Brriiiiing, Briiiing! The phone woke me up early, alerting me to a snow day. No school! I could go back to sleep, except that I was wide awake and so started the long day, not a bad day by any means, just long. When I pulled in the driveway at nearly 10:00 pm I was tired and hungry. The crackers and cheese I ate for breakfast and couple of slices of frozen pizza for lunch (time to go shopping) had long worn off. I made a sandwich and proceeded to unwind with some mindless tv. At 11:00, I climbed into bed with two goals: sleep and sleep in (don’t get any crazy ideas, that means 7:00 am for me, 8:00 tops)!
I started out ok, falling asleep quickly, on my way to meeting my goal. After a while though, I woke. My three blankets had fallen, leaving me covered in only a measly sheet. The temperature in the house goes down at night and only covered by a sheet, I was cold. I was too tired to find the blankets, so I curled up tight as could, becoming some sort of ball tangled in my little source of warmth. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep too deeply after that.
Next, I had to go to the bathroom. The need to go started small. We’ve all been there, right? Or, maybe just me? I could hold it, even sleep through it, it was not worth getting out of bed. So, I dozed. As the feeling of needing to relieve myself intensified, even dozing did not happen that much, my goal of sleeping and sleeping in slipping away as I lay tightly curled up, legs crossed in my measly sheet. Finally, I gave up. I untangled myself from the sheet, put my feet on the cold floor and headed to the bathroom. There was no turning back, with kids awake and now assuming the day was to begin because I had exited my room, I failed to meet my goal. I hardly slept, and I definitely did not sleep in.
I wrote this silly story a year ago, but in many ways, it replayed itself this year as winter arrived in Michigan with a vengeance. El Nino (so I’ve been told by the news) brought us an unusually warm start to winter, with little snow. Instead we had lots of rain and most days were above freezing, some even climbing close to (over even) 50 degrees in January. As they (who are they?) say, all good things must come to an end. For many Michiganders, the absence of brutal cold and constant snow is a good thing, and alas it ended. That seemingly lucky break was followed by frigid temps, several inches of snow, lots and lots of wind (this winter seemed windier than most to me…), worst of all ice, and you guessed it…snow days! Here in southeastern Michigan, we had 10 days off in the span of just a few weeks. I can’t imagine how many those “up north” and on the west side of the state got.
Snow days, even for this working mom, mean extra rest. Nobody has to be out the door quite as early when there is no school. Extra sleep can be thwarted in a number of ways outside of my power—the sound of a train, a child crawling into my bed because they can’t sleep, an early riser who turns the tv on a little too loud. Other things are completely mine to own. I can retrieve fallen covers and I can go when I gotta go. 😊
Good sleep can be aided with other discipline as well—a regular bed time, no blue light (cell phone, computer, tablet) before bed, no tv in the bedroom. In fact, most good things require we put something into it. If we want good health, we make choices toward that end about nutrition and exercise. If we want to excel at a sport, we practice. If we want good grades in school, we complete assignments, participate in class, and study for tests. Good relationships require attentiveness. Why would our spiritual lives and relationship with God be any different? They aren’t. They require discipline. There’s a name for those things we do to enhance our spiritual lives—spiritual discipline.
Richard Foster is probably the leading voice on spiritual discipline. Countless have read and put into practice his book, Celebration of Discipline. Even if you haven’t read it, I bet you’ve heard of some of these disciplines that he mentions:
I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word discipline, right after punishment, the word chore comes to mind, something dreaded, something not fun but I HAVE to do anyway—dishes, laundry, balancing the checkbook, scrubbing the toilet. Why add another one of those to the daily to-do list? I suppose because with discipline comes reward and SOMETIMES the discipline isn’t even so bad. Like exercise, if you find the right one, it can be quite enjoyable with the benefit of good health, toned muscles, etc. Ask me how I feel about bike riding—So. Much. Fun.
In the Church community, we are winding down the season of Lent. During Lent, discipline is as the forefront of minds as people fast, just one of the many spiritual disciplines, for the 40 days (excluding Sundays) leading up to Resurrection Sunday, Easter. Some, like members of the Orthodox Church, fast as a community. Others individually choose one thing to forfeit for the time, a reminder of all Christ sacrificed on the cross. Even non-participants aren’t exempt from being reminded of this time of year as signs for fish fries show up in front of churches and lodges and every fast-food restaurant has a commercial running for their new and improved fish sandwich because some fast from eating meat during this time. While fasting is the most traditional discipline observed during Lent, others pop up as well. People may set time aside each day to go through a Lent devotional. I, myself, decided to work on the discipline of meditation. Like I said though, this season is winding down. On Sunday we will celebrate the Resurrection (He is risen!) and the season of Lent will be put away for another year.
Now what? It seems a shame to go back to life as usual if this period of discipline enhanced our relationship with God. When I meditate, I find a place where I am present with Jesus in this moment, void of regrets or pain of the past and anxieties of the future. When I fast, I have more intentional times of prayer. When I set time aside to do devotions, I am struck with something new about God, His character, my relationship with Him, His love for me, His love for the world. This says nothing of the disciplines I didn’t mention and how each one brings life to my soul and greater depth to my relationship with God. In fact, as I think about that, the dread of discipline begins to drift away, replaced by a desire to delve into the ones I haven’t been so diligent with and keep up with those I have.
I don’t know where you’re at in your journey with Jesus, whether you have yet to discover just who He is, or if you’ve been following Him for years. Either way, or somewhere in between, I would encourage to start exploring ways in which to enhance your spiritual life. If you’re new to all of this, who knows what may happen as you give a chance to talking to Him or reading His words? If you’ve been at it a while, perhaps being diligent about a new area will add life to a relationship that has become one of going through the motions. For all, I am confident that as we take up these disciplines, we won’t be disappointed, but rewarded as they take us to a new level in our walk with God. Like grabbing the covers or going potty means rest after a long day, like exercise is energizing, these things will not go without benefit.
I am praying for you, my friends, as you begin to embrace a life of discipline.