Let me begin by saying that the Lord is currently teaching me the immeasurable value and eternal greatness of a hard day’s work.
I used to imagine heaven as a state of endless leisure, where I could do “what I wanted when I wanted to do it.” I have an amusing journal entry from elementary school where I assert that the perfect day consists of getting up early to play video games and staying up late to ride rollercoasters. Today, I might forego the rollercoasters and do more sleeping in.
The desire for endless leisure time still follows me. When summer rolls around, I want to do away with my full-time job and return to that blissful break between semesters: summer. School patterns spoil us that way. They imply that learning and working are temporary fixtures of our lives. Students like I was permit themselves to shirk the work of their souls and gorge themselves on summer leisure.
Every student article last year pleaded against this.
THE YEAR IN REVIEW
All eleven articles were singularly centered on keeping the practical habits of a flourishing life. They insisted that we must be unwavering. In July and August, when students returned from Wheatstone Academy fresh with soul-growing ambitions, the command from Keith Buhler and Chad Glazener was not to treat conference highs like hallucinations. A happy life is sustainable when one makes incremental changes of habit to that end.
What habits? Read tough books. Discuss deep topics. Try new tastes. Do hard things. These are the disciplines of authentic spiritual growth. Done right, they radically improve our capacity to love God (and our annoying younger siblings) and sustain us through periods of doubt and temptation. Yet they are exactly the disciplines the weak-willed like me decide to drop at the start of a given summer.
If it was true that school helped us practice these habits the other nine months of the year, our souls would not be so bad off. However, Eric Yang, Naomi Geier, and Lindsay Marshall call attention to the failure of most school systems to assist the growth of our souls. In fact, schools make soul-work doubly difficult by expecting us to cultivate our souls alongside our grade-point-average. The fall issues of The Examined Life called students to wisdom: inviting us to refuse letters and numbers as markers of achievement, to reject the regurgitation of facts and authorities as signs of education, and to refrain from acting like animals by working for treats and prizes.
Even college is rife with these social sins. So you know--so that you can’t say no one told you--it is possible to graduate college entirely unfit for professional work. There is nothing about a diploma that entitles you to land (and keep) a job. Your real qualification is the cultivation of your soul. If you don’t supplement your school education with a soul education, you will be very unhappy in your twenties while you learn to do it for the very first time. (Believe me; I partially suffer from this.)
The admonitions to discipline continued in the winter. There was no respite.
Katherine Van Elswyk and Amy Cannon modeled the disciplines in their article on hope. Chad Glazener exhorted students not to find satisfaction in their gains and press on to a deeper level of growth. Katherine Van Elswyk comforted students with the promise that pursuing good things will be easier in eternity; she then returned to how we must start the pursuit today, if we haven’t already.
Our spring contributors shifted the subject from habits themselves to what our habits point us toward. (If there was any hope that our student readers had kept up through the year, these three articles would surely outpace them.) Lindsay Marshall, Sean McDowell, and Amanda Ruud each made a case for endeavoring toward the right Christian ideals, doctrine, and beauty.
Doctrinal unity by itself eludes the efforts of many who call themselves Christian. The “completionist” in us all has no hope of reaching a satisfactory end. In Goodness, Truth, and Beauty 101 there are no final exams and no summer breaks; only further up and further in to the disciplines of a flourishing life.
ON DISCIPLINE AND BETTER JUDGMENT: A REFLECTION
I’ve probably read just one hard book all year. Despite regular injunctions from The Examined Life and the Wheatstone community, I drag behind. I’m not proud of this confession. It implies my mind has atrophied. Stale ideas and the same old arguments decrease our capacity to listen and love.
Reading, discussing, exploring, challenging--I recommit to these habits often and often I fall short. It may be that I have the wrong friends, or that I don’t spend enough time with the right friends, or that I don’t get accountability for my incremental goals, or that I allow myself too much leisure time. It’s probably one hundred things, frankly; I’m never dry for excuses. (Why did God permit video games and rollercoasters when they are so addictive?)
I ought to isolate each obstacle to virtue, one by one, and administer a remedy.
Have you ever tried this? Have you left friends that wasted your time, avoided guilty pleasures, regimented all your time, and attempted to control every aspect of your life for the sake of discipline? It is a manipulative process, surgical in nature, done at the n’th degree of introspection. It carries with it mixed intuitions, at turns sacrificial and praiseworthy, or ungracious and judgmental.
Not one of our authors advocated becoming obsessed with discipline, and yet when I read their articles I’m tempted to become that way--both toward myself and toward others. This isn’t their fault. I’ve amassed so much experience with commitment and failure that I take it out on myself. Authors like Nathaniel Hawthorne have declaimed the ends of obsessive Puritanism, and many unbelievers are all too glad to knock down the hateful strawman of Christian self-flagellators.
My discouragement spilled over onto the whole idea of discipline one day and I created “the anti-disciplines.” They are the very opposite of the things we’ve been told to do. There is the discipline of Facebook procrastination, the discipline of skipping midweek church, and the discipline of lounging. The “anti-disciplines” advocate the intentional pursuit of crowds instead of solitude, chatter instead of silence, and chowing instead of fasting.
Satirical, sure, but I meant “the anti-disciplines” in earnest. The anti-disciplines moderated my runaway efforts at self-perfection. They reminded me that some things can’t be immediately helped, and if I can’t be helped, I might as well pray my way through it. All disciplines, after all, are fundamentally contexts for prayer. Whether we succeed at forming a habit is secondary to our success at knowing the love of God more deeply.
It is nearly impossible to fail at prayer. Even our protracted times of silence are frequently redeemed as the frustrated groanings of our inward spirit. Christians hardly have to try and they discover they are praying: silently presenting themselves to God, opening their hearts, exposing its pains. Prayer is the one discipline to which I couldn’t assign an “anti-discipline,” and I think this is because prayer isn’t a discipline at all. It is an “ante-discipline,” a posture that comes before and establishes all the habits we do.
As you return to read the articles of last year, keep this reflection in mind.
Heaven will be more than the satisfaction of happy habits. The baptized way of being is disciplined, yes, but equally united in God’s love. There is something better for a person than that he should merely eat and drink and make his soul see the good in his toil. [cf. Ecc. 2:24] We ought also to know that the responsibility of personal growth is not solely and ultimately ours. It belongs to our Guide and Comforter, God the Holy Spirit.
by Ryan Swindoll - June 2011