A faint beep creeps into my ears. Light sneaks in through my eyelids. It’s dark. It’s not time yet. The beep grows louder and louder. It’s 7:00 AM. Time to get up. My hand deftly swings over to hastily hit the snooze button. I’ve got time. Darkness again. Long moments seem to pass, then suddenly a beep turns into a full panic warning siren. It’s 8:35 AM. I needed to be on the road twenty minutes ago. I didn’t work out. I didn’t eat breakfast. I didn’t meditate.
Why is this so hard?
Have you been there? Me too. To me, winning at life means the virtue of discipline. There were times in that frustrating, daily, mostly failing-at-trying-to-make-things-better, where I wondered, Why did I ever start believing this? What does discipline even mean? What’s the point? If I have to do something, why do I have to do it every single day? Don’t I deserve a break? I deserve a break. Yup. Taking it.
But as I tried, and failed, and tried, and failed again, I realized, discipline isn’t just about doing something new consistently. It’s about becoming a different person entirely.
Yes, I do believe that we’re called human beings and not human doings for a reason. What we do, doesn’t necessarily define who we are. But I have come to believe that if we truly believe in something, it should change who we are. And if who we are changes, then how we behave should change. I’ve come to realize that a lack of consistency in my behaviour is likely an indicator that change is still a work in progress.
Now as I began to try and grow in the virtue of discipline with my Catholic faith, there were many occasions where being Catholic felt like an endless laundry list of new disciplines that I had to begin practicing, every day. A new set of rules. Because if I was going to do something, especially with something so important as my faith, I was going to do it well, or I wasn’t going to do it at all.
Sunday Mass. Check. Prayer. Check. Easy enough. Daily Rosary. Check. Okay, kinda hard. Works of Mercy. Check, running out of time now. Monthly Giving. Wait a sec. Regular Confession. Now hold on just a minute...
I started to get exhausted. There was just no way I could keep up, let alone things like waking up on time, making my own lunch, paying my bills on time. But then slowly, and surely, through the witness of friends and colleagues who modelled the way of a disciple of Jesus to me, I began to realize that I wasn’t looking at being disciplined in its proper context.
I was viewing the quest of being disciplined in my faith as the quest to white-knuckle my way through life and will myself to self-controlled glory.
But my Jesus-loving friends showed me that being disciplined was more about falling in love with Jesus than anything.
That the word “disciple” is deeply entwined with the word “discipline”. In his Second Letter to Timothy, St. Paul says that in God giving us his Spirit, he gave us “a spirit of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7) It was here that I began to realize, discipline was less about me, sweating and hustling alone to make it. It was about rising daily, desiring to be like Jesus. In receiving the Spirit of Jesus that gave me “power and love and self-control,” I desired to be one with Him. With that mindset, it didn’t make the act of changing my behaviours any less easier, but it made it that much more desirable.
Of course, I still needed to act. I still needed to try. I still needed to make daily choices. Olympic swimmers can’t call themselves Olympic swimmers if they jumped in a kiddie pool once.
I needed to change my behaviour, long term. My choices couldn’t just be a seasonal fad. It needed to be a lifelong choice, if I was going to be a different person.
I needed to get up when my alarm went off, so I could go pray. But instead of it being “all about the act of Joseph getting up early” it was about getting up to go meet my Best Friend. It was about being who I was meant to be. It was about living out of my desired identity, even if imperfectly.
On my own, it was unsustainable. It was running on a treadmill that just kept going faster and faster. Disciplines will never be easy if you make it about checking off the boxes. But with Jesus at the centre, realizing discipline was about following Him as His disciple, I was on an adventurous hike with him.
The world kept getting bigger and more beautiful. I couldn’t get enough.
I used to be intimidated by reading the Bible. It was a huge, archaic book that put me to sleep. Then I found an online reading plan, that if I just read these specific selected passages every day, I would get through it in a year. So instead of tackling a huge book, all I had to do was spend twenty minutes clicking the link that already had the readings pre-selected for me, and I would just read. Every day, I crossed off the readings for the day, and after a year, to my disbelief, I finished reading the entire Bible. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Now, I look at the call to discipline as on-going steps in the lifelong pilgrimage towards eternity with Jesus in Heaven. Every step is a preparation for eternity, a slow transformation of my likeness into the full likeness of Jesus. There are failures along the way. I’ve learned to roll with the punches. It’s all part of the journey.
If you’re early on in your journey, and you want to become disciplined, it’s important to remember why. It’s all about the transformation and renewal of your identity into a disciple of Jesus. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
The essential behaviours of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus are simple. You can start with one, today. Start by spending time with Him. Choose one or two simple behaviours, such as taking ten minutes first thing in the morning to give the day to Jesus before it gets started. Or, like me, you can get started with Scripture reading. Make sure it’s something that you can get started with within a few minutes at the same time of day, every day. Make sure you do something that helps motivate you to do it - I always make a nice, fresh cup of coffee for my prayer and Scripture time.
Whatever goals you set to start a new discipline, make sure it’s SMART - specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and timely. Try to do it for at least three weeks. As you progress, gradually increase the duration or repetition, and you’ll find it becomes a solid part of your routines. If you slip, don’t sweat it. Roll with the punches. Pick it up the next day. God is patient with you, so you can afford to be patient with yourself.
The journey to being a disciple of Jesus, living out the virtues of discipline will take your whole life, however long or short it is. You have to be fully committed, and you’ve got daily choices to make, but the work isn’t all yours. Failures and setbacks are common, but it’s where we get to meet Jesus again and again, until we’re with Him forever.
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