Self Control, Week 1
City With Broken Down Walls
Doing what you should can keep you safe.
As Zoe lugged a duffel bag down the stairs, her father shook his head. “I don’t know if this is a good idea,” he said. Zoe rolled her eyes and grabbed her jacket and car keys. “It’s just for the weekend,” she pointed out. “All I have to do is stay at Ms. Jensen’s house while she’s gone and put out food for the llama. Sixty bucks for doing nothing.”
“Do you know anything about llamas?” asked Dad.
“I dog-sit all the time,” said Zoe. “What’s the difference?”
Dad raised an eyebrow. “About 300 pounds. And ten thousand dollars.”
“I gotta go,” said Zoe, and opened the front door.
“Did you pack warm clothes?” her dad asked. “The weather report said we could get some serious snow.”
“Dad!” Zoe rolled her eyes. “I got this.”
When Zoe hopped out of her car at Ms. Jensen’s house, she found the older lady already on the porch with her luggage. “Thanks for doing this,” Ms. Jensen said. “I’ve left all the instructions on the kitchen table.”
After Ms. Jensen bustled off, Zoe took the list of instructions and stepped out onto the back porch.
“‘Put out food and water for Llama Llama by 7 o’clock in the morning,’” she read.
Zoe glanced up at the llama, who was ranging near the back fence. “Your name is Llama Llama?” she exclaimed. “That’s like naming a puppy ‘Dog Dog.’”
Even from a distance, the llama glared . . . and then spit.
Zoe wrinkled her nose. “Ew. Remind me not to get close to you.” She continued with the list. “‘Check weather at midnight and three a.m. If it snows, put Llama Llama in the shed.’ What else . . . ‘Eat anything in the fridge . . . wifi password.’ Nice.”
After feeding Llama Llama, Zoe popped a pizza in the oven and settled down with a show on Netflix.
“It’s not that late,” she noted after the first episode. “Just one more . . .”
When midnight rolled around, Zoe knew she should check on the llama, but she just had to find out what happened next.
“I’ll check on Llama Llama in a couple minutes.”
But when Zoe finished the episode, eyes glued to the screen, she couldn’t help playing another one . . . and another . . . and another . . . until she was so tired she conked out on the sofa.
Zoe slept soundly until her phone woke her in the morning light. She sat up suddenly, adrenaline racing through her veins.
“Huh? What time is it?” she mumbled, fishing for her phone. “Hello?”
“Zoe?” said Dad’s voice. “Just wanted to check in and see if everything is okay.”
Zoe stumbled up off the sofa, heading for the window. “Uh, everything is fine . . .” But as she caught a glimpse out the window, she saw nearly a foot of snow had fallen.
“Llama Llama!” she cried.
Zoe tugged on her light jacket and shivered as she opened the door, phone still at her ear.
“Zoe!” her dad exclaimed. “Are you okay?”
Outside, everything was white and still . . . but the heavy snow had collapsed a section of fence. Hoof prints showed the llama had made his escape. Zoe’s heart sank. “The fence broke!” she cried. “Llama Llama got out!”
Zoe raced back inside, juggling the phone as she tugged on her boots and grabbed her car keys.
“Weren’t you supposed to put the llama inside the shed?” Dad wondered. “I, um . . . kinda got carried away with my show . . .” Zoe confessed.
“Stay put,” Dad told her. “Call Animal Control and check with the neighbors. I’ll put on the snow chains and be there in twenty minutes.”
Dad hung up. Zoe opened the front door as icy wind hit her face. “This is my fault. I can’t lose time,” she told herself. “I’ll just follow the tracks.”
Teeth chattering, Zoe slipped her way down the front steps to her car. The wind had whipped the snow off her windshield, so she hopped inside. As the engine made a sluggish start, the radio clicked on and an announcer droned, “. . . this is 95.3 WURF with a traffic advisory to stay off the roads as temperatures continue to plunge . . .”
Zoe switched off the radio to focus on driving. She crept along, following llama tracks…
...down the street…
...around an icy corner…
. . . onto the empty main road. Then the tracks seemed to disappear.
