“Only through discipline can a man learn to be free,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and he was right. Spiritual disciplines have been an important piece of my adult life for years, and the paradox is that the more I control and discipline myself, the more I feel like my life is my own. However, over the last year or so I have not been as good at keeping certain spiritual disciplines, and I have noticed my life suffering because of it. Each year, I pick a word to be the theme I base my new year’s goals around, and for this year, the word “discipline” was the one that came to mind.
The disciplines I am hoping to implement this year are: keeping my monthly 6-hour spiritual retreats, doing some form of physical exercise every day, and having various daily routines that help me take back my day.
I have been having retreats since college, but it’s become almost every other month or every third month. Something else that’s new is that my wife and I are going to do some part of these retreats together. Even if it’s just a small prayer exercise in the morning, I am excited to see how this will affect our marriage. Finally, I am looking at several disciplines revolving around time. My life is going to continue to be very busy with graduate school and a full time job. Because of this I am hoping to implement several other disciplines that help slow my day down, so that I can say I am in charge of it rather than it being in charge of me. This will include some spaces in the day to pray and/or meditate, having a devotional schedule, etc.
I think spiritual disciplines are still probably the most important and least discussed part of being a Christian. Some of us may fast during lent, but besides that a lot of people don’t really think about how spiritual disciplines can be used during the rest of the year to help cultivate one’s own character. I studied exercise science in college, and the way I usually think about spiritual disciplines is like hitting the gym for your soul.
When someone has back pains there are two forms of helping fix it, one is changing one’s posture: changing the way you sleep, your standing/sitting posture, learning to lift things correctly, etc. And this is what gets recommended most of the time. The other way, that is actually more helpful, is to strengthen the muscles. This means going to the gym and strengthening your back, so that it can support you better regardless of posture.
This is the same in our spiritual lives as well. If you have anxiety, it can help to try to come at your problems from a different angle, but it’s probably more helpful to cultivate stillness through discipline. Maybe you need to meditate or sit still with noise or be by yourself or fast. Maybe your spiritual muscles, so to speak, aren’t strong enough to handle the stress that is put on them. I’m hoping 2017 will be a year where I get buff, spiritually speaking.
If you are looking to implement spiritual disciplines in your 2017, I commend you. And my advice to you is to start small, think about which disciplines you need most, and pick one or two that are difficult but doable.
Happy New Year!
Trevor grew up in a small desert town in Southern California and graduated from Vanguard University in 2013. He moved to Portland, Oregon in 2014 where he currently lives with his beautiful wife, Ashlee, and enjoys of reading, writing, city-life, hiking, and investing in close friendships. Trevor is passionate about bringing the Church to the world and crossing the great divide between Christians and non-Christians that usually leaves both sides scratching their heads. He currently works at a small, Portland-based Christian university named Multnomah University as a Social Media and PR Specialist. He has spent some time in a couple different seminaries but is now getting his master's of English at Portland State University.