When I graduated from high school, my youth pastor gave all the seniors a book on the spiritual disciplines. Good girl that I was, I marked that book up in all the best ways, purposing to tackle a discipline a week for however long it took to become the best possible version of myself – prayer, scripture reading, fasting, etc.
I knew I couldn’t be perfect but I thought it would be alright to get closer than anyone else.
Several years of Bible college, marriage, and mothering later, I realized that good girl in my head was a perfectly annoying mirage and if I wanted to really know Jesus and BE A SANE PERSON, I had to go let go of my constant attempts at trying to earn my way and performing for acceptance.
One of the casualties of my good girl detox was shedding my misconceptions about the spiritual disciplines. I needed to give myself permission not to practice them for a while because I couldn’t figure out how to do them without thinking I was earning something.
The past several years have been a re-entry of sorts into the world of the spiritual disciplines. It’s different now – kinder, gentler, tender, and more free. My definitions have changed as has (I hope) my demeanor.
I now understand the fundamental truth beneath the spiritual disciplines, that “if a discipline is not producing freedom in me, it’s probably the wrong thing for me to be doing” (John Ortberg).
Reading about the disciplines in Living in Christ’s Presence, I was further struck at this perspective:
“Discipline depends on what you are training for. If you are training to win a pie-eating contest, what discipline will you have to engage in? Pie eating. If every day you eat as much pie as you possibly can, a year from now you’ll be able to eat much more pie than you could eat today.
So, what counts as a discipline depends on what I am training for . . . The whole purpose of disciplines is to enable you to do the right thing at the right time in the right spirit, so if something doesn’t help you do that, then don’t do it.”
In short, practicing a spiritual discipline is not about trying to earn something, prove something, or win.
Practicing a spiritual discipline is more about receiving power to live in the kingdom. It’s about training my mind and my will to practice what my heart deeply believes. It’s about knowing that each moment is packed with grace but sometimes I need practice to see it.
It’s about becoming the person I already am in Christ.
Really anything can be a spiritual discipline when we recognize the presence of God with us in it.
Last week I had a full day of work in front of me, but I decided when the kids got home, work would be put aside and I would practice the spiritual discipline of presence.
I recently wrote a post about the spiritual discipline of learning nothing. John Ortberg may not write a chapter about that particular discipline, but there it is, and it was good for me because it produced freedom in me and helped me to live more fully in the invisible kingdom of God.
A spiritual discipline may be something we do, but it may also be something we abstain from doing. For years now I’ve been writing under the tagline creating space for your soul to breathe, and I’m finally beginning to understand what that means. With the discipline of silence and solitude, I abstain from worry and hurry, teaching my body what it feels like to undo rather than always do.
But y’all, this weekend I took the disciplines to a new level as I began to sift through my clothes. I found some jeans I love in the bottom of my drawer, pulled them on and continued to tidy up around the house.
Ever so slightly, my mood began to shift. I started feeling irritable, discouraged, and not great about myself. When I retraced my steps, I realized why. My jeans were making it hard to breathe.
And because I’ve been thinking about my tagline a lot lately, and because I’m always aware of how the outer life affects the inner life, I quickly made the connection between breathing in my soul and breathing in my body.
In order to let my soul breathe, it’s good to be able to actually breathe. Literally. In my diaphragm.
Y’all, I’ve been wearing clothes that hurt me and it has got. to. stop.
So I had a DTR with my closet and we came up with an understanding we could both live with.
I will keep her clean and organized if she will stop harboring the enemy in the form of clothes that are too tight.
“Isn’t it amazing what we will do at our own expense? I’ve decided that even if I have to wear something with a stretch waistband the rest of my life, I’m not going to demean myself by wearing clothes that hurt me . . . No more bad pants.”
I started to make a pile of pants (and some shirts) that either physically hurt me to wear or caused me to feel badly about myself. As the stack grew, so did my confidence. I even logged into Stitch Fix to inform them I have moved one size up in pants and I may not be going back.
In those few moments in my bedroom, I was profoundly aware of the kind presence of Christ, that he doesn’t stop being relevant just because I’m cleaning out my closet. And while I still value taking care of my body and engage in other practices to maintain my health, I also want to be honest about my own expectations of myself and be careful not to compare my health to someone else’s.
I struggled with feeling oddly guilty about making something as trivial as getting rid of pants that are too tight into a spiritual practice. But then I remembered how life with Christ is about being a whole person, not pieced out into important parts and non-important parts.
In this one day I can carry both serious concerns in my soul and a pile of old clothes to the car.
Making that pile of clothes was a spiritual practice for me that day, finally taking the time to honestly confront some of the small ways I’ve been disrespecting myself by keeping clothes I don’t need and that don’t fit.
So I’m calling a truce with my jeans and practicing the spiritual discipline of wearing better pants. Is there anything you need to call a truce with? It’s Tuesday, so maybe it’s a good time to remember how Christ is with you in every ordinary moment, no matter how small. Are there any unconventional spiritual practices you might need to engage in to remember that?
I’ll be on Instagram sharing some of my own moments using #itssimplytuesday. I hope you’ll share yours, too.
After you get rid of some tight jeans, perhaps you’ll want some ideas on how to let your soul breathe. Join The Bench (my monthly newsletter) and you’ll receive a free copy of my ebook, Seven Little Ways to Live Art, practices to help you take a soul breath today.