The Danger of Discipline

As the middle of the year draws closer, I’ve been reflecting on my goals and my focus for the year. This year I decided to make goals with a focus on one “theme word” – discipline.

And it has turned out to be a highly relevant word for me this year.

When each of my babies have turned one, I’ve found life enters a new stage. A more predictable, rhythmic stage.

The other day I got house work done for about 20 minutes while T crawled around the house, finding things to play with.

That is quite a feat, let me tell you! And it’s quite different to the newborn stage, where you can’t really put them down and every minute is sucked into a vortex of activity.

I mean, a mobile baby brings a different kind of busy. I’m cleaning up more messes, for example.

The other day I sent my husband this picture (of his side of the bed), with the message “This was the cost of doing the dishes today”:

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Mmm, tasty bin tissues – good for the immune system, right?

(I did then clean it up, but I often like to share little things from my day with my husband while he is at work – the good, the bad and the hilarious!)

But as I enter this season of having a baby who is more able to entertain himself for little chunks of time, it is a season that requires greater discipline because there is a temptation to slack off.

And what I am finding as I work to apply discipline across the various areas of my life is that discipline breeds discipline. It is addictive.

I guess you could call it “habit-forming”, which in the early stages requires repetition and consistency.

I’m particularly enjoying the fruits of applying discipline to my eating habits and exercise. The result is that I have more energy, I feel good and I am actually looking forward to exercising.

Some days I have to push myself to make it happen, or pull myself away from bad food choices (that’s the discipline part). But most days, it’s not a hard choice. The more I eat healthy food, the more my body craves it. The more I exercise, the more my body wants to move.

I find this to be the case across the other areas of my life where I am becoming more disciplined as well.

But then the thoughts start to creep in… “Hey, I’m really nailing this!”, “Wow, I’m really good at this discipline thing!” or the more subtle, “My hard work is starting to pay off.”

The problem with these thoughts is that they are rooted in pride.

The more my thoughts turn towards how well I am doing, the more they turn away from how dependent I am on God’s grace.

You might think, “Well, if you’re doing well on your own, why can’t you acknowledge that? Maybe that means you aren’t dependent on God’s grace?”

And that might be true for a while. I might have a good run in being disciplined and making good choices, and seeing results, but ultimately my own strength and personal resolve will fail.

It would be like saying, “Wow, that’s a beautiful rose! It’s doing such a great job of growing and looking lovely!” while ignoring the whole bush, roots, soil and sun that all worked to make the rose beautiful.

My dependence on God is the reality. My personal discipline is the result.

To believe that I can get the result of discipline without the reality that I am dependent on God is to believe a lie.

Ultimately, this is the danger of discipline – that we set up good habits for ourselves and it fools us into thinking that we can achieve anything in our own strength, that we are pretty good people and we don’t really need God.

Colossians 2:20-23 warns about these dangers:

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

 

I am speaking here about self-discipline, of course. But I think this also applies to disciplining our kids.

Of course kids need to be taught obedience and morals.

But we need to be so careful that in teaching them to do what is right and flee from what is wrong, we don’t set them up to pridefully think they are good people.

I was raised in a loving Christian family, and I was taught how to obey God from a very young age. But unfortunately, this also grew a heart of pride in me.

Even when I copped grief from other kids at school and I didn’t quite fit in, I held onto this attitude that at least I was doing the right thing.

And don’t get me wrong – it’s good to love doing what is right!

Psalm 119:97 says:

Oh how I love your law!
    It is my meditation all the day.

But following God’s law won’t save you.

And when I was a child, I never really had a sense that I needed to be saved. I knew the rules. I followed the rules. And I thought that made everything okay.

(I mean, I knew Jesus had saved me – I just didn’t think I really needed it.)

It wasn’t until some events in my late teens that I truly realised how much I needed grace, and that I really couldn’t make it to heaven on my own (I might tell you the long story of that another day!).

This is an ongoing struggle for me. The struggle of falling back into rule-following and a prideful heart.

So even as I pursue greater discipline in my life, I need to be ever-mindful that it is only through God’s grace that I can make lasting changes. And it is only through God’s grace that I am saved.

