I’ve struggled with discipline over the years, often going through cycles of intense focus followed by a slow and subtle abandonment of the very things I was striving to do.
I wanted to spend some time reflecting on this because I know it is something that we can all relate to on some level.
I think that instead of viewing our distractions, temptations, and bad habits as things that need to be hammered down and suppressed, we should see them as opportunities for healing and redemption. We don’t come to know our true self by simply ignoring the false self; instead, we must acknowledge and observe the false self to better understand how to invite God in to do a healing and restorative work.
My spiritual director always encourages me to “pray with your life.” This simple suggestion has influenced the way that I pray and deal with those areas of negativity, darkness, and sin in my life. Before, for example, if was dealing with low self-esteem my prayers would be more about asking God to take away those feelings and to help me feel more positive about myself. As I’ve been learning to “pray with my life” my prayers have changed to be more honest and introspective. Now, I will ask God to show me what is going on behind this feeling. Why am I having this experience of low self-esteem? What are the triggers behind it? What things can I do to find my identity in Christ alone rather than in mere events or circumstances?
Instead of just praying that these things would go away, I’m able to invite God in to redeem, heal, and transform them—but it is a cooperative process of healing and redemption.
I couldn’t just walk into a physician’s office complaining of an achy knee and ask him or her to heal it. No. It would require sitting down and talking: “How long has it hurt? Did something happen to cause this pain? How have you been facilitating healing since the injury? What makes it feel worse? What makes it feel better?” Only then, can any sort of prescription or therapy be implemented. Again, it’s not all up to the physician to remedy the pain. Healing and restoration require my cooperation and ongoing communication. Our relationship to the Great Physician isn’t all that different.
So as I seek to be more disciplined in my prayer life, I know that I will immediately encounter distractions, lack of desire, busyness, and so on. When this happens, I try to simply pray through it: “God, deep down I want to pray but to be honest I don’t feel like it and would rather keep moving to complete a project to undertake some other task. Help me with my lack of desire. What is going on inside me that needs to be healed, restored, or redeemed? Is there something you can teach me about myself in this moment?”
Rather than trying to be more disciplined through my own weak will, I’m able to invite God into that moment and have a meaningful encounter. Prayer becomes less of something that I “do” and more of a way of being, a way of communicating, and a way of responding to the movements of my heart.
This idea of “praying with my life” has been key to developing a prayerful habit of the heart, growing in discipline, dying to my false self, and allowing God to breathe life into my true self. I hope that it is helpful to you as well.
Photo credit: Lance Baker [Loc.] Antigua, Guatemala