“Where did they go?! Oh . . . there!” Zoe spied the marks of llama hooves where the sidewalk would be. She hauled on the steering wheel to make a quick turn. But her tires lost their grip, and she felt her car spinning. The world swam in a blur of frosty white until her car stuck nose-first in a snow bank!
Zoe took a deep breath and made a quick assessment. She seemed to be okay. And through her window, she spotted the llama tracks, heading down a side street. Quickly, she turned off the car’s engine and squeezed out her door into the drift.
She slogged through the snow after the missing llama. But in minutes, she could hardly feel her fingers or toes.
“Llama Llama?” she called, straining her eyes to find the light-colored llama against the white snow. “Llama Llama!”
Zoe was freezing and miserable. And Ms. Jensen’s ten-thousand-dollar llama was still missing.
“I just want…to be…home!”she moaned.
Then she heard the sound of a car engine and glanced up as a squad car stopped beside her. “You left that car stuck on Main?” growled the officer at the wheel.
“Yeah,” said Zoe sheepishly.
“Get in,” ordered the officer. “You’re lucky if you don’t have hypothermia already.” Zoe slid into the warm back seat of the car, teeth chattering.
“Why’d you get outta your car?” asked the officer.
“I, er . . . had to find a llama,” Zoe tried to explain.
“Animal Control just picked up a llama,” said the policeman. “He was stickin’ his head in the SuperBurger drive-through window, spittin’ at the workers.”
Zoe leaned back with a sigh of relief. She felt foolish, but she was thankful to know the llama was safe.
Later, Zoe slowly warmed up as her dad wrapped her in blankets and handed her a mug of hot cocoa. “Thanks for calling Animal Control,” she told him. “And putting the fence back up.”
“You could stand to work on your own fences,” her dad told her dryly. “Me?”
Her dad nodded. “Proverbs says it really well: ‘A person without self-control is like a city whose walls are broken through.’”
Zoe nodded. “If I’d just taken a break from my show, I would’ve seen the snow. And put Llama Llama in the shed.”
“When you can’t control yourself, you can get into a whole world of hurt,” her dad agreed.
“And . . . frozen toes. And a busted car.” Zoe wriggled her toes as they began to warm and prickle. She’d spent the whole morning paying for her lack of self-control. Next time, she’d make wiser choices.
Does your family have any special rules?
List several of them right now. Sometimes rules can be frustrating and hard to understand. What might happen if you broke a family rule once? What might happen if you broke it over and over again? The reason that your parents set rules is to keep you safe now—and to help you develop the control that will help you make wise choices as you get older. Ask God to give each of you the power to control yourself so you can better show love to Him and to others.
Self Control, Week 2
Slow to Anger
Think before you lose your temper.
In a five-star French restaurant on a Friday evening in January, Gordon Mantooth lost his temper.
“I ordered my steak tartare well done!” Gordon bellowed at the flabbergasted waiter. He stabbed his fork into the well-presented pile of uncooked meat. “This is practically raw!”
The waiter began to reply with a heavy French accent. “But, M’sieur, steak tartare is traditionally served—”
He was interrupted by the sound of Gordon Mantooth’s fist slamming against the table. Silverware clattered. Water glasses sloshed. Gordon Mantooth roared. “I don’t want to hear any excuses. Take it back!” He waved his hand as if dismissing the platter, then suddenly pointed his finger at the waiter adding, “And don’t bring it back out here until the steak is cooked.”
Gordon Mantooth watched through narrowed eyes as the waiter carried his platter into the kitchen. Then, turning back to his stunned and embarrassed companions, Gordon snorted proudly. “I’ve learned you’ve got to be angry to succeed in this life. How else can you get the respect you deserve?”
But respect was the last thing Gordon Mantooth got by being angry. After a while, the waiter returned and unceremoniously plunked Gordon’s plate in front of him. “Your steak tartare, M’sieur. Cooked.” The waiter spat the last word out of his mouth.
Gordon Mantooth was outraged. “It this a joke? Now it looks like a hamburger! I didn’t come to a five-star restaurant to eat something I could find at any sidewalk vendor. Take this back and bring me a meal that isn’t a complete insult to my intelligence.”
“Impossible,” the waiter muttered as he turned sharply on his heel and stalked away.
