I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for John Paul Lichon’s reflection entitled, Discipline.
Let’s be honest, I am not a very disciplined person. Pulling all-nighters to write papers in college was a regular ritual, it took several unfortunate cavities to convince me it was essential to floss every day, and anyone close to me can tell you that I often have insatiable cravings for McDonald’s double cheeseburgers. Thankfully, over the years all three of these unhealthy tendencies have drastically declined in frequency, but I think these habits illustrate my enduring inner struggle to cultivate discipline and self-control in many areas of my life.
When it comes to personal prayer, I have always labored to find a regular routine. Pages upon pages of my journal speak of this constant tension to consistently carve out time and space for personal prayer. And looking back at the journal entry dates, sometimes there are weeks, if not months, between entries of one of my favorite ways to pray. Even though I know my body and soul yearns for a steady diet of silent, contemplative prayer, especially through writing, I often find it very hard to do on a consistent basis.
Personally, I love silence. I remember once driving all the way from Dallas to Houston (over four hours) without ever turning on the radio or talking to anyone on the phone. I often tell people that the quieter I am around you, the more comfortable I am with you. In some ways, I think this is simply a sign of my introverted personality. But on a deeper level, I know that silent contemplation is what grounds my relationship with God. It’s often in these moments where I can most truly recognize God’s movement in my life, God’s next invitation for me to consider, or simply what I’m feeling as I come before God at that particular moment. I just find it difficult to maintain a regular practice of physically sitting down and doing it.
My usual excuse is that we live in a world that constantly bombards us. From family schedules to email inboxes, work expectations to financial worries, our lives are subject to a lot responsibilities, anxieties, and distractions. Amidst this swirl of life’s concerns, who has time for one more thing?
Often, I get frustrated when I hear the typical suggestions offered to people like me. “Start with a few minutes a day. Carve out the same time and place. Start small and in time you’ll come to master the routine.” While it certainly sounds so easy, the truth is that it’s hard for me. It takes work. It takes discipline. Commitment.
Looking in the proverbial mirror, I wonder if I have the resolve to live as a monk in the world. I feel like I am trying, but am I really? Is this the type of life that I want to live? That I’m designed to live?
I scribbled this poem in my journal several months ago:
“Sleep when you’re dead,”
said the master to his slave.
Yet, rest gives rest,
to give rest, for the rest
of your life. All the days, that are consumed
with life, upon life, over life, filled with life.
Life needs rest, needs peace,
“I wonder if I’ve forgotten to breathe,” I said.
Or rather, should I say, “I can’t breathe.”
I don’t really know,
because life, within the life
of my life, seems lifeless.
Or is it? Over-Lived – life-full – life-more – a rich life?
Those who give up their life,
are given life.
So whose life am I really living?
Every time I go down this vicious cycle of self-absorption, I am reminded of the true focus of prayer. Prayer is not about me. It’s not really about what I’m doing or not doing for God. Rather, prayer is about God and what God has done and will continue to do for me and for us. So often, I look in the rearview mirror of my prayer, rather than looking forward to the horizon. Maybe if I focused forward, I could actually see the path that God is laying before me.
John Paul Lichon is the founder of Verso Ministries, a pilgrimage company seeking the path to true fulfillment by encountering and sharing sacred sites and stories of the world. Learn more at www.VersoMinistries.com.