The Hard Road of Discipline

Abraham Lincoln is said to have remarked that “discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.” What is it that you desire most? This is a powerful question that must be asked and answered if we want to avoid a haphazard, disjointed and chaotic life. It also must be asked and answered if we claim to be a person of faith who is committed to living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We all have smaller desires that motivate us throughout the day. I may desire to complete a project that has been sitting undone for some time or spend some quality time with someone I love. But, at the end of it all, what is it that you really desire?
St. Augustine tells us that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. If we really believe that we are lovingly and intentionally fashioned and created by a God who wills us into being and that we are destined to live eternally with that same God in heaven, then these are wise words indeed. Therefore, in order to be true to our real nature the answer for each of us ought to be union with God. However, as Lincoln rightly points out, we need to learn how to choose between what we want now and what we want most. All of those mini-desires that are a part of our daily lives can easily take on too great of an importance and appear larger than they really are or need to be.
If we are distracted by our lesser desires, we can easily lose touch with our truth and quickly find ourselves off track, without sufficient perseverance and zeal, and restless. A person who lives a truly disciplined life is always able to call him or herself back to the greatest desire, put their wants and impulses in check and do what is necessary to achieve the greater goal. For the believer, this can only be accomplished by developing a habit of strong, centered and focused prayer. The discipline of prayer allows us to keep our relationship with God fresh so that we become best friends with God and are always, in one way or another, connected and in touch.
It is very possible for relationships to go sour, even our relationship with God. While God never abandons us, we can certainly turn our backs on him. In doing so, we may find ourselves recognizing his presence and surprises less and less and even find ourselves less willing to put ourselves out there for the advancement of the Gospel. Those lesser desires and impulses can gain great control. It is the discipline of prayer that allows us to become the very likeness of God! We then become his true disciples by living and acting in our world as he would live and act in it. The gift of contemplation keeps God in clear focus and our hearts set on their true desire, union with him.
Life teaches us some hard lessons and can easily disappoint. But if we listen carefully to the pains and inconveniences of daily living, we find that we can be brought to new and exciting places. What may seem like a death one day can be seen as abundant new life the next. Sorrow can be replaced by joy and apathy with zeal if we allow ourselves to choose properly between what we may think we want or need now and what we know inwardly we want and need the most. God knows our actions and our thoughts. His ever present creating and recreating love is always available to transform even the most self-focused of hearts.
It will not be easy at first. Who among us really likes discipline? But, we all know that the maturity process always involves reluctance, pain, stretching and honesty. We are constantly learning new lessons about life, God, ourselves, others, and our world and we must vigilantly be willing to leave one way of doing things in pursuit of another of greater value. Knowing that our ultimate desire is union with God, we can then get about the task of true discipleship and begin living the vision Jesus taught. It is a vision that involves great self-denial, suffering and possibly even death. However, all of these are always in service of obtaining our ultimate goal.
God’s holiness touches all of his children. It is our task, then, to insure that everything possible is done to preserve and respect the sacredness of life and the dignity of every human being. God’s vision, whether we like it or agree, has a great deal to say about the immigrant, the homeless, our economic system, power, wealth, distribution of the world’s goods, the value and place of work, abortion, euthanasia, war, violence and all of the other ills plaguing our world. The problem is that we often seek secular solutions to difficulties that have a spiritual base. The person with a truly disciplined life can recognize the difference and act accordingly.
Many are suffering from a true crisis of faith. This crisis stems from the distracted, disjointed and undisciplined lives we are living. When we lose touch with what we desire most and focus too much on our lesser objectives, this will be the result. A lot of folks live their lives as if they are headed for first base and living on top of the world. In short order, they may find themselves very surprised that they are actually coming in last. At the end of the day, all of the secular things we can obtain and accomplish all will fall short if we have not pursued and developed the full integrity of our soul. Without this, being authentically and fully human is not achievable. There are many living saints among us who call us to and show us a higher way of living. These are living witnesses of what happens when one’s desire for God is pursued first and other lesser desires second. May their inspiration continue to lead us to truth!


Loving God, I can easily get confused between what I think I need and what I truly desire. You have placed your glorious presence within me, you flow through my veins and reside in the depth of my soul. May your Holy Spirit help me see what is within so that as I live and move in your world I can begin to recognize you in all you have made. Help me create a discerning and disciplined life so that I can dwell more fully in your presence, unite myself with you and contemplate your glory. May I notice you in the smallest and most humble of your creatures and in the vastness of the ocean’s depth! May I smell the nectar of your presence in the air that I breathe and know that nothing I can imagine will ever give me what only you can bestow upon me. May I learn to watch for your surprises and relish in the daily blessings that come my way. May I not fall into despair and always live with hope. Then, when I am asked to leave this world and continue my journey to you may I do so without regret and with an eagerness to possess the wonder of your embrace. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.