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Restraint

I have three brothers, a husband, and three sons; the Marvel Universe is a big part of my life. Out of all the comic books, cartoons, and movies the cringiest part out of all of it is when Spider-man becomes a human bungee cord to restrain some piece of transportation. In the Tobey Maguire trilogy he stops the train with one web attached to the back of the train and one web attached to something sturdy. At first he has a difficult grip, but in order to stop the train he has to fully extend both arms and is nearly pulled apart to save the people. Even in the new, more light-hearted Spider-man Homecoming, he has to keep the ferry from splitting in two. Spider-man shoots many web cords to keep it together, but he still ends up hanging in the middle, arms splayed, trying to hold it together with his body. I can hardly bear to recall these scenes, I always feel like he will be torn in two before my eyes (even though I’m a writer and I know they won’t kill the main hero in the middle of the movie). Spider-man is strong, and he has a friend in Iron Man, so it all works out in the end.

But what about us? If you grow up as a Christian, you learn about restraint and self-control from an early age and you better get on board with it fast. I’ve talked about my Christian schooling in previous posts, and the message about self-control was: There is sin around every corner. Build up super-strength restraint or else you will give in to every sin and go to hell. This was an alarming message at 12 and 13, so I built up some serious self-control.

The problem was that message left out an important element that balances self-control and can sometimes make it stronger – discernment. Some impulses are good, holy even. Yes some impulses are bad and misleading, but with discernment you can tell the difference between the good and the bad. Without discernment you end up resisting all impulses, you restrain every emotion, question every inspiration. In those moments restraint becomes false restraint.

Perhaps there was a painful experience from going out on a limb for God and the limb seemingly falling out from under you. False restraint can crop up out of those negative experiences. On more than one occasion I have said to myself, “Well, that sucked. I’m never doing that again.” False restraint.

The prophet Jeremiah struggled with this very thing. He was the son of a priest, a young prophet during the years leading up to the Babylonian captivity. All of his prophesies were negative, and calls to repentance. The kings of the time didn’t like this. They wanted to hear some prosperity gospel from their prophet of the Lord. So Jeremiah became an outcast, he was verbally and physically abused by many people. He was even thrown into an old cistern for a while. At one point Jeremiah gets fed up with all this grief, just for following God, loving God, and speaking His word. So Jeremiah says, “‘I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore His name.’ But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not.” (Jeremiah 20:9 NKJV)

When Jeremiah exercised false restraint the word of God became fire in his bones and overwhelmed his efforts. Jeremiah goes on from this verse to tell of speaking the word of the Lord and being mocked and betrayed for it. This time he responds differently to the grief in his life, this time Jeremiah worships the Lord. He trusts God to deal with his persecutors. Jeremiah mourns his life, the very day of his birth even. Though there is mourning mixed with it, Jeremiah is still worshiping the “Mighty, awesome One.” (Jeremiah 20:11 NKJV)

I find that incredibly comforting. When trials come in life, you can lay it all out before the Father, mourning, worship, general mess, and it still counts. In the end He looks down at me, in my messy obedience and worship, and says, “Well done.”

In recent years I have struggled with weariness. In His grace, God showed me that a lot of that weariness was a result of false restraint. My super-self-control, my hold-backers, were draining the life from my heart and soul. Like Jeremiah, “I was weary of holding it back.” Jesus stepped into my Spider-man moment and said, “You don’t have to hold that back anymore. Let go.” So I did, the proverbial train went off the track, but when I looked again, the train was empty. It was an empty struggle, a false restraint against my heart, the heart that God put in me specifically.

Now I temper my super-self-control with discernment. The impulse rises in my heart and in my mind and I take some time to recognize the quality of the impulse. When it is destructive it’s sayonara, but when it is good or holy I’m learning to let it loose. I’m learning how to live with bones that burn with the fire of the Lord and to say it is good

Have you accepted a message of false restraint in your heart? God sees everything that happens in our life and in our lessons. I believe He does not want to leave us in the midst of the empty struggle of false restraint. I believe Jesus wants to step into your Spider-man moment and say, “Let go”

-Etta Woods

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