A couple summers ago, I was visiting some friends in Providence, Rhode Island. One morning we took their two young boys to breakfast. The food took some time to arrive and the 4 year old got impatient. He got up and marched around the table. His father repeatedly asked him to sit down.
My friends are devout Catholics and are rearing their children in a generous and thoughtful faith. After asking his boy multiple times to sit down, my friend asked his son, "What virtue could help you out right now?" I was confused by the question, but my friend explained that he had been teaching his son the four cardinal virtues (justice, courage, prudence and temperance). "Courage!" the four year old yelled with a smile. "No," said his father. "What other virtues are there?" The boy named them, with a little help. "Temperance," his father said, "show temperance." The boy sat down for a moment. Then he stood up and began marching around the table again saying, "No more temperance! No more temperance! No more temperance!" While my friend put his face in his palms, I tried to stifle my laughter.
Temperance is moderation or self-control. It has to do with maintaining balance in life. Ancient Christian teachers also taught temperance as a means of controlling our desires. My friend tried to teach his son temperance because his son wanted to run around a restaurant. He needed to control himself. Don't we all? We disturb the peace and disrupt the balance when we do whatever we want whenever we want, when we eat or drink too much, when we make excessive purchases or binge-watch TV.
But it is also the case that we need to exercise temperance when we are doing too much. When we work too hard, commit to too much or go all in too soon. The Apostle Paul used running a race to illustrate this. Runners who don't exercise self-control run too fast at the beginning of the race, eat too much pasta the night before or drink Gatorade at every aid station. This lack of moderation will ruin a race. Balance is key.
In the spiritual life, there is often an imbalance of guilt or grace. Sometimes we are so hard on ourselves and so self-critical that we live dejected and depressed. Sometimes we are too easy on ourselves. We can be unwilling to acknowledge wrongdoing and commit to righteousness. We must exhibit temperance here too. We must recognize our sins knowing that God's mercies always overwhelm them. We must realize the grace we are given in order to live in gratitude. Balance.
What is off-kilter in your life? Where is there need for some self-control? What do you need to do to create some balance?
As we attempt moderation in our lives, be prepared: we may have a 4 year old running around our heads yelling, "No more temperance!"