It’s a change in posture from a standing tall, “you go girl” kind of self-discipline to a kneeling down, “God, please change my heart” kind of self-discipline.

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Our olive harvest the other day.

 

 

 

What’s Your Default?

I’m a huge fan of learning from other women, particularly when it comes to practical stuff like child-rearing and home-making. I’m sure most of the good ideas I use daily came from watching and learning!

So I was delighted to read this blog post by Jess Connell recently, called Here’s What I Learned Watching my Friend be ‘Busy at Home’. She talks about several tips she picked up by observing her friend.

Here’s the one that stood out to me:

#7- CHOOSE TO HAVE A DEFAULT POSTURE OF BUSYNESS, NOT IDLENESS

I noticed throughout the week that her default “position” was at the kitchen sink. This may be the most important of all… not that we all stand around in our kitchens all day… but that her position was one that put her in a ready position to field meals, cleaning, and the family calendar. Did you ever play baseball or softball? “Get into position!” meant to hustle to the spot where you would be most advantageously used for the position you were playing. THAT is what I saw in my friend Kelly. She was “in position” for much of the day, doing dishes, preparing treats for her gluten-free son, checking out the calendar to be ready for what was coming, browsing a cookbook for something tasty that night, etc. Her default position was one of busyness, not idleness.

I found it particularly challenging because if I think about it, my default “position” throughout the day is probably sitting at my laptop, reading news or current affairs sites. Sure, I do plenty of other things, but that’s where I bounce back to in between activities. And it’s a default position of idleness, for sure.

Since I read this last week, I’ve been actively trying to change my default to one of busyness. Like the mum mentioned in Jess’s article, the kitchen is probably a good central place for me to default to. It’s where my planner lives, and there is always something I can do there – dishes to wash, food to prepare, floor to sweep. So I’ve been making more of an effort to head back to the kitchen when I seem to have a spare moment, or when I’m not sure what to do next. There, I either just start doing something or check in with my planner to find out what I should do next (I usually mentally divide tasks into things that can be done with “kids awake” or “kids asleep”).

The results are that I’m getting a lot more done! (Surprise!) And I don’t have as much of the restless “I should be doing something, but I don’t know what” feeling.

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My kitchen doesn’t always look like this, but when it does, I take a picture!

But I’ve been thinking about this concept of our “default”, and I think it applies beyond just busyness/idleness.

Here are some other questions I’ve been thinking through:

  • Is my default demeanour one of cheerfulness and laughter, or sombreness and sighs? (Remember, we’re talking about what our default mindset is, not our constant mindset!) I remember once I sighed and my daughter asked me, “Mummy, why did you say *sigh*?” I hadn’t done so consciously, so it was a good reminder that my children are watching how I carry myself, and that they pick up so much from the unspoken things. Sometimes I remind myself to put the smile back on my face as I finish something more serious, like disciplining a child or concentrating on a physical task. I’m not talking about fake-smiling (plastering on a smile to mask real feelings of despair) – but I often find that when I consciously put a smile on my face, I feel more happy (or maybe I remember that I am happy). Another method I use to reset the mood is bursting out in song or making a loud, silly noise (I have preschoolers – they think I’m hilarious).

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Proverbs 17:22

  • When I face hard circumstances, do I default to worrying and fretting, or do I take my concerns to God in prayer? This is one the Lord has really been impressing upon my heart lately – just how much worry is a waste of time. Sometimes I will spend half a day worrying about something, going over scenarios in my head, trying to think of ways to fix it but coming up short, which leads to more worry. Then I remember to pray. And I put my concerns in God’s hands and walk away from it. And I breathe easy. And I wonder why it took me so long to do, realising that I just wasted a whole morning’s worth of thoughts. God wants us to bring our concerns to him – he has the power to take away our anxiety and also to fix what is troubling us (even if that doesn’t always look how we imagined). If we truly believe this, we should work to make our default response one of prayer.

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Matthew 6:27

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:7

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I’d love to hear your thoughts – what do you default to?

Idleness or busyness?

Cheerfulness or sombreness?

Worry or prayer?