Gordon leapt from the table, sending his chair flying. “What did you say? Don’t you walk away from me!” The waiter ignored him and continued marching. This sent Gordon’s temper spiraling out of control and before he considered the consequences, Gordon was chasing the waiter through the French restaurant.
Which is how, in a five-star French restaurant on a Friday evening in January, Gordon Mantooth lost his temper and punched a waiter in the face. And, as is often the case when one loses their temper, that one punch set off an unstoppable chain reaction.
“Oof!” The waiter cried out as he collapsed onto a nearby table, causing a platter of Roussillon-style meatballs to spill onto the floor. A second waiter stumbled right through the meatballs, slipped on the sauce, and sent his tray of dinner rolls flying. One of the rolls landed on a flaming dish of Crepe Suzette, which splattered flames onto the nearby curtains . . . setting them on fire!
Gordon Mantooth stared in horror as the restaurant erupted in panic. The fire in the window raged. Chairs scraped across the floor. Women and some men shrieked as they frantically clawed their way to the nearest exit. Gordon was preparing to sneak out the back door, when suddenly, something strange happened.
Everything stopped. The panicked people seemed to freeze in mid-run. The crackle of the fire was silenced. Gordon slowly turned around, surveying the restaurant. Nothing moved. Nothing made a sound. Except—
“Hello, there!” A jarringly cheerful voice rang out across the silent room.
Gordon looked around, scared and confused. “Wha—? Who’s there?” “Over here.”
Gordon whipped around to see a very tall, brightly dressed man waving at him from the far corner.
“How is this happening? How is everything frozen?” Gordon closed his eyes and shook his head as if to wake himself from a strange dream.
“Actually, it’s paused,” the tall man corrected Gordon. “Paused?”
“That’s right. Because of this—” The tall man picked up a small black box and showed it to Gordon. It was smooth and plain except for a single red button on the top.
“What is that?” Gordon took a few steps closer to the man.
“It’s my pause button.” The tall man explained, thrusting the box toward Gordon. “Isn’t it great? Anytime I want to stop something from moving, I just press my pause button.”
“But how does it work?” Gordon reached out a tentative hand, but thought better of it and quickly shoved his hands in his pockets.
“Who knows? I found it in the bottom of a box at a garage sale. Paid fifty cents for it. Best money I ever spent. It’s amazing! Ever wonder what a hummingbird looks like paused in mid-air? It’s pretty cool.” The tall man’s eyes twinkled.
Gordon Mantooth couldn’t believe his ears. But all the people were still frozen. The burning draperies remained in mid-burn. Bits of floating ash hung suspended in the air.
Following Gordon’s gaze, the brightly clad man commented, “You’ve made quite a mess of things, haven’t you?”
Feeling hot anger begin to spread again, Gordon shot back, “Yeah, so? What’s it to you?”
“Easy there, fella. Don’t lose your temper again. Remember? That’s what got you here in the first place.” The man held up his hand and gestured around the mess of a restaurant.
“Mind your own business.” Gordon mumbled.
“You know how else this pause button is useful?” The tall man asked, ignoring Gordon’s obstinate expression. “If I have a decision to make and need time to think, I just pause for a few seconds and everything’s okay.” Gordon glanced sideways at the little red button, and the man continued “Would’ve come in handy for you today,” he pointed out. “When that waiter made you mad, you could’ve just paused for a few seconds, thought about what you were going to do next, and then maybe the restaurant wouldn’t be on fire.”
That did it. Gordon let his anger take over and pointed his finger in the stranger’s face. “Listen here, bub, I had to punch that waiter! I can’t just let people walk all over me. I’m no weakling!” As if to prove his point, Gordon turned and kicked the closest wall, which turned out to be stone. Gordon tried to hold back a whimper of pain.
“Huh.” The tall man cocked his head to the side as he looked at Gordon. “Seems to me that if you were really strong, you’d be strong enough to control your temper.”
Gordon Mantooth had never heard it put quite like that before. Maybe the tall man had a point. Maybe a person shows his true strength by resisting his anger and restraining his temper, instead of losing all control. Gordon Mantooth took a moment to think. It was the first time in a long time that he didn’t feel utterly and completely angry.
“Okay,” Gordon finally admitted after a long silence, “so I see how I might have handled the situation a little differently.”
