As in previous years, this year’s word presented itself as necessary to my life during the fall. This year’s word is D I S C I P L I N E. I wrote a blog post about “Self Discipline as Self Care” in October, and I’ve continued to ponder and research what discipline actually is ever since.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never liked the word “discipline” – it always seems to have a negative connotation. How many of you think of “punishment” or excessive orderliness when you hear someone talk about discipline? Yep, me too. Does it make you think of following rules and failure? Because that’s what I generally think of, as well.
There’s an austerity, a severity to the word “discipline” that doesn’t seem to fit into my messy life. My mind immediately rebels against all the work that must be involved in achieving discipline. And that’s part of my problem – I think of discipline as something to either achieve on my own, or have forced upon me. Legalistic rule following for the sake of rule following (and I am not here for that). But as I’ve been looking into what it really means, I’ve started to let myself see some of the more accurate definitions.
- Discipline is training. Training is rarely the goal; instead you train for something. The strength and skills gained during training help you to accomplish the goal.
- Discipline is learning. It comes from the same root word that gives us “disciple.”
- Discipline is correction, not punishment. It’s a chance to start again and do things the way the Master showed you.
- Discipline is the evidence of change, of application of the training, lessons, and correction. It shows that my priorities match up to Jesus’ priorities.
Over the last year, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with being comfortable. I’m starting 2019 with a desire to do more things that the “old me” would never have considered. I’ve felt like this before, excited and ready to invest in new organizational tools or equipment, but knowing in the back of my mind that comfort will take over again before too long.
Discipline is exactly what I’ve been missing. My whole life, I’ve been focused on performance and perfection, instead of purposeful and practiced perseverance. Constant performance is exhausting; it leads me to give in to the old patterns of comfort that give me rest, but never bring about change. Practicing discipline results in progress I would never see from perfect performance. And to succeed in practicing discipline, I have to do 3 things:
- Plan ahead. Beyond choosing a word, I have to know what it looks like in my life. I’m pretty great about starting new initiatives, but somewhere in the early stages I give up. So I’m planning my perseverance. I’m looking ahead, seeing where I will probably get discouraged, and am planning in advance to push through the things that are difficult. Discipline is about learning and growing stronger, and it will always have difficulty. In the past, I’ve assumed that if things don’t come easily to me, then they aren’t for me. Over the last year I’ve discovered that my natural abilities and skills are just the launch pad for the hard work I still need to do!
- Start small. I know myself. I know that I like to go all in. I know that I get overwhelmed. So part of my disciplined approach to persevering in discipline is to start small. I set some goals in multiple areas of my life (places where discipline has to be more evident), and to look at my list, it doesn’t feel like I’m starting small. But I’m applying a principle that’s worked for me in the past – just 15 minutes. I’m trying to achieve goals that have me overwhelmed, so for at least the next month, my only goal is to spend 15 minutes at a time on them. 15 minutes of Bible reading. 15 minutes of writing. 15 minutes of exercise. I know that, in the beginning, I can keep this up, which will lay the foundation for persevering on days when “I don’t feel like it.”
- Focus on the purpose. For me, the purpose is to become more like Jesus. And you know what? My old habits don’t look very much like Jesus. They have worn a deep path in my daily routine, and part of the initial discomfort for me will be to attempt to step out of that groove and into the path Jesus has set for me. Comfort will always try to lure me back. But comfort has never led me where Jesus walks. So my purpose this year involves taking a disciplined approach to prioritizing spiritual health, vocational achievement and relationship building, as well as to replacing some of my self-soothing with some exercise that lifts my mood and improves my health. And that means sacrificing my right to some of my wants in order to follow where Christ is leading.
So, what about you? Have you set a word or theme for 2019 yet? Share with me and others so we can encourage each other!