In my early twenties, I camped for two weeks with a small group as part of a La Vida experience in the Adirondack Mountains. We canoed through the mountains and carried our canoes over our heads when the river got shallow. On the third day, I learned that portaging (carrying a canoe over one's head for miles) is not something to do alone; some things are just better with two people.
By day four I was exhausted. My muscles ached. I wanted a shower. Our group had also run out of toilet paper on day three. The night before I had slept in a puddle during a rainstorm while my stomach tried to kill me. I had hallucinated during my fever and the group considered sending me home. I refused. My soul wanted to be on this trip even if my body didn't, because I knew God had something special planned for me. The group patiently paused half a day while I healed up. God answered our prayers and my sickness broke. We packed up and moved on. I felt so happy to walk without pain!
If this sounds unrealistic, I can assure you it was as horrible as it was humorous.
On the fifth day, after watching our sherpas lead, they asked me and another person in the group to lead. We knew we all had to take turns, but I did not want to go first. But here I was. We were reminded that as "sherpas for a day" we were required to not only wake up first and make sure everything was packed, but we also had to get everyone else ready too. Oh, and lead the group several miles through the lakes and forest to a specific place without getting lost.
I won’t bore you with all the details from that day, but I can name a few things God taught me about discipline that I would love to share with you.
1. Dedicate a time to listen to and learn from experts.
During this trip, we each were given a book. The book contained devotionals, a journal in the back and excerpts from thought leaders such as C.S. Lewis. This is where I first met the author Richard Foster. Beyond that, without our wilderness leaders, we would have been completely lost. When we aren’t sure about something, let’s be humble to seek the help we need! Spiritually speaking, this looks like reading and memorizing our Bibles, worshiping each week with other believers (yes, this is also a discipline) and spending time in prayer. It’s clear how reading the Bible is learning from experts. As for worshiping and learning together in church? That is the discipline to submit ourselves to a spiritual expert’s leadership. Spending time in prayer is one of the most important ways we are disciplines since it’s during these times we’re learning from the Creator of the Universe. You can’t get more expert than that!
2. Put in the “grunt” work consistently; it will always pay off somehow.
This little lesson didn’t show itself until I got home and realized that for one of the first times in my life I had developed some lean muscle! I’m from a very athletic family. You might remember I’ve got college-scholarship-level athletes and state-championship-winning gymnasts in my family from a previous post. I on the other hand, was a total book and art nerd -and proud of it. But through this trip, I finally experienced some of the beauty of all those practices and drills I saw my siblings put themselves through each week. I was stronger because I consistently hiked, carried, pulled and otherwise kept active for two weeks. This concept also applies to our spiritual lives. We can’t just pop into the Bible once a month and then complain that we don’t feel close to the Lord. Good relationships take discipline too. We have to show up consistently and learn about what He actually says about things.
3. Take on the challenge to be disciplined even when it requires the courage to say no.
Let’s be honest. Most of us don’t like saying no. I hate saying no. But if we are going to accomplish what God calls us to do, that means, by nature, we can’t do other things. I used to think that Christians should always be “yes” people. To some degree, I still believe we have a responsibility to be creative problem solvers which can look like “yes” sometimes. But it can not be "yes" every time. In order to even go on this trip that year, I had to say “no” to a lot of things. I said "no" to my fear. I said "no" to making extra money those two weeks. I said "no" to people who wanted to spend time together during the trip. But the beauty of saying "no" is that it allows us to have a more sincere and full "yes." I said "yes" to pursuing what I believed God was calling me to do. I said "yes" to the discipline it would take to camp in the wilderness for two weeks. I said "yes" to the adventure of trusting God over my own plans. God will often reward all of those things with His presence when we seek Him first through it all. That's worth any discipline we could go through!
4. Not even the most disciplined person is perfect; grace and rest are its necessary companions.
This one should be very obvious. But I think we sometimes think "if I was just better at x then I could really serve God and things would be better." But that just isn't the case and believing it can be disastrous. That lie can lead us to push ourselves far too hard and hurt other people in the process. When I led the group on our trip, I pushed all of us way too far past getting a break. We all made it to our campsite safely and in plenty of time, but we could have done it more peacefully. The group was kind enough to follow our lead, but I felt terrible about how I pushed myself and everyone else in the process so unnecessarily. Grace would have told me to slow down and lead with more wisdom, not just discipline. Blessedly, God knows this about us and he commanded us to take a whole day off to rest once a week. In our fast-paced world, this kind of rhythm startles people. It startled me when my husband and I began implementing it during a busy season of our lives. We loved it so much now, though, we can't imagine not having a Sabbath!
This is one of many times in my life God has reminded me to celebrate discipline. By the way, the title of my blog post comes from a Richard Foster book, “The Celebration of Discipline.” If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it!
I hope you enjoyed a laugh as I shared these moments. While it wasn’t funny at the time, I can laugh about it because I learned so much from it and that makes me deeply thankful! That is the beauty of discipline. As the writer of Hebrews aptly wrote "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
I could probably write a short story about all the things that trip taught me, but I won't. What I really want to hear about is what God has taught you about discipline!
Let’s keep the conversation going and learn from one another about what God is showing us through this season. Let us know in the comments!