Our encouraging word for today is discipline, especially as in spiritual discipline.
Merriam-Webster defines discipline as “orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior; self control; a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity.”1 And in her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun writes, “Spiritual Disciplines… simply put us in a place where we can begin to notice God and respond to (God’s) word in us.”2
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NIV)
During an especially trying time in my life, I approached my friend Joan, a spiritual director, to whine about my troubles. I expected her to sadly understand and commiserate with me about my stressful situation. Instead, she asked if I was keeping my spiritual disciplines. Her surprising question gave me insight and comfort at that upsetting time…
Actually, her response annoyed me. How could she possibly think that I would be able to maintain my daily practices of prayer, journal writing, and spiritual reading during this overwhelming time? This was terrible advice- I felt much too distracted to be still and focus on such things! But a few years later I realized how right she had been. During my cancer treatments, my now-established spiritual practices and even daily routines brought a comforting order and peace to a very uncertain and unexpected season.
Spiritual disciplines are faithful and consistent practices in which we open ourselves to sense the presence of God. Practices such as prayer, meditation, silence, journaling, worship, fasting, or study give us opportunities to listen more readily to the inner Spirit. When we are able to find the ones that best “fit” our spirituality and personality, these disciplines become joyfully anticipated and followed. I am always eager to begin my morning practice of quiet reflection and journaling while sipping a hot cup of coffee!
How might our spiritual discipline especially encourage us today?
~When we discipline ourselves to faithfully keep our spiritual practices, we actively seek God as our first priority for each day. Even on our busiest or most stressful days, keeping consistent time with God helps us to remember what is truly important. Whatever we encounter, however our day unfolds, we have intentionally welcomed God’s presence to journey with us.
One small ritual that can help us with busy and worrisome days, is to prayerfully fill a small pitcher (or bowl) with water each morning. As the water fills, we name the activities, concerns, and issues that we anticipate for the day ahead. We present them to God, asking for care and guidance, then set the pitcher in a prominent place. Each time we feel anxious or worried, we look at the pitcher and remember we have already given our day to God.
At the end of our day we carry our pitcher outside, gratefully lift it to the heavens, and offer thanks to God. Then, in a sacramental pouring of peaceful surrender, we return the water into the ground and turn inside for restful sleep. Today is now finished and tomorrow will begin anew.
~God’s love is always present and active. Spiritual practices enable us to quiet ourselves and to still our souls, and in so doing, we become more aware and attentive to God’s movement in our lives. Our disciplines can center us and keep us focused on what is right and good.
I often light a candle when I want to be aware of the presence of Christ, or when I am praying for someone or some concern in particular. The light and the scent serve as active reminders to pray and to be aware of the nearness of God. Small moments of silence, a few minutes of journaling, or quiet walks through nature are other ways to to “be still and know that God is God.”
~As in my time with cancer, when our lives are filled with a sense of turbulence, uncertainty, or anxiety, our practices help us to maintain a sense of normalcy by giving us a routine for our days. There is a regularity that comforts, guides and grounds us during chaotic or uncertain times. Scheduled disciplines provide a rhythm, a sense of stability, by giving order to our days.
Even with busy schedules, we can find small moments to connect with God. We can begin with a prayer before getting out of bed. Jim and I read devotional meditations and pray the Lord’s Prayer each morning. Mealtime prayers keep us mindful of our daily bread and other often-overlooked blessings. Some use an examen at night, revisiting their day with God; thanking God for the blessings, surrendering their mistakes, and asking for restful sleep. Weekly book studies, evening prayers, and worship services are disciplines we can enjoy with others. There are even seasonal prayers and practices that remind us of God’s infinite, constant love and creativity for all of the times of our lives.
Spiritual disciplines bring us much-needed rhythms, routines, and reminders of God’s presence for all of our days. They bring us comforting stability when the world seems topsy-turvy. Disciplines create space for growth, for rest, for strength and for surrender. Practices can become times of celebration, mindfulness, and gratitude, especially in those times when we need them most.
My prayer is from Thomas Merton:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.3
“The heart of most spiritual practices is simply this: Remember who you are. Remember what you love. Remember what is sacred. Remember what is true. Remember that you will die and that this day is a gift. Remember how you wish to live.” ~Wayne Muller 4
A side note about my friend, Joan. She is also the friend who cheered when I shared my disappointment about not getting a ministry position I had wanted. She was right about that, too. Thank you, Joan. 🙂
2Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. (2005) Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. Downers Grove, IL; InterVarsity Press.
4Quote found at https://www.azquotes.com/
Bible passage found at https://www.biblegateway.com/
Photo by Karen 🙂