Discipline: Create Space

Discipline is creating space and then guarding that space.

This whole thing started more than a year ago, though it took me months to find my footing. I knew I wanted to practice discipline in 2017, but I thought it meant a lot of counting all the things I would accomplish and tracking my progress. A preacher happened to give a well-timed message in which he said that discipline is creating space in which God can work in your life. That changed the course of my year. And my perspective.

When I stopped looking at discipline as a matter of will and started seeing it as actively enlarging a space, life got…well, it got difficult for a while. I hated it. The whole first quarter of 2017, I resisted everything. I saw my theme as a sort of curse I’d called down on my own head. Had inviting myself to create space actually made my world bigger?

It had sounded so grand; reality was less appealing. If you’ve read this blog this year, you know the story: moved across the country, hurricane, moved back, depression and anxiety and general me-ness. First quarter resistance (plus depression resurgence). Second quarter tolerance. Third quarter acceptance. In the fourth quarter, I finally found myself embracing the space.

Whether you practice a discipline that is spiritual, mental, or physical, whether social, political, or personal, whether vocational or avocational – know that you are both creating space and guarding the space until it becomes usable.

You can dream of the space to work or to live or to be, but first you need the space. Discipline ensures you create the space. When the work begins, you may not be prepared to inhabit the space, and the space may not be prepared for you. I believe in a God I worship and serve; a God who is not arbitrary and who works with my life when I allow. I don’t know what you believe in – God, the universe, human effort. We may disagree. No matter how we believe or how disparately, the equation is the same: discipline = space for work to happen.

Guard the space until you can fill it, until you can live through it and truly make it your habitation. Treat it as the sometimes-frustrating, sometimes-exhilarating, always-in-progress sanctuary that it is. That it can be. While the work happens, look for other spaces to open.

May your new year be filled to overflowing with the very things you need – first to survive, then to thrive!

Discipline: Spiritual Disciplines Handbook

I touched on this last week, but measuring growth in discipline is not a thing my spreadsheets have allowed. When I finally received one of the recommended* books on spiritual disciplines [Spiritual Disciplines Handbook], it affirmed my big fear: discipline is not a well-measured affair.

The author, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, went so far as to caution readers against reading the whole book through. She advised the reader to let the Spirit guide her to a single discipline to address at a time. I took the inventory in the back of the book and found several areas to address, but I tried to be led to the one that can change me most. I ended up at mindfulness.

Mindfulness! Is the author joking? Have I been pranked? Or maybe I’m following more than I realize. Which is why I need mindfulness.

Each discipline in the book is introduced with the same matrix that describes: desire, definition, scripture, practice points, and God-given fruit. The desire for the mindfulness discipline is “to live wholeheartedly in the present moment, alert to God and without judgment.”

Now, ever since I was in the third grade and referred to an Air Force psychiatrist, people have guided me toward mindfulness. That doctor, my mom, my husband, my therapist. Everyone who knows the tiniest slice of my anxistence [I made that up, it’s anxiety + existence, not a typo].

And I’ve worked on it. In fits and starts. Most recently, I bought myself a ring with these words stamped into the metal: be here now. It’s a talisman, a string around my finger, a touchstone for remembering where and when I live. Here and now. But, guys, the struggle. It’s so real. I want to ruminate. I want to project the future. I also want to be anxiety-free. Or do I?

That’s what my therapist said just before Christmas, “You say you want this, but I’m not sure you do.” Ouch. And here I am, in the moment, trying guidance-by-Spirit, and even it returns me to mindfulness.

I could go the whole fake-it-til-you-make-it avenue. Set aside time every day to meditate with an app, scripture, or silence. Nudge out all the niggling little thoughts that bore into this moment like so many particularly pernicious weevils. But that’s not worked for me. The anxiety – that is my comfort zone, my safe space, because I already know not to expect much from it. It won’t let me down. It will never stop feeding me more worry. It will never leave me alert to God and without judgment. And my favorite listed God-given fruit – greater capacity for wonder – remains cleanly edged out.

Faking it won’t work. It has to be real. Wholehearted, I think the book suggested. This is what ‘work out your faith with fear and trembling’ means. The fear is letting go of the earthly and hurtful worry that makes me feel in control. Have you ever been tethered to something and just let go? I haven’t. That’s the trembling. I don’t like trembling. But if I don’t do something tremble-worthy, I’m not actually working out my faith.

I can’t tell you what spiritual disciplines you need to practice. But it might be a good starting point to fill in the blanks: The fear is letting go of the earthly and hurtful _____________ that make(s) me feel ________________. Then define the discipline that prompts the fear, that makes you feel the opposite, that requires some trembling. We’re all works in progress. Let me know how you are growing discipline in your life.

*In case you’re CoC and trigger shy of the book or author, the recommendation came from a minister of a local Church of Christ, and I now also recommend it. However, if it leads you to apostasy, let me know and I’ll a) apologize and b) stop referring to it, maybe.