Today's blog entry uses thoughts from the book, "Lent and Easter Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen", edited by Judy Bauer (Liguori Press, 2005).
Henri Nouwen said in "Bread for the Journey"--Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the time and space where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God's guidance. Thus, discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God--a time and a place where God's gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to."
Discipline....not a word we generally like especially when we are the ones receiving discipline at the hands of another. Usually it brings up a negative connotation wherein we suffer in some way. Discipline that is self imposed may not be any more pleasant to consider but when we have a goal that we are working toward that act of discipline may be worth the sacrifice. When my wife and I first married, we dreamed of owing a home but we were fresh out of college and making very little as first year school teachers and we knew realistically that it would be many years down the road before we could afford to buy a home. We settled for apartment life or renting a house because we knew it was our only option. Another teacher and her husband (who was not a teacher and made more money) were about our ages but they decided to sacrifice a more lavish lifestyle and bank her entire paycheck each month so that they could save for the down payment for a house. Each month they lived on his earnings and they banked what she earned. At the end of that year, they decided they had enough money to pay the down payment on a house and began to look at houses for possible purchase. Soon, they bought that house and began the happy life of home ownership...at least mostly happy.
We did not have the discipline to do such a thing. We did not live a lavish lifestyle but we enjoyed eating out occasionally and travel and we did both of those. The other couple rarely ate in a restaurant and they went no where except locally but they decided it was worth it in order to own a home sooner. They had the discipline it took to make their dreams come true.
Spiritual discipline is like that also. If we decide that the goal we set is worth the sacrifice we may have to make then sticking to our plan may be worth the effort. I always give up something for Lent, not because someone tells me I have to do so but because I want to show myself that I am able to do this and to stick to it. I do not tell anyone what I gave up because I don't want to draw attention to that idea but I have been forced to tell others about it when offered something that I chose not to eat during Lent. Having the discipline to resist that food you enjoy because you think it will bring about a positive result in your life over the course of Lent is the reason for giving up a food. It does not make you better than anyone else but it makes you a better person for having the personal discipline to do so.
Perhaps it also makes us think about other areas of life that we could change by having discipline in those areas. We create time and space in our lives to fulfill these ideas and perhaps that is what Nouwen was talking about in his book. We create boundaries for ourselves and keep that time open for God's guidance in our lives. We allow God to be present to us even as we create that boundary for ourselves. We make a place for God in our lives even as that young couple made the sacrifice so that they could see their goals become reality sooner. Perhaps six weeks is just enough to influence for continuing positive change in our lives after Lent is over.