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Jan 25, 2011

Showing Restraint With Strength

(Dedicated to my son Colin, who turns 17 today)

One of my proudest moments as a father came when my oldest son had to use his martial arts training to defend himself. An older boy was giving him a hard time at the playground and eventually grabbed my son around the neck with both hands. At this point my son was about ten or eleven and had been taking karate with me for a few years. We both learned a self-defense move to counter just such an attack. As my son was being choked by the larger boy, he quickly stepped into his memorized self-defense move and broke the bully’s grip from around his neck. However, what impressed me was not just what he did to free himself, but what he DID NOT do next.

You see, the move we had learned had both defensive and offensive elements to it. The first part broke the attacker’s grip and knocked their hands away. But the next two steps after breaking free were supposed to break the attacker’s nose then finish with a two-hand strike to the attacker’s chest. We had practiced this move hundreds of times so that it became instinct. But we were also taught an equally important concept which my son also remembered. Our karate instructor always emphasized, especially to the kids, the idea of force appropriate to the situation. He explained the difference between life threatening situations (like a girl getting raped or a kid getting pulled into a van) versus situations not quite so serious, like a bully on the playground. I also reinforced this idea of self-control and restraint with both of my sons so that they only used what they were taught at the appropriate times and in a controlled manner.

My son read the situation just right because as soon as he broke free of the other boy’s hands, he simply stepped back, took a defensive position, and told the other kid to leave him alone. But, thankfully, he refrained from breaking the other boy’s nose and ribs, even though I’m sure he could have. And thankfully, the other boy got the point that my son wasn’t going to put up with being pushed around.

What impressed me about how my son handled himself was how he understood his abilities, but quickly assessed what was required to meet the situation and showed restraint from going too far. He used only the minimum force necessary to protect himself and chose not to abuse his power to hurt another person. In doing so, he reinforced to me a lesson men should bear in mind as we deal with others.


Godly men need to show restraint in how we deal with others.  Yes, I encourage Christian men to be bold and strong, to stand up to others for what is right. I’ve encouraged my brothers to be appropriately firm with our children and even our wives when necessary. But as Spiderman learned, with great power comes great responsibility.

Most men have natural God given traits which can make us somewhat intimidating to our children and even our wives if we don’t show restraint. As Christians we’re all called to loving exhortation and sometimes even rebuke for a wayward brother or sister. If we manage employees at work, we hold their livelihood in our hands so that they and their families depend on our fair treatment. Church leaders have power in exercising their authority and oversight. In these and other situations, men must show appropriate restraint in how we execute our responsibilities and in how we deal with others.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Prov 15:1

“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” 1 Peter 3:7

“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Col 3:21

“Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.” 1 Tim 3:2-4

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Gal 5:22

Men, we need to be ready to take on any challenge God puts before us. We need to prepare and train for spiritual warfare in our lives. Our wives and children need to see us as strong, confident, leaders in our homes. And our churches need men willing to lead with principle and courage. But men, we also need to control ourselves, being aware of our potential, and only use what is necessary for a given situation.

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