Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city. Proverbs 16:32 (NIV)
The year was 1982. The place was a racquetball court inside a health club in Munster, Indiana. The time was 7:00 PM. That’s what time the Isshin-Ryu Karate Club members gathered for instruction from their Sensei, the Japanese name for teacher or mentor. I was one of those members (students) on that unforgettable night when a valuable lesson was taught to a group of students ranging from 10 years of age to 70. I was sixteen.
When we arrived, Sensei Stan Harris had a steel chair positioned in the middle of the racquetball court. He had us bow in for class, a Japanese martial arts tradition to show respect for the place of practice (dojo). Then he asked the oldest member of the karate class, Bob, to sit in the chair. After Bob sat down in the chair, Sensei Harris instructed the rest of us to leave the racquetball court. At this point, my curiosity was so overwhelming that I almost asked my Sensei what the lesson plan was tonight, but I knew that would be considered rude and disrespectful, so I held my tongue.
While waiting outside, some of us began discussing possible lessons we might be about to learn. We wondered if Sensei Harris was teaching Bob some new pressure points that would enable him to render each of us unconscious as we walked by the chair he was sitting in. We contemplated the possibility that Bob was being taught how to use the chair as a weapon against the rest of his classmates when we eventually reentered the dojo. We discussed which karate blocks would work best against a chair wielding attacker.
When Sensei Harris came out to explain the lesson to us, we were busy looking around the health club for a chair to practice our defensive techniques to do battle with Bob. But we soon learned that there was no need to prepare ourselves for a physical attack. The lesson plan for that day was nothing like we were contemplating it to be. The lesson we were begin was a lesson in self-restraint.
Bob was seated in the middle of the room. The rest of the students were instructed to hurl serious insults at Bob in rapid succession. We could say anything except profanity in our efforts to get 70-year-old Bob to lose his cool and jump out of the chair. We had been instructed beforehand to be as mean and as antagonistic as possible. Sensei Harris, now a pastor, teacher, and world-renowned motivational speaker, assured us that we would remember this day for the rest of our lives.
“You got more wrinkles than a bulldog!” someone yelled.
“You’re so old, I bet you use to hang out with Moses when he was a kid!” another student screamed.
“Your nose is so crooked, I bet you can scratch your ear with it!” added someone else.
The insults went only went on for a full five minutes. To Bob it must have seemed like an eternity. Some of the insults were extremely brutal, and I was amazed at Bob’s ability to remain seated and stone-faced. At one point, I think I actually saw a smile come across his face.
It was when it was my turn to sit in the chair and the rest of the students left the room that I received my instructions about how to handle the criticism and ridicule that was about to come my way. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city,” Sensei Harris said, from the Bible, Proverbs 16:32 (KJV). “If you realize that anything said to you cannot change who you are, where you’ve come from, or where you are going, then anything the other students say to you will not affect your state of mind. People say negative things about others to build themselves up while tearing the other people down, and if we react to such criticism, we are letting these people control our emotions, our spirit.”
As I sat down in the seat of self-restraint, I thought about what kind of things the other karate students would say to me once the exercise began. I wondered if they would make fun of my long hair. I wondered if they would ridicule my car, my clothes, or my age. It wasn’t long before I found out they would criticize all that and much more.
As each person shouted out derogatory things about the way I looked, the way I talked, and even the way I walked, I tried to imagine their comments as missiles designed to hit a certain target. I let God be my missile defense shield for the entire five minutes.
“Your hair is so long you look like a girl!” one student shouted.
God knows I’m not a girl.
“Your voice is so whiny you sound like Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley.” (Sorry, if you haven’t seen this show)
God gave me this voice.
“You walk like you’re so proud and better than everyone else.”
God knows how to give me humility.
For every missile of insult launched toward me I had God’s missile defense system fully activated. I knew God wanted me to control my anger.
God has given mankind the gift of self-restraint. When we are ridiculed, mocked, or verbally criticized unjustly, our best reaction is to stay in control of emotional responses. What God thinks of us is much more important than what others think about us.
Sitting in that chair while others gave me a verbal lashing taught me how to ignore the urge to let my temper get the best of me in a situation like that. This is not to say that I don’t ever get angry or upset. I do. But I have a much better understanding of why God believes a man who is slow to wrath can accomplish more in his lifetime than a man who is quick to anger.
So think of this lesson in the seat of self-restraint the next time someone attempts to upset you with harshly chosen words. Remember the goal of the person initiating the hurtful attack; it is to control your emotions and your spirit. Let it be controlled by something better.
::::forced exhale:::: I will definitely try to remember this wise lesson. I humbly confess that I NEED it. I'm getting better and better in the self-control department with age, but I'm not too proud to admit that I've not quite mastered it. Glad we have the Holy Spirit as teacher. Thanks for sharing!