For many people, the word “discipline” is a negative. A disciplined person is not spontaneous or fun-loving. It seems like being disciplined means giving up freedom and joy.
The truth is the opposite. Discipline is the path to freedom and joy.
I play piano, acoustic guitar, and bass guitar. I love playing in bands. But learning to play a music instrument requires… you guessed it, discipline.
In my case, my parents enforced the discipline of piano practice that I didn’t appreciate at the time. But I sure appreciate it now. Without the discipline of practice, I wouldn’t have the freedom to play music or the joy that comes as a result.
Now to the present…
I am dealing with a lot of uncertainty in my life right now. I am facing a layoff. There is serious illness in my family. A close loved one has moved out of state. I can’t give you details because it involves my family. But, rest assured, I am facing s-t-r-e-s-s.
I want to share with you two of my daily spiritual disciplines. These disciplines help me stay joyful and present during each day. They help me sleep peacefully each night.
The disciplines I am talking about are meditation and prayer.
First, I credit meditation with enabling me to go through each day being present to my life and for my loved ones. Meditation helps me embrace today’s joy rather than worrying about tomorrow’s potential problems.
Before I started meditating, my mind would often wander to unpleasant places. It would jump into the future, offering me anxiety about bad things that might happen. It would jump into the past to call up things I regret. It would remind me to worry about things over which I have no control.
My thoughts still wander into bad places, of course. But it happens a lot less and I have a lot more control over it when it does.
I meditate almost every morning. I use an app to provide a timer and some background nature sounds. I sit still and try to be only where and when I am. I focus on my breathing. When my mind wanders, I gently and non-judgmentally return my focus to my breath. When I first started, I could barely endure two minutes. Now I enjoy 10-15 minutes and occasionally indulge in 30 minutes. I have meditated for up to 60 minutes at a time.
Sometimes I include prayer. Sometimes I tell God I want to connect with and be present to Him alone during this time. Then I return to the practice of being fully present to the moment.
Meditation has made a real difference in my ability to not let negative thoughts get ahold of my mind. With physical exercise, lifting weights enables you to lift more weight. Practicing controlling the focus of my thoughts enables me to go through my day more in control of what I think about. Less anxiety. Less regret. Less worry. Yeah, it’s been pretty cool.
Second, I want to share a specific prayer discipline with you. This prayer helps me sleep peacefully. It’s a prayer of release.
Every night I either sit on my bed or kneel beside it and pray something like this: “Well, Lord. Here I am. It’s the end of the day. I’ve had all sorts of stuff go on during the day. But now I’m going to bed. I can’t do anything more about this stuff tonight. So, I’m releasing it to you. If I need to deal with it in the morning, you can give it back to me then. But for now, here it is.” Usually I start my prayer with my hands balled up into fists with the palms facing upward. As I pray about releasing my stuff for the night, I open my hands in a gesture of release. Sometimes I even blow on my palms and picture all the stuff of the day floating away on my breathe. I see it like the fluffy stuff that floats away when you blow on a dandelion.
Now that I think about it, Jesus did these same things. He often went away by himself to pray for hours. He must have spent part of that time in silence. When he was facing his crucifixion, he prayed about his impending death and then released it to his heavenly Father.
Something inside me still recoils when I hear the word “discipline.” That’s probably from my childhood. In my adult life, I’ve discovered that discipline is the path to freedom and joy.
This post reflects the views and experiences of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on self-control from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.