Nerd alert: I played the clarinet. I wish I still did. I wish I was still good, but I just don’t practice. My kids are cooler, though. My younger son plays the drums. . . and the guitar.
I remember when he first started the drums. There were so. many. exercises. In and of themselves, they meant nothing really. I mean, no one wants to listen to that. Ask any parent of a budding musician. They’ll tell you about those first few months. Or years. But the kid needed to practice. And practice he did.
Then he started playing the guitar. He started working through chords and scales and exercises. It was hard. And kind of boring. And repetitive. But the more he practiced, the more he learned those chords and scales, the more free he became. Yes. I said that right. With more practice, with more following the rules, he became even more liberated. His discipline earned him freedom. Now, he can pick up a guitar and just play. He can start an impromptu jam session in our living room.
Let me give you an even more personal example. (And this one lets you in on one of my greatest difficulties.) Say I begin my morning with a small to do list. I need to clean a few things around the house, do a load of laundry, ship a few orders for my Etsy shop, and write a thank you note. As I begin to clean the kitchen I notice an opened box of cereal on the counter. I get irritated with the culprit and think of passive aggressive ways I could ask my husband and children who made this mess. Then, instead of just putting it away, I go on a little journey to actually find the person. But, I get sidetracked, and then maybe pick up a pair of shoes on my way. I head down to the basement to start the laundry, but the kitchen isn’t done yet. I start the laundry and realize that I have to get those packages out right away or I’ll have to drive to the post office which will waste so much time. What I don’t realize in the moment is that I’ve already wasted time by not being more disciplined and having a real plan. A plan, being disciplined, would have given me so much more freedom. The tasks would have been done first, and I would have time to spend on other things that bring me joy!
I have a lot of friends who say things like I’m spiritual, but not religious. I get it. I do. Religion is something man made, I suppose. There are traditions and dogmas and doctrines and such. Spirituality is more freeing in this line of thought. And, shouldn’t it be? Shouldn’t it be more impulsive and voluntary and instinctive and almost automatic? Sure. I think so. But, I also think that how you get there isn’t just to be impulsive and free, but instead to practice and exercise. I think that the more you practice, the more free you become.
Think about it. If you have a goal, be it physical, in the workplace, at home, at school, etc, you know that you need to work for it. If you are training for a race, you will need to put in the extra hours of running required. You will need to eat healthier to keep your body fueled the right way. Finishing school, getting a master’s, landing a great job, losing weight, all of these things require discipline. But, when you put forth the effort, you get great results.
Just like studying for an exam one time three weeks before the test isn’t going to help you retain enough to get a good grade, neither is reading scripture once in a while or praying when you remember or feel like it going to be enough to really sustain you through a tough time in your life. The more you work your spiritual muscles, the more you will be able to use them when you really need them. You, in fact, become free! It’s quite a paradox, I know, but it’s true. Practicing your faith helps you to be free from fear or pride or temptation or self harming habits. It helps you to know what to do and who to cling to during the storms of life. Your discipline will have liberated you to live more freely in the spirit.
This is why spiritual discipline is important. Not because it forces you to do something or because it fits within a certain set of rules. It’s important because it trains you to be that free, spontaneous person that you want to be. The one that knows how to handle life when unexpected things are thrown your way. (And you might
be able to pick up and start a jam session in your living room.)