The Virtue of Self-Control

By Judy Ness

This past summer, I traveled with my daughter and three grandchildren to the National Balloon Classic in Indianola, Iowa. My brother-in-law has been a balloon pilot for more than 30 years, but this would be his last season flying. I wanted my grandchildren to witness first-hand the magic of hot-air ballooning while we still had the opportunity.

The first night of the Classic we had the privilege of being part of the “crew”. This meant that we got to experience the excitement of setting up and inflating the balloon, following the balloon in the chase truck, and helping to tear down everything once the balloon had safely landed.

The task for that evening was to launch from a remote spot and attempt to land on the designated balloon field. Ninety vehicles with balloons and crew scattered throughout Indianola, trying to find the perfect spot to launch, hoping that winds of the correct speed and direction would take them to the desired destination. My brother-in-law Terry, the driver Dan, and my sister were in the front seat of the vehicle, while all the kids and I crowded into the second seat – with the rest of the crew riding in the truck bed with the not-yet inflated balloon.

Selecting the correct launch spot is critical to the success of the flight, and Terry and Dan were deep in discussion and calculation. My sister turned to me and said, “Your job is to keep the kids quiet. Dan and Terry need to be able to hear each other, and to think and discuss their strategy.” Clearly, this was rocket science.

I turned to the kids and said, “We need you to be SILENT. No whispering. We need complete silence. Mrs. E SILENCE.” The kids looked at me wide-eyed, but they knew exactly what I was saying. And for the next 30 minutes you could barely hear them breathe.

“Mrs. E” is one of the teachers at Genesis Classical Academy. Beneath an “all business” exterior is a heart of gold that truly loves her students – but her classroom is purposeful and orderly. One day I witnessed her bringing her class of middle school students down the stairway from her upper level classroom to the main gathering space. The task was for the students to come down all five flights of stairs in complete silence. Several times the students would almost make it all the way, and then one of them would blurt out a comment. So….she turned them around and marched them all back up five flights of stairs to try again. I think it took four or five tries before they were successful.

“Lady,” I thought to myself, “take a chill pill. What difference does it really make if they talk in the stairwell?”

Boy, was I ever wrong.

After reflecting on what I witnessed in light of our ballooning trip, I realized that being able to walk down the stairwell in complete silence was not just an arbitrary exercise. Mrs. E was training the children in, and giving them the opportunity to practice self-control.

Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit. St. Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 RSV

I think that self-control is a spiritual muscle that needs to be exercised – and this seldom happens today. Eating or drinking in moderation, appropriate and responsible use of electronic devices, and the ability to control our tongues when we are tempted to lash out in anger or spread a rumor are all times that we need to exercise self-control. If we never develop or practice that virtue, we will too often fail when we most need it.

The current culture would lead us to believe that freedom is being able to do whatever we want, whenever we want – without any consequences. But true freedom is the ability not only to choose, but to choose that which is right and good – and that requires self-control.
As Dan and Terry were launching the pi-ball (a small, helium-filled balloon released to check wind speed and direction) my sister turned to me and said, “You did a really good job of keeping the kids quiet.”

“Don’t thank me,” I replied. “Thank Mrs. E.”

“And Mrs. G!” volunteered my 7 year-old granddaughter.

Yes, thank you Mrs. E, and Mrs. G, and all the other teachers at Genesis Classical Academy. Thank you for caring enough about our children to give them the opportunity to develop and practice the virtue of self-control.

Judy Ness is a business owner, former teacher, and a passionate supporter of Genesis Classical Academy in Winnebago, Minnesota. She and her husband James have 3 adult children and 4 grandchildren. They count among their blessings the wonderful education that their grandchildren are receiving at Genesis.