Discipline is the art of developing or improving a skill through training. Whether in academics, athletics, work, or prayer, the role of discipline in my life has changed dramatically. Instead of being a penalizing, correcting, controlling, habit-creating art, I now see it as an art that has become significantly liberating.
During many Lenten seasons, I looked to the story of the Passion for much longer than the Resurrection. For forty days we reflect on the sacrificial love of Christ: what Jesus did and did not do in order that the prophesies in scriptures may be fulfilled. In the end, Jesus proved that the way to freedom from sin and death is through peaceful action. In other words, he did not return violence for violence as he very well could have but instead brought freedom through his perfect obedience and peaceful actions.
Freedom seems to be the greatest gift I have experienced recently in my walk with Christ, besides grace, of course. That freedom he offered is the ability to choose the direction in which I want to walk, and in a most recent case, run. It allows me to choose whether to love rightly, act kindly, do justly. Furthermore, it allows me to choose to what degree I do or do not do those things. In choosing, I have the freedom to make my own decisions and to some degree, choose my destiny. While I wholeheartedly believe that “everything happens for a reason,” I also believe that God has given me the freedom to find liberation in my life through the decisions I make. This has meant recognizing that while God opens doors for me, the power of those blessings cannot be obtained without my walking through those doors. It is the art of discipline that has allowed me to run towards those blessings.
Several months ago a friend of mine suggested that we sign up to run a half-marathon in April — on Palm Sunday to be exact. After agreeing to the invitation, my mind began to race (no pun intended): How do I train? What do I eat? Can I actually do this? How much time is this training process going to take? To find the answers, I read every running magazine and book I could find, asked questions, and went online to finally find a schedule that I prayed to God would work. The answer to the question of whether I could actually run the race or not was simple: discipline. I had to follow the schedule; I had to run the suggested distances at the pace suggested; otherwise, I would not be ready.
For fear of embarrassing myself and letting myself down, it was difficult to let go and trust what I had read and seen, especially since I had never experienced success in this way before. Through the process, I realized at some point that this fear, which kept me hesitant, unsure, and untrusting, was a form of violence. It was the very thing that robbed me from seeing my potential, experiencing joy, and obtaining countless blessings that would come at the end of the race. Fear could cause me to lose confidence in my ability to succeed. Had I allowed fear to completely overwhelm me, it would have kept me captive.
The “aha” moment came when I realized that discipline and faithfulness in doing my part became an art that liberated me and helped me to believe in what could be. I trusted the schedule and experts, and, as a result, was seeing progress each week. That helped me remain faithful to my running, training, and studying. I chose the peaceful means of defeating fear, instead of the violence that would have held me back.
Race day arrived and, knowing that I had trained well, I was as ready as I could have been to run the half-marathon. Because of the downpour from the previous night, an announcement was made two minutes before the race began that the course was cut short — to just 10-miles. I experienced not anger or frustration so much as disappointment. My heart sank at the thought of not being able to finish what I had worked so hard to accomplish. Lots of anger arose from other runners, but I knew I had the freedom to choose the outcome. So I did. I ran back and forth for an extra three miles before finishing, knowing that even if I was coming in at the end of the pack, I completed what I set out to do. 2 hours, 22 minutes later, it was finished.
Finishing was phenomenal. Finishing helped me to realize that if I had let the violence of fear overwhelm me and returned that violence inwardly by giving up, I would not have been able to complete what I promised myself. Liberation and confidence came through discipline, but discipline came through trusting the process, myself, and God. My Lenten season ended with great blessings this year. I have come to find confidence and freedom in the choices I make, the discipline that leads me there, and the trust that guides me to the finish line.