Henri Nouwen on Discipline

Discipline is “…the effort to create some space in which God can act. Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on.” ~ Henri Nouwen

For the past few years, my rather consistent response to “how are you? (that is, when it was really a question and not a greeting) has been “Busy, but….” The “but” has been followed by every imaginable thing. Sometimes, when the thing that followed the “but” (which was also sometimes and “and”) reflected a sense of being overwhelmed by all off it or an exhaustion of sorts. In those times it is too easy to see the “busy” as the issue.
Now, you’re thinking that I’m working at contradicting Nouwen — trying to convince myself and you