Archive for the ‘discipline’ Tag

Organic Spirituality   Leave a comment

All my life I have tried to pursue God and his ways.  I’m just now waking to the possibility that this was working against my very nature.  A rose does not set out each morning doing rose exercises, studying rose botany, planning how best to scale the trellis at its leafy tips. It has within itself the seed of becoming, God has placed it there, and it simply becomes, living out of this true center until it slowly grows into the fulness for which it was designed.

My approach to spiritual growth was far more rational, organized, and disciplined.  I analyzed God into various character traits–patience, discipline, purity (a long list)–and then, seeing that I came up short, I worked to gain those virtues, add them to myself like so many prosthetic attachments.  Instead of understanding my own impatience and what drove it and why and how and discerning the particular shape patience might take were it to grow naturally from my own sanctified perceptions, inclinations, history and personality, I tried to adopt wholesale the patience I saw in others, force it on myself.  But like transplanted organs the body rejects, my soul did not know how to incorporate these foreign traits.

I didn’t realize that the meekness in Jeremiah is dramatically different than the meekness displayed by Moses or David, so I kept trying and failing to squeeze my soul into a shape not my own, find a champion of each virtue and imitate that rendition.  Learning to play another musician’s song is quite different from finding one’s own song, even when they are both acoustic ballads about love.  I can certainly be inspired and instructed by their example, but I must find my own voice.

I always understood Paul as saying, “Be not conformed to this world, but be conformed (to godliness)” and never noticed that his change in verb not only changes the goal, but changes the means to that goal: do not be conformed, but be transformed.  And this is effected not primarily by force of will (discipline), or miracle of faith (prayer and hope), but by a renewed understanding or insight (Romans 12:2).  Surely it takes focus and work to refine who I am and scrape off the accretions of sin that deform my true, God-given self, and it takes faith since I am completely dependent on God’s intervention to bring my soul to fruition, but this process integrates with who I am as a unique creation of God.  It is an affirmation of who I truly am, not a rejection of it.  I am discovering that spiritual growth is about becoming rather than adding, understanding my true self and setting it free into God rather than squeezing it into a virtuous mold.


Posted June 17, 2015 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Spiritual Progress in Laziness   Leave a comment

I have always been a highly disciplined person. This has been unfortunate from so many angles.  It has made me arrogant and judgmental towards those with less “will-power” or commitment.  It has made me focus excessively on behavior and choice and see them as the foundations for goodness rather than its fruit.  It has made me self-abusive, both in driving myself past any reasonable limits, resulting in self harm, and in condemning myself for my shortcomings (because of the unbridgeable gap between highly disciplined and perfectly disciplined).  Like all coping mechanisms, it played to my natural strengths and inclinations and offered me protection from the fears that snarled and snapped inside, but like a protection racket it kept me permanently bound to those same fears.

So here is the wretched conundrum of every coping mechanism: the very thing that protects us blocks us from a real resolution.  We cannot give up suddenly and entirely on our coping mechanisms or we will be unable to cope, trampled by our fears and dragged away from the grace that comes to save us.  Except for miracles–and by definition those happen rarely–we must grow into grace, beginning with small steps.  We speak of a “leap of faith,” but that is best seen as a change in direction rather than a sudden and complete transformation of our psyche.  We make a deliberate commitment to a new vision, a new allegiance, a new God of grace instead of the old god of legalism, but learning to live out that commitment is a long, slow process, full of missteps, confusion, and doubt–ask any newlyweds… or oldy-weds.  Trust is a tree that matures from a sapling, not a full-grown log dropped at our feet.

Coping mechanisms are both necessary and limiting, helpful and ensnaring.  They cannot be shaken off in one go, cold-turkey, like one might give up alcohol or drugs, because they sustain us in a vital way.  The struggle for health is more aptly compared to an eating disorder, since we all must eat daily, so the solution cannot lie in abandonment (which seems much simpler and easier to me), but in rehabilitation.  That is, I cannot simply chuck discipline, since some discipline is necessary for life and growth.  I can certainly moderate self-discipline, but that does not resolve the root of the problem, which is not the amount of the discipline, but its role and purpose.  “Why?” is the all important question to snag our inner gremlins.  “Why is self-discipline so important to me?”  Because it is the gauge by which I measure my worth, it is my source of validation.  As long as I do the right thing, I think, I am in good standing with God… which is the quintessence of legalism.

I’ve been at this for years, rethinking my knee-jerk criticisms of the “lazy and irresponsible” and trying to be a little more “lazy and irresponsible” myself as a means of practicing grace towards others and myself.  I’ve worked hard for over a decade to recognize my real reasons for doing good and avoiding evil and to realign those with the gracious God I serve.  I’ve been focused on this, disciplined. Oh, snap!  Yes, it’s true, I can even drive myself to grace or shame my lack of it, trying to force grace to grow but ending up frustrated and impatient, which helps neither me nor my relationships.  Old habits die hard, and often rise up in new guises.  But I recognize it, take apart my viewpoint and reorganize it. Wash, rinse, repeat.  By God’s grace I am not who I once was, and by God’s grace I will not be who I am now.

Posted April 20, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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