We ask ourselves: what are my needs, and my desires? We develop a level of expectation as to what we want to have. This pride sets us on a spiral of desire that leads to frustration and anger when we do not get what we want, and worry is one of the results. What do we worry about? All worrying is about suffering and loss. We do not want anything to happen that we consider “negative.” In every instance, it comes down to being concerned that our desires will not be satisfied. That’s a pretty harsh way to look at a devastating loss, though, isn’t it? But when we pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” we acknowledge that our place is as the clay in the Potter’s hands. We forget that He loves us, and instead we fear that He might not give us what we want. We fear He will decide differently and we will not like it. Humbly... The way to be free from worry is to humble ourselves before God. This is, as Dr. Gaffin preached, a “distinctly Christian contrast to the unrealistic outcome of pride.” When we are humble, we see ourselves exactly as we should be, as we are. A humble Christian sees that the God with the mighty arm will work things out. Then we can be free of worry, and stop acting like the unbelievers. But we forget because we do not spend much time in prayer. Our pride shuts us up inside of ourselves, making our prayer superficial. But prayer is where God reminds us where our hope and faith are. It is a means of grace that He has provided. It is the opportunity to cast ourselves on our God and to be taken lovingly in His arms. He allows us to leave the matter with Him. Still, we forget and become ungrateful. We are no better than the Israelites, as we often forget all that God has done for us. Unbelievers have every reason to worry because they “bear the wrath of God.” Those who fear death end up fearing life also. They cannot teach us how to live. We, however, as God’s people have the deepest source of genuine thankfulness, and no good reason to worry. Conclusion Now, there is also a difference between genuine constructive concern and counterproductive worrying, and we must prayerfully ask our Lord to help us to discern that difference. A pain in the chest should cause concern and provoke a visit to the doctor if not an emergency call. And it is our normal human response to feel afraid or sad or grief-stricken at given times. But the definition of worry is: “to torment oneself with, or suffer from, disturbing thoughts; fret.” We must leave the “what ifs….” with the Lord. It is the humble, prayerful, thankful Christian who can be free from worry....

Soup and Buns

If only there was a way to avoid life's traffic jams...

Mile after long mile, the cars on the eastbound turnpike lined up because of a multi-vehicle accident. Initially, I was glad to be traveling westbound and spared from being the storyteller with the tale of the “terrible Christmas Eve traffic jam.” After eight miles of vehicles, traffic on the other side became normal. I was alarmed that there were no signs of the “jam” on the eastbound. Unknowing drivers were getting on the turnpike completely unaware of the mess that was just ahead. I had endured one of those jams recently, and I desperately wanted to pull over near the toll booth and wave my arms at those about to enter. I wished for poster board and markers, and I felt willing to give an hour of my time just to stand nearby and warn people: “Don’t get on the eastbound! There’s a terrible traffic jam and you may get stuck for hours!” So many people were going to be inconvenienced and upset. If only there was a place to safely and legally do this! Would they even believe me? Would they change their minds? I expressed my concern to the toll taker when I arrived: “Isn’t there some way that you could warn the drivers not to get onto the eastbound turnpike?” With little concern, he shrugged, “They should listen to the traffic report on the radio.” Full of good advice In a similar manner, those of us with a few years behind us watch as young people make decisions that affect their entire future. We have learned from both our good and our bad decisions and we feel certain that “if they would just listen, it would save them a lot of heartache!” “Study hard!” we say. “Finish your degree!” “Don’t quit that job until you secure another!” “Don’t waste money!” “Don’t date anyone who won’t make a good mate!” “Wait until marriage to have sex.” We are full of advice on every subject! As we move along the road, our expertise increases: we buy homes and vehicles and learn from the blessings and difficulties. We marry and have children and learn which methods and philosophies work and which do not. But will they listen? We and our friends and acquaintances have been down the road. Wouldn’t it be ridiculous for us to make a poster board sign and stand up to warn those who are coming? Some are headed for trouble! If only there was a way to persuasively warn them. Would they even believe us? Would they change their minds? Will they listen to the “reports” that could warn them? The Apostle Paul tells us in Titus 2:1-8 that the older men and the older women are supposed to teach the younger men and the younger women how to think and behave. They are to be an example. The older men should be “temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.” The older women should be “reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.” Seek them out The Church needs Titus 2 men and women...and a wise young person will find “Titus 2” people to learn from. My first course in “Mothering 101” came from watching my Mom with my little brother Mark. I learned a lot of essentials, and was therefore less nervous about raising children than a lot of other women that I met. I spent time with two mothers in our church, watching them carefully as they loved and disciplined their children, and shared with me their strategies and reasons. These were life lessons – what to do in this and that situation, and how to apply God’s Word to everyday life. Books on “wife-ing” and mothering provided “Titus 2” people to learn from as well. I started out with Linda Dillow’s Creative Counterpart and Edith Schaeffer’s What Is A Family? and moved along to the excellent books on the family from Canon Press by Doug and Nancy Wilson and Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp and Age of Opportunity by his brother Paul Tripp. I avoided a lot of traffic jams because of the advice I received from those who had been down the road before me. The young do well to listen. And those of us who are older will do well when we teach and exemplify Truth to the young. “Exhort the young men to be sober-minded… a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.” – Titus 2:6-8 Sharon L. Bratcher is the author of “Soup and Buns,” and a “Bible Overview for Young Children” curriculum. She can be reached at [email protected]....