What comes to mind when you hear the word “discipline?”
Punishment? Do you think of those times as a child when you were disciplined by your parents for doing something wrong?
Dull, repetitive actions such as practicing a musical instrument or working out to keep in shape? Perhaps even prayer, like reciting the rosary, feels like such a discipline, an endless repetition of Our Fathers and Hail Marys.
The scriptures say, “… for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines;” But it also says, “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” Hebrews 12: 6, 11
The latter half of verse eleven is the key. Discipline acts as a teacher. Sometimes it needs to be administered by a parent or from God himself. However, as spiritual adults I believe we are asked to discipline ourselves. At first it may seem like punishment but with perseverance we can establish good habits that will aid us in our spiritual growth. After weeks of such discipline, we will wake up one day and experience that “peaceful fruit” of which the scriptures speak, making it all worthwhile.
I was resistant at first to applying discipline to my spiritual life. How can a discipline be heartfelt? I remember watching “The Nun’s Story” with Audrey Hepburn and noticing the way she chafed at the bell ringing for prayer. She hated the interruption and even openly complained to her superior that the bell disrupted important spiritual conversations with patients or interfered with her work as a surgical nurse.
Yet, in the end, I ended up establishing a regimen of prayer with that bell in mind. And like Hepburn’s Sister Luke, I too chafe sometimes at the interruption of that bell. In the end, however, that discipline has proven to be my lifeline to God, showing that prayer runs far deeper than my fickle and fleeting emotions.
Lent offers a wonderful opportunity to establish a prayerful spiritual discipline. I would like to offer my regimen as an example.
I use technology to assist me in my daily prayer discipline:
- Building reminders into Google calendar I set up my iPhone to chime like the bell of a monastery as my reminder to pray. The bell chimes at the top of each hour between 9am and 3pm. Each short prayer is devoted to a specific theme or intention:
- 9am—dedicating my day to God using the Prayer of Charles de Foucauld, prayed each day by Henri Nouwen. I have set aside this time to pray for myself.
- 10am—prayer for the unemployed
- 11am—daily readings from at the USCCB website accompanied by a short meditation from The Word Among Us website.
- 12 noon—praying the Angelus and offering petitions for clergy and consecrated lay persons.
- 1pm—praying for those in need of healing.
- 2pm—prayers for those who don’t know Jesus; also for Christian martyrs.
- 3pm—Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
Even though a busy work schedule can sometimes get in the way of meaningful prayer, the discipline always serves as a reminder that God is with me. At times I feel a surge of consolation in my prayer, a sweet and “peaceful fruit.”
As you establish and grow into your ritual, be prepared for dry times as the foundation is built. Habits established over time become ingrained and indispensible. It’s when they become second nature that true prayer begins.
copyright 2015 Susan W. Bailey
Art/Photography: Manastirea Neamtului - July 2008, Name - Cristian Bortes, Flickr Creative Commons;
About the Author
Susan Bailey is the author of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times (Ave Maria Press), and Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message (ACTA Publications), part of their Literary Portals to Prayer series. Along with her blogs Be as One and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion, Susan writes for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press.