Friday, April 27, 2007

Disorderly Disciplines

I recently read Jenell Williams Paris's article, "Disorderly Disciplines" (Christianity Today, May 2007) where she talks about how becoming a mother ruined her ability to be disciplined about spirituality.

Many of the spiritual disciplines were developed by monastics who valued regularity and solitude; words like order and rule describe them. Family life, while no less holy than monastic life, makes consistent order impossible. The wild rhythm of parenting persuades me that monastic life cannot provide the only model for spiritual discipline. In fact, some seasons of life may be better suited to spiritual undiscipline. In contrast to the stability of monasticism, motherhood offers a catch-as-catch-can spirituality.

I am drawn to the idea of spiritual disciplines, but have always found it difficult to maintain any specific discipline. I've practiced various disciplines including daily quiet time (reading the Bible and praying), practicing solitude and silence, journaling and listening to an audio devotional. Each of these disciplines has been helpful in its season, but I've never been able to maintain a single discipline for very long. Becoming a mother has made most disciplined approaches to spirituality difficult at best and impossible at worst. More often than not I end up with a "catch-as-catch-can spirituality" comprised of bed-time Bible stories, God-moments with our kids (those wonderful and often unexpected opportunities to talk to our kids about God and God's work in the world) and meal time prayers.

Jenell's article was a welcome reminder that spirituality does not look the same for every person or during every stage in life. Some disciplines that are appropriate and helpful during one stage of life may be less helpful, or maybe even inappropriate, during a later stage of life. We cannot expect everyone else to connect with God in the exact same way that we do.

A few years ago I was part of a committee that was drafting a commitment card for worship team members to sign. One person on the committee wanted to include a commitment to spending 15 minutes with God each day. I forget if he specified that those 15 minutes were to be spent reading the Bible and praying, but that seemed to be the expectation. I was upset and argued for different wording. Yes, it is important to spend time with God and reading the Bible and praying are good spiritual practices. But spirituality doesn't look the same for everyone.

I do not set aside a specific amount of time to spend with God each day and cannot name a specific discipline I am currently practicing on a daily basis. And yet I find myself connecting with God and seeking his grace. I find myself praying as I read or listen to disturbing news, when I learn about a co-worker who is struggling or when I am at my wit's end with the kids. I am moved by children's Bible stories. I am reminded of God's grace in the simple things our kids say and do. I hear God's whisper in the books I read, the music I listen to and in conversations with friends. I see examples of God's love for me in the way my husband shows his love for me.

So, with Jenell, I practice "disorderly disciplines" and am thankful that God is willing and able to meet us in different ways, often using the mundane things in life to remind us of his character and grace.

1 comment:

Robin M. said...

I think I found your blog via some path from Jenell's blog. But I am so pleased to find this post. I started thinking about this yesterday morning. I was supposed to be sleeping in on Mother's Day, but no, I was lying there fretting about my lack of spiritual discipline.

I keep thinking I should do something more regularly but my life is already pretty full, I don't have an extra hour to myself at any regular time of day.

A few years ago, when my boys were 4 and a newborn, I made a resolution just to pray every day. At some point I realized that I WAS praying every day, but it was coming in 3 second snatches. About the length of one deep breath. And over the course of the day, I might do that several times, maybe even 30 seconds of prayer, every day. I decided to cut myself some slack and say good enough.

Yesterday morning I finally came up with the idea that I could try to pick something I'm already doing and just try to do it mindfully every day and that could be a spiritual practice. Maybe it's walking, maybe it's washing dishes, maybe it's journalling.

But I didn't decide yet - just as I reached a point of relaxation, my breakfast in bed arrived. Which while a lovely idea, is never actually relaxing. At least this year, no one bounced on the bed while I was holding my tea cup.