The word discipline has a negative connotation for many people, but discipline for the sake of our relationship with God and others is a perfect exercise of wisdom. Discipline is not primarily about pain and suffering, but it is about habitually practicing behaviors and choices that lead to full and abundant life in God. Fasting, praying and being generous are only a few of the discipline practices that our Church holds as good for us. But we know that discipline is required for each of us as we try to be honest about who we are and how we live.
Discipline has to do with boundaries and limits. This is not from the attitude of making ourselves suffer with less, but actually forming the parameters of a life that is holy and good. For instance, the practice of daily prayer brings us regularly into the presence of God in a conscious way. It allows us to remember that God is with us always and always in relationship with us. If we pray honestly, as the discipline of prayer requires, we give ourselves honestly to God and experience God’s forgiveness and absolute love. The regular reception of that gift brings us to live a healthy and abundant life.
The setting of boundaries in our relationship with possessions is incredibly important to live a holy and abundant life. Too many possessions or consumption of too many things leads us to believe that our security comes from those things instead of from God. If there is nothing in our life that reminds us that our lives are limited, we may act as if we are gods. We are better able to bring our gifts to the world if we take in things that aid our health and balanced consciousness. If we overindulge in anything, we become numb to the present moment. That means missing the present blessings and failing to face whatever suffering may be coming our way.
The discipline of regular generosity deepens our relationship with others and lessens our relationship with our possessions. Being able to regularly give away what we have, not just from our surplus, helps us to look toward things that last. Instead of depending on a bank account, a job or the latest possession, we have a chance to receive gifts with open hands and not clutch them out of fear or insecurity.
Discipline can be a reminder of how much we are loved. Setting limits and boundaries on consumption and possession is a loving gift that we give to ourselves and to God. Being disciplined in the words that we speak and the use of our power makes us a greater gift to the world.
Taking custody of our eyes, our words and our entire bodies through discipline allows us to see more clearly everything and everyone that exists in this present moment. The discipline of love, as Jesus describes it and lives it, sets the boundaries of our life. Instead of lording it over others, we are to wash their feet. Instead of always seeking to be first, we can choose the discipline of being last. Instead of always being full and satiated, we can choose to be empty and hungering and thirsting.
What kind of discipline would be a loving gift to give to yourself as well as to those around you and to God? Where do you know in your mind and heart that there must be limits set in some portion of your life that has gone out of control? Your intuition has been telling you for quite some time that you should cut back in some areas of your life for your own sake and for the sake of the world. Will you listen to the murmurings of the Spirit of God within you?
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.