“Good!” The tall man said in his cheeriest voice.
Gordon looked down at his shoes and continued. “I guess I could have taken a moment to calm down before talking to the waiter.”
“True.” The tall man agreed.
“So,” Gordon looked pleadingly at the stranger before him. “Do you think you could help me out? I mean, can you use your little button to get me out of this mess?”
The tall man in neon clothes smiled slyly and shook his head. “No. This is just a pause button. There is no rewind. What’s done is done, I’m afraid. Next time, you might try pausing before you lose your temper.”
And with that, the man pressed the pause button again. The people started panicking. The fire started to burn. The sound of approaching sirens blared in the distance. Gordon Mantooth was left to face the consequences of his actions. But next time, he promised himself, he wouldn’t let his anger get the best of him.
He had learned a difficult lesson from Proverbs in a difficult way: It is better to be patient than to fight. It is better to control your temper than to take a city.
Each of you share a recent time you lost your temper. (If you can’t think of one, ask the other person to remind you!)
What happened? Even if no one got physically hurt, it’s likely that someone’s feelings got hurt, or that you and others lost time being frustrated and angry. When you lose your temper, it’s hard to be kind. It’s hard to show God’s love to others. It takes you off track. On your own, you can’t keep your temper for very long. But God can give you the power to control your temper. Ask God to give you His power to hold your temper and choose kindness instead.
Self Control, Week 3
Choose Your Words Carefully
Choose your words carefully.
Mariah had been a horticulturalist with an important research firm for twenty years.
“A horticulturalist is someone who studies the art and science of growing plants,” she would lecture anyone who asked. “Didn’t you know that?”
But when Mariah moved to the tiny town of Oswego to take care of her mother, she reluctantly took a job in the local flower shop, The Bloom Room.
The shop owner, a young lady named Grace, offered a word of advice. “People want the right bloom to make someone happy.”
“Well, people are confusing,” confessed Mariah. “But I do know exactly what to expect from flowers.”
“So, you know this flower?” asked Grace, pointing to a potted rose bush with tiny, deep-purple blooms.
“A rosa venia, of course,” said Mariah.
“That’s right,” said Grace. “It flourishes in the presence of kindness—”
“And withers when presented with adverse situations,” interrupted Mariah. “I told you I know everything about plants.”
“Then I’m sure you’ll do great,” Grace said, as she headed for the door to run an errand.
Mariah’s first client of the day, Wanda Shank, wore a long, flowing skirt.
Her red hair, streaked with gray, hung past her waist. “My daughter’s birthday is tomorrow,” said Wanda. “I need something colorful for her party.”
“I recommend a bouquet of helianthus,” suggested Mariah.
Wanda frowned. “Heli-what?”
Mariah sighed deeply. “Sunflowers, of course. How old is your daughter?”
Wanda brightened. “She’s turning five.”
“Five?” asked Mariah, frowning. “But aren’t you old enough to be her grandmother?”
“Excuse me?” Wanda asked, stunned.
“I’m sure you’d look younger with a haircut,” Mariah assured her. “After all, plants always look better when they’re pruned.”
Wanda stared at her, mouth open. “I don’t know what to say.”
“We’ll have the helianthus ready for you in an hour,” said Mariah crisply.
Wanda swallowed hard. “Actually, I’m going to Clarksville to buy my flowers. From now on!” She stalked out, hair swishing behind her.
Mariah shook her head. “What happened?”
The shop door dinged, and Mariah looked up, expecting another client. But it was Grace, looking shocked. “You told Wanda she needs a haircut?!” “I was just being honest,” said Mariah.
“And I honestly don’t want you losing clients,” Grace told her. “Perhaps you’ve heard this Proverb? ‘The words of thoughtless people cut like swords. But the tongue of wise people brings healing.’”
They both glanced at the purple rosa venia. Its leaves drooped so low that they nearly trailed in the dirt.
“Oh dear,” said Mariah. “I made it wilt with what I said, didn’t I?”
“Indeed,” Grace agreed.
“I’ll do better,” promised Mariah.
“I’ll be in the back. Please don’t lose any more customers.”
Grace slipped through the swinging door. Mariah sighed and glanced at the sad- looking rose bush.
