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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@ 

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Soup and Buns

Friends or acquaintances?

Loneliness can make you pretty sad. In lonely times, you may ponder your relationships and realize that they are superficial. Perhaps you have wanted to strengthen them and not known how. Perhaps you have tried, but you have not yet been successful. It may be that a little analysis and understanding could head you in the right direction. In the realm of relationships, there are four categories that people fall into: strangers, acquaintances, companions, and friends. Strangers are those whom you haven’t met yet; the other three categories can somewhat overlap. Acquaintances and companions Acquaintances are people whom we have met. They may be neighbors, fellow students, customers or co-workers. They may also be the majority of the members of our church. We know them by sight and reputation, and may feel comfortable having a conversation with them. The level of the conversation is usually superficial, pleasant, and relevant to our activities or the weather. Companions are the people whom we are together within a specific group. We function together because we are together. But as soon as we graduate, retire, or move away, we rarely stay in touch with most of them. The group defined our activities and without its structure, we drift apart. Friends Friends are on a level above these categories. Some will be close and one or two may get the title of “best friend” within your lifetime. Friends enjoy, love, and encourage you. They stick by you in difficult times, and are never an intrusion. Friends don’t keep track or keep score. Friends understand you and share your deepest griefs and your highest joys. They help when necessary and possible. This connection rarely disappears, for even if busy friends live far apart, they still value contact. I read about a tribe in an African country where each person is assigned a friend when he is young. This person is his official best friend, and they are to care for one another throughout their lives. It is considered as sacred a relationship as marriage. What a remarkable way to honor friendship, instill loyalty, provide security and prevent loneliness! The people there didn’t move away from home, so outside of death, this friendship was a certainty in a person’s life. It was stability, a fact to be counted upon. To call everyone a “friend” on a daily basis is sometimes easier than trying to subdivide into all of these categories. But it can be helpful to analyze and determine which of your companions you might like to encourage to become your friends. From one to the other How do you change the categories? A friendship must be built. Proverbs 18:24 states, “A man that has friends must show himself friendly.” From this we learn that selfless effort is the way to get started. I'll note it is somewhat like a dating relationship, even as I'll quickly add I am not talking in any way about a sexual attraction. Two people are determining whether the other person’s company is worth an investment of their time. Usually, one person is more proactive in pursuing the relationship at the beginning. It helps to know that. This is not necessarily because the friendship is undesired by the other party. Rather, it is just because the other person is busy, isn’t as eager for company, or is kind of lazy about that sort of thing. Let’s face it, it’s easier to relax at home than to get out and interact with people. Think about your companions and choose someone who might be “friendship material.” Now it is time for both action and patience. Think of an activity that you might enjoy together and call with an invitation. Or just call to say hello and talk for a while. If it goes well, try it again after a week. Take joy in the slow progress, and be patient because depth takes time. If nothing comes of it, still give it a try at another time, and/or choose someone else to befriend. Don’t be discouraged if the person doesn’t issue invitations to you or initiate the call, as long as he or she is glad to hear from you and spend time together. Some people aren’t good at initiating but they enjoy responding. On the other hand, if you are accustomed to responding and not initiating, and you really want friends, you might want to pray for courage to get the process going instead of feeling sad that no one is calling you. As we put forth the efforts to build friendships, we can also pray and ask God to provide for us in this way, because a friend is a gift from God. We should also realize that others may need to have our care and friendship. It is important not to get so caught up in our own little worlds that we neglect growing closer to the members of our congregation. This first appeared in the December 2007 issue of Reformed Perspective. 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@ ...