February 18, 2008

Freedom from Chaos 
by Sarah Jennings, Crosswalk.com Family Editor

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7

It’s been a pretty chaotic year so far. In the past month, I’ve lost: my debit card, driver’s license, purse, and cell phone.

And before long, I may lose my mind! This recent string of disorganization reminds me a bit of my childhood.

God gave me a mom gifted in discipline. She thrives off planning and order. She’s never had a speeding ticket, is rarely late, never misses a payment, and always has her “agenda” mapped out weeks in advance. Forget or misplace something? Rarely.  

So, of course in a moment of Divine Humor, God allowed me to inherit much of my dad’s temperament. (Hi, Dad!). Underneath my quiet demeanor, I’m a passionate girl who thrives off a sense of freedom and spontaneity. As a teenager, I rebelled against structure. My creative mind felt closed in, suffocated by such outside impositions as boundaries, rules, and structure.

So, it goes without saying that Mom and I have experienced a few bumps in the road.

While I’ve matured in my God-given temperament over the years, I increasingly see how virtues taken to extremes morph into vices. And lately, I’m seeing my natural desires for freedom and flexibility can only be satisfied through an increase in -- discipline (how is it that our parents always end up being right?).

At first, this concept seemed like a paradox to me. Discipline, structure, limits – increases our freedom? But I recently heard it expressed well in a talk by speaker and author Matthew Kelly (http://www.matthewkelly.org/bookstore.html). To paraphrase Kelly’s words:

“Your level of happiness is directly proportional to your level of discipline.”

Let that sink in.

He discussed fasting to further expand this point. I must confess -- I’ve never really been too fired up about this ancient practice. In my mind, fasting has always been about what I can’t do, about deprivation. But Kelly sees fasting in a different light. He defines fasting as assertion of the will over the passions of the body. As Americans, our bodies often rule us – every urge, every ache, every grumble, has us running to appease them. But when we look at our options, and choose to forfeit the food our bodies demand in favor of a plainer, simpler meal -- and the world keeps spinning, and we don’t fall over from starvation -- we experience freedom from that which minutes before we thought we couldn’t live without.

When you think about it, the connection between discipline and freedom (or happiness) applies to so many areas of life. How often have we sinned – and deeply regretted it -- because we embraced the world’s false promises of freedom or fulfillment instead of choosing godly discipline? And how often have we found our lives spinning out of control because we failed to exercise restraint, to remain within healthy limits? We can see this occur in the original Fall, when the serpent plants seeds of doubt in Eve’s mind that God’s restrictions are really in her best interest:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" (Gen. 3: 1)

So often, we are tempted to live as if God’s ways are going to steal us of our joy, as if Christianity is just a series of restrictive rules set to rob us of our independence. But if we take that path, we’ll only find ourselves enslaved and separated from freedom the found in Christ.

Intersecting Faith & Life: Identify one area of your life that is chaotic or out of order. Assert your God-given will by mapping out a plan to regain a little control.

Further Reading

Genesis 3:1-7
Joy of the Disciplined Woman