I ran in the rain at noon on New Years Day. This marks my 7th #run in 7 days. I have never exercised in any capacity 7 days in a row. Now I feel lots of pressure, like I do every New Years Day: Run every day for a month! Run every day for a year! Write every day! Never yell again! Never cheat on gluten and dairy! Call gramma every week! There are so many ways I could improve my body, mind, spirit, and relationships. I hope this year I’ll practice “gentle” discipline in all these areas. Allowing that kind of grace would change everything.
My friend Aimee’s comment caught my eye as I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed and stopped me short. Boy, could I relate. New Year’s—with all its promise of new beginnings, renewed commitments and a chance to make and do and put things right—again—is actually a cruel sort of torture for any perfectionist. The hard reality is this: January’s resolutions have been known to lose their steam.
That’s why I loved Aimee’s phrase, gentle discipline, with regard to the hopes and expectations she has for improving her body, mind, spirit, and relationships in 2017. Most of us will never achieve perfection—but by golly, by grace, we’d love to do what we can.
Gentle discipline defined
But what exactly did my friend Aimee mean by gentle discipline? When I asked her, here’s what she said:
As a lifetime perfectionist I struggle being gentle with anything. I talk to myself in harsh, demanding, shaming words, and assume God does, too. So if I set a goal to run or write everyday and fail at it, I feel like the scrawny kid on the football field with the mean coach spitting in my face while he yells at me.
I’m too old for that. I need to quit that team. I cannot be a perfectionist anymore.
Gentle discipline means being a patient friend to my own self. Receiving the grace that Jesus promises in the Bible. If my best friend missed a goal I wouldn’t pin her to the wall and yell in her face, telling her she was stupid. I would sit quietly with her, listen to her reasons why she missed it, and offer encouragement.
One more way I would explain “gentle discipline” is by choosing a word for the year, instead of a list of resolutions. Poetry instead of prescription.
I chose the word Umbrella the night my family voted for our Compassion Focus. In the choices I make as a mom, wife, friend, runner, writer, and volunteer I can gently ask,
“Does this provide shelter from the storm for my family, my body, my soul, the people I’m trying to serve?”
“Is it safe to invite this person/activity/attitude so close to me under my umbrella?”
“My arm is getting tired, Lord will you please hold this umbrella for me, and invite whomever you want to share the space under it with me?”
Gentle discipline and sharing our faith
I so appreciated Aimee’s wisdom and feel it’s great advice for any of us who are trying to live out the Mission of God. Just like we can with goals related to weight and running, we can beat ourselves up when it comes to our spiritual goals—when we miss a day or a week (or more!) in our scheduled daily Bible readings, sleep through our alarm and prayer time, or shy away from spiritual conversations.
Let’s face it. When Christians are presented with Jesus’ commission to make disciples, most of us feel that same sense of guilt, shame, or myriad other negative emotions like Aimee described. Quite frankly, most of us don’t even know where to begin.
But what if you could choose a word for the year? Just one word? And what if that one word could serve as a gentle discipline, a grace-full reminder that would provide you help in moving forward in meaningful connections and conversations with people where you live, work, and play?
Maybe your word could be notice, serving as a reminder to intentionally pay attention to the people you meet each day. Or, welcome, reminding you to make your life and your home a safe place for people to come and be authentically themselves.
Gentle discipline acknowledges that we don’t jump to new behaviors in one big leap. We don’t go from never exercising to running every day. We don’t move from eating a bowl of ice cream everyday to never having ice cream ever.
Change comes in small bites. You take small steps.
In the same way, you can cultivate a life that gently and lovingly shares the good news—just one word can be one step in the walk of being part of the joy of the Great Commission.
This year, what could your word be?
Pam Klein is editor of On Q
And her word for 2017 is Listen.