From Practice to Mastery Image Credit: https://guitarsquid.com
So, not being a super-disciplined person, I’ve struggled all my adult life with a few things, surprisingly common struggles for those for whom discipline is problematic.
I carry more weight than I should. Okay, I have lost 47 pounds over the last few years as I have changed my diet but I have more to lose. I have romantic ideas of waking with the dawn, but more commonly wake at 7 a.m. I have yet to run a supremely tidy and organised house; probably, half my stuff could be safely given away. And I have rarely been a productive writer. Keats feared that he might die before his pen had gleaned his teeming brain. Me too, me too!
It recently struck me that each of these struggles which I’ve had for most of my married life of 30 years, is to achieve something finite. I don’t have an infinite amount of weight to lose. I could lose it in a year or less! I don’t have an infinite amount of things to declutter; I could do it in six months as Marie Kondo says, or in nine months as Joshua Becker of The Minimalist Home says. If I turn in 5 minutes earlier each day… it’s not an infinite number of days before I will be waking up at 5 a.m. And if the tidying/organising, and exercise, and early rising creates time… who knows, I might even finish the books of my heart.
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In what’s perhaps a metaphor, the enslaved Israelites who escaped slavery and Pharaoh wandered in the desert for 40 years. To walk across the Sinai desert should take 10-11 days, guides say. Similarly, many of the things people struggle with for decades could be dealt with in months or a year: weight, messiness, excessive night-owlness, for instance. Two professional women recently told me that they were chronically late. I struggle with that too… but less and less so. But chronic lateness can be cured–by strategies like adding 50% to the estimated driving time (a tip from Greg McKeown’s excellent book Essentialism), and 50% to your estimated dressing-up time, and aiming to be seated, ready and reading 15 minutes before you leave the house!
These things we struggle with are what Jesus calls the light burden and the easy yoke, difficulties, but with God’s help, not impossibilites. It is possible to be tidy, of course–easy for those who have always been tidy, and hard for those who have never been tidy, but possible for everyone. Shedding unhealthy weight is easier for those who have good eating habits and the physical strength to exercise hard; harder for those of sluggish metabolism, or who are not strong enough to exercise vigorously. But it should be possible for everyone. (I’ve lost 25 pounds over the last 13 months, though a combination of the ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting. I just stopped eating dinner over six weeks ago, and skipping it was surprisingly easy!). Waking early is perhaps possible for everyone, though I have not yet been able to sustain it long-term. And finishing books is possible to everyone God calls to write.
At our last few holidays, Cordoba, Berlin and Krakow (all this year, 2019, yes, we are travelling too much) especially in Krakow, Poland, when we were not eating dinner, we were astonished by how free time opened up in the evenings when Roy and I lived with just a suitcase each, in a hotel suite, and how many loose ends of our family business, our lives and work, we were able to tie up after a full day of sight-seeing. We became wistfully determined to simplify our lives at home for the same sense of spaciousness and peace and extra time.
So, at the moment, I am (perhaps foolishly!) barely writing, but focusing on getting my home tidy and decluttered (especially because I want to move in a year or two). I am focusing on diet (keto!) and fitness, believing Rick Warren statement: if you want to change anything the first thing to do is to change your body to provide the energy for other changes. The decluttering, the spiritual peace and serenity from the order, the brisk walks and yoga to get healthy, the weight loss, the waking earlier, will release more writing time within a few days or a week. I hope so. I pray so. I believe so.
But for now, baby steps.
If you can’t fly, then run; if you can’t walk run, then walk; if you can’t walk, then crawl, but by all means keep moving. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Discipline, short-term suffering is painful for the moment, but it eventually yields what Scripture winsomely calls “a harvest of righteousness and peace.”
It’s what my friend Paul Miller, who discipled me for 5 years in the late nineties, called a J-Curve. The seed has to fall into the ground and die for fruitfulness, as Jesus died to provide the Spirit, and as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. The death of Jesus involved less than 24 hours of intense physical and emotional suffering, 3 hours of which consisted of immense, unimaginable physical suffering. However, the fruits of the resurrection of Jesus reverberate on and on in the life of the world, in my life, and perhaps in yours, dear reader.
Jesus strikingly says that we are not worthy of him if we do not take up our cross, and embrace the suffering that a fruitful creative life calls for. In all these things I’ve mentioned, there is a cross, a small death, and much joy at the end of it. The cross I am bearing for the next six months is decluttering my house. It will lead to a resurrection of energy, and focus and time. The cross I am bearing for the next six months to a year is getting stronger and shedding the weight that hinders, which will give me the joy and resurrection of more energy and time. The cross of turning in early rather than surfing the net or desultory reading will add to the joy and productivity of early mornings. The resurrection that these things may bring will reverberate and echo, sweet and magnified, through the rest of my life, and perhaps, if God blesses my writing, though the lives of others too. May it be so Lord, Amen.
Some resources which I found very helpful, and you might too.
Gary Taubes: Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It on Amazon.com and on Amazon.co.uk
Gretchen Rubin describes reading this book as a lightning bolt moment that changed her eating habits, immediately, effortlessly and permanently. It has been a little bit like that for me.
To quote from Taubes: Carbohydrates are uniquely fattening because they elevate levels of insulin, and insulin signals to our fat cells to store fat, and to our lean cells not to burn it, which inhibits the use of fat for fuel. For a diet to successfully reduce obesity, it has to reduce insulin levels, and restrict carbs.
The Complete Guide to Fasting by Jason Fung on Amazon.com and on Amazon.co.uk.
I found intermittent fasting far easier than I imagined, and I love the mental clarity, the physical energy—and, of course, the weight loss.
The Keto Diet: The Complete Guide by Leanne Vogel on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. More a dietary change than “a diet,” though I’ve never found losing weight as easy as on this.
Marie Kondo: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying on Amazon.com and on Amazon.co.uk
I have some ambivalence towards her ideas, but I can testify to the huge amount of energy in many areas of my life as I began to donate my surplus stuff
Joshua Becker: The Minimalist Home on Amazon.com
I find his blog Becoming Minimalist motivating, and here it is in a convenient form
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown on Amazon.com and on Amazon.co.uk
Strongly recommend. Don’t we all need essentialism?
And if you’d like a Christian perspective on these things, a book by my friend and mentor Paul Miller.
J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life by Paul Miller. On Amazon.com