“You’ve really got lovely blooms,” she told the wilting plant.
Instantly, the leaves seemed to perk up. A fresh bud popped open. But before Mariah had time to comment, the door opened again. She snapped to attention as a young man with a serious face and a crooked nose walked in.
“Hi,” he said, shifting his weight from foot to foot. “Um . . . I need some roses?” “I can help with that,” said Mariah.
The young man, Jared, pulled out his phone. “See . . . there’s this girl, Nellie . . .” he began as he showed Mariah the picture of a laughing girl with a pixie haircut. “I really want some flowers that show her how I feel,” he explained.
Mariah glanced from the photo to Jared and blinked in surprise. “Her?” she wondered. “That kind of girl isn’t usually interested in your, um . . . genus.”
Jared frowned. “What’s that mean?
“Well . . . your type,” said Mariah, brusquely. “I mean, she is extremely good looking. And you are simply average.”
Jared’s face fell. He flinched, as if Mariah had just punched him in the gut.
And so did the rose bush.
Mariah whipped around to see the potted rose shiver and drop a few leaves. “Oh dear,” she murmured to herself. “I did it again.”
Jared was too busy staring at Nellie’s photo to notice. “You’re probably right,” he mumbled. “It was a terrible idea. Nellie would never see anything in a loser like me.”
Jared turned to go, but Mariah quickly found her voice. “Wait!” she cried. Jared turned, surprised.
“I’m sorry,” Mariah told him. “That was a terrible, horrible thing for me to say. Sometimes I forget and treat people like plants. I think Nellie will be thrilled to get flowers from you.”
“Oh,” said Jared, skeptical. “Really?”
Mariah swept up a beautiful bouquet of flowers. “And I’d like to give you these
yellow Hesperrhodos. On the house.” Jared blinked. “Yellow what?”
“Roses,” explained Mariah.
“Oh,” said Jared again. She could tell he was deciding whether to trust her. “Well . . . thank you.”
Jared finally smiled a little and took the roses. After he left, Grace returned from the back with a bucket of daffodils.
“Seems you found the right blooms for Jared,” she said. “I’ll pay for them,” Mariah assured her. “The yellow roses.”
“The rosa venia looks happy,” Grace noted.
They both turned to the tiny potted rose—now bright and perky again.
“Yes,” said Mariah. “Yes, she does.”
Mariah smiled. It would take practice to keep her words from cutting like swords. But she was learning how important it was to control what she said.
Share something someone said that hurt you.
It’s a lot easier to remember the thoughtless, cutting things that people say than the kind words. That’s why it’s so important to think before you speak and to choose your words wisely. You can’t take back sharp words, no matter how much you apologize. A single thoughtless sentence can ruin a friendship or cause tension in your family for days. But the opposite is true too! Your words have the power to comfort someone who is sad, to build friendships, or encourage someone to reach their goal. Ask God to help each of you to choose your words wisely, so that they will heal rather than hurt others.
Self Control, Week 4
Too Much Of A Good Thing
Know when to stop.
Si could barely contain his excitement as his mother parked and they made their way through a forest of movie set trailers.
“Do you think I’ll get my own trailer?” he asked.
“You’ll share a trailer with all the other kids,” his mom said. “We’ll be lucky to have a place to sit.”
“Yeah, but I mean, I’m the star, right?” prompted Si. “You don’t have any lines, Si,” Mom pointed out. “But I get to be Ward Dean!” Si exclaimed.
Si had landed a role in action star Ward Dean’s latest adventure film. He would be playing Ward’s character as a boy. True, he had no lines to speak. But Si would get to wear a cool ’80s costume and ride a bike down the street.
“You got the role because you can ride a bike and you look a bit like Ward Dean,” his mom said dryly.
“I’m gonna be just like him when I grow up!” Si announced.
Mom raised an eyebrow. “He’s a good actor. But he’s not exactly known for his . . . self-control.”
Si and his mom were greeted by Lily, a frazzled PA with a headset and clipboard. “What’s a PA?” wondered Si.
“Production assistant,” Lily explained. “Let me show you hair and makeup—” Si frowned. “I have to wear makeup?”
“All the actors do,” Lily told him.
“Even Ward?” asked Si in surprise.
Lily nodded, and Si hurried to catch up with her. “I’ll get to meet him, right?” he asked.
“Maybe, but he’s not on set till later,” said Lily. “Now, here’s your trailer. Your scene is slated for 10, so we need you in the makeup chair in . . . 15 minutes. Oh, and there’s craft services.”
She waved toward an area where tall heaters stood around several big tables. Si crossed his arms. “I don’t like doing crafts.”
Lily laughed. “Craft services on a movie set is catering. Food.”
“We’ll get a snack before makeup,” his mom told him.
Lily bustled off and Si checked out the craft services tables with awe. There were sandwiches and pizza, cookies and donuts, and every kind of chip he’d ever seen.
“Wow!” he exclaimed.
A massive bowl of peanut M&Ms, Si’s favorite, sat right in the middle. He grinned, grabbed a scoop, and shoveled M&Ms onto his plate.
“Slow down there,” his mom laughed. “A few M&Ms are fine, but eat a banana, too, okay?”
Si downed a banana after his M&Ms. But before they headed back to the trailer, he snuck more peanut M&Ms.
“Don’t ruin your lunch,” his mom warned.
“But peanuts are good for you, right?” Si pointed out.
After Si was in makeup and ready to go, Lily rushed in. “Your scene is delayed,” she told them.
“But it was supposed to be now!” protested Si.
“That’s the way things are on set,” Lily explained. “Hurry up and wait.”
“It’s fine,” said Mom. “Si, you can finish your math homework.”
But Si couldn’t concentrate. There was too much going on. “I’m gonna take a walk,” he said. “I’ll stay where you can see me.”
“Well . . . okay,” his mom agreed.
Si’s walk just happened to take him past craft services. Where he scooped a few more M&Ms.
He took a few more on the way back.
And then he filled a snack cup with M&Ms on his way to the bathroom ten minutes later.
And grabbed some more on his way back.
He scooped another handful when he went out to meet the dog that would be in his scene.
And he dipped into the bowl once more on the way back.
Si popped the last M&M in his mouth as he entered the trailer. His mom looked up sharply.
“We should grab lunch before—” she began, and stopped as Si suddenly doubled over. “Are you okay?” she asked.
Si’s queasy stomach informed him that he was not okay. “I, um . . . I . . .”
“Just how many M&Ms did you eat?” his mom demanded—just as Lily flung open the door.
“Quick!” she cried. “They need you on set right now!”
“Oh, I . . .” Si tried to speak. “I’m a little—”
“You’ll do just fine,” Lily assured him as she rushed them out the door.
Within moments, Si found himself on set under a blaze of lights. His stomach churned and his head ached as he desperately tried to follow instructions, wheeling the banana-seat Huffy bike into place.
The director, a scruffy man with big ears, barked out directions. “You’ll start right here, ride straight up the street, turn the corner, got it? Okay . . . in three . . . two . . . one…”
Si started to pedal, but the road swam before him. “Straighten up!” shouted the director.
There was nothing Si could do. He veered to the curb, ditched the bike—and emptied his stomach onto the pavement.
“You okay, kid?” asked a deep voice.
Si glanced up, wretched and miserable, to find the man he’d seen on dozens of movie posters: Ward Dean.
All Si could mumble was, “Too many M&Ms.”
“Got carried away with crafty, huh?” said Ward, and then called out, “Someone get a towel.”
Humiliated, Si headed back to the trailer for a costume change while the whole crew waited. He stayed as far away from the M&Ms as he could.
“Si! You’ve got to learn when to stop!” his mom warned. “I think . . . I just did,” groaned Si.
Si had discovered this truth from Proverbs the hard way:
If you find honey, eat just enough. If you eat too much of it, you will throw up.
Knowing when to stop doesn’t just apply to food.
It means that any good thing, like spending time on the beach in the hot sun or playing your favorite video game, can cause trouble if you go too far. Can you recall a time when you took a good thing too far? Share your stories with each other. God has given us lots of good things to enjoy. But even a good thing can turn sour if you don’t know when to stop. You can get sunburned at the beach, or you can stay up so late playing a game that you’re tired and grouchy the next day. Ask God to give each of you the wisdom and power to know when to stop…and to do it.