Sunday, October 24, 2010

On discipline

Well, I shouldn't just leave it there--with those lyrics and the picture from last weekend. It was lovely, of course. We got to relax, and eat--my goodness, did we eat--and play with my niece and nephew, which I don't get to do enough of. And I got caught up on some reading I have been meaning to do. I've had this book for a few years now, and I just got around to reading it last week. It is chock full of great stuff, by the way.

It is funny. I love to read, and I find great peace and pleasure in it, but I have found myself so busy lately--with the stock ticker in my brain running so fast with things to do and people to call and emails to return--that it is hard for me to do any reading unless I am on vacation and purposefully resting. I can decompress enough in those situations to focus on a book for hours at a time, and I find myself reading faster, not getting lost in the prose, paying attention and engaging the material as I read.

This is the dilemma I have: the more I have to do--the more I need to focus--the less I am able. I realize that it is impossible to do everything well, but I also know that as I said in a sermon a few weeks ago (preaching to myself I suppose) if I am in a thousand different places, I might as well be nowhere. So this conversation is not about being good at everything. I am not sure how to label the issue, but words like "balance" and "discipline" come to mind.

Balance is important because I have to be able to rest enough and work enough so that enough gets done, and I do not burn out. Balance is also important because there are so many demands on my time that I can not possibly give all of them the attention they deserve. Balance means I am intentional about what gets my time, and that I continue to tinker with what I am given so that I am always trying to be the most faithful steward of my time I can be.

Discipline is a word that also comes to mind, and I suppose that as I am United Methodist, it is no surprise that discipline is an important word for me. Besides the fact that the Book of Discipline is our (as one pastor has said) "rules of engagement," Wesley talked about discipline so much that his people were called Methood-ists.

I have been thinking about discipline for the last few months, as it relates to the way in which I function as a minister--and how I function in my relationships. Forgive my half-formed thoughts, as I am still working on this, but I am more and more seeing the need for good discipline in my life.

Take sleep for instance. It has become my custom to stay up reasonably late, either trying to read or getting caught up on a TV show I have not yet seen. Once I finally fall asleep, I stay asleep until I absolutely have to get up. I do like to sleep, so my morning is spent hurriedly getting ready for work.

I am thinking about sleep, because I know there is a more disciplined way to function. About a year ago, as I was trying to finish a writing project (which still remains almost done ), I spent a couple of months getting up early, and that was holy time for me. When no one else is awake, when it is still dark outside and there is nothing to do but drink coffee, pet the dogs, pray and read and write--that is my time. I was productive, and at peace, and this was well and good until I decided, for whatever reason, that it was time to go back to the old sleep pattern. My morning time was spent asleep. This is not a new struggle for me. During Lent a few years ago, I decided to wake up quite early each morning for a time of prayer and meditation. I lasted about three or four weeks before I could not make myself get up each morning. The spirit was willing, I think, but nonetheless . . .

But the issue of disciple is bigger than sleep. I have been thinking, too, about clergy health, and how can I not? We talk about it so often, and I have been known to roll my eyes about yet another discussion about maintaining clergy health. Rest is only part of it. I am convinced that if I do not remain physically healthy, there is absolutely no way I can be a faithful disciple, doing the things that need to be done, let alone a faithful minister of the Gospel. I am in fine health now, and yet I find myself often so tired that it becomes a struggle to even engage a book at the end of the day. If I were in worse health, I know that there is no way I could survive in ministry. Discipline demands that I am intentional about exercising, intentional about what I eat, intentional about resting and dealing with stress and maintaining my relationships.

Come to think of it, maybe "intentionality" is a good word for maintaining sanity in ministry. If I am intentional about how I go about my day, about maintaining balance and discipline, then at least I will not be a passive observer of my own life.

Perhaps this is a bridge to far, but I am also wondering if this kind of radical intentionality is a "required" part of what it means to be a Christian. If we can agree that being a Christian requires a relationship with God, and that having a relationship means that both parties give to it, then I cannot be in right relationship with God if I am just letting things happen to me, surviving minute to minute until the next tsunami hits. That is not relationship; that is letting life happen to you. For me to be in relationship with God, I must be intentional about giving to that relationship, on my own accord, on my own initiative. Otherwise, I am just riding the wave until my days are done. You ought not be surprised when I tell you that riding the wave is not why I got into ministry.

If I am going to be about the business of transforming the world--rather than just hopping along for the ride--then God demands discipline.

This is not to conflate who I am with what I do. I am a deep believer that you should be who you are, recognizing that you are a child of God as you are. But all the same, if I am to be my best self for God--if I am to be the most authentic disciple I can be, with the rest of the mess stripped away--then I must be disciplined.

No comments:

Post a Comment