Learning Discipline 5… Practicing A New Way

“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, and the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.”

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (MSG)

No one likes to suffer. And learning discipline seems to include suffering (see Hebrews 12 again, and my first post on discipline). So we might ask: is suffering really necessary for me to be truly transformed and prepared to face eternity? In each of the three synoptic gospels, one quote of our Savior stands out, and it has to do with suffering and, indeed, with death: “… anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me…” says Matthew’s gospel (Mt 19:38). That’s quite daunting, to say the least.

What, we might ask, actually has to “die” on that cross, the one that has my name on it? My willfulness, my insistence on my own way, the way I demand life “should” be (and am angry, or self pitying if it’s not). The cross is God’s means by which I am purified of this self-will, this demandingness about life, and made ready for eternity. It is fashioned for me by a loving Father who loves His child too much to be content for her to live a mediocre life, just getting by.

When I cling to something lesser, some bad habit that I know deep inside me is a barrier between me and the God I profess to love and serve, I am refusing Him. When I try to justify a bad or sinful practice that I know keeps me from loving those around me whom I also profess to love, I am still refusing Him, for whatever I do (or don’t do) to them, I’m doing (or failing to do) to Him (Mt.25:31-46).

I’m saying “no thanks” to my Heavenly Father’s offer of something better, richer, deeper. Why? Perhaps because I really, in my heart of hearts, don’t want to let go of what I am clinging to. Maybe I’m afraid to let it go because I’m recoiling from the pain of doing without it, and I’m not sure that God will really take care of me if I let go of it. Maybe I’m not fully convinced that the reward for my struggle and discomfort in doing something different will actually be worthwhile. I might really be doubting God’s promises of a life so far superior to this one, such that temporary suffering is worth the price of it. But God simply can’t put something into a hand that is fearfully, stubbornly grasping something it won’t let go of.

Of course, I should ask God for courage to take the first step – but I still need to take it. Of course, I should ask God for humility because of my weakness and failures – but I still need to take a chance and try even though I will probably fail. And of course, I should ask God for perseverance when things are hard (as they inevitably will be) – but I still need to pick myself up and begin again. Just like any good parent, God wants his children to grow and be strong in virtue so they can resemble Jesus, the Son in whom He is well pleased.

St Augustine wrote, “God created us without us; but he did not will to save us without us.”. God gave me the ability to refuse him, to refuse his best and most loving plan for me. He requires my assent, my “yes” – in order to accomplish his work of redeeming me from the mess of sinful habits I’ve developed over the years. He cannot compel me to love Him; only I can give Him that gift.

There’s plenty of information available online and in books about how to deal with a bad habit: how to replace a bad habit with a good, or at least a better, one (because nature abhors a vacuum); how to learn to “ride out” the discomfort that comes when we change our well-practiced behavior (it will get easier over time, with practice); and the necessity of enlisting help and support (especially crucial when dealing with a substance issue); etc.

God will always help us to do what is good and right, what He knows will lead us to grow and flourish, for He loves His children with His very life. His grace is sufficient to do whatever is required, for His strength is most evident in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

The problem, perhaps, is that we’re dragging our feet; perhaps we’re not entirely willing to change, to do the painful work required in order truly to follow Him and be His disciple. He will even help us there, if we continue to pray, asking to be made willing.

Note: Check out Bishop Robert Barron’s Youtube video entitled, Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Lively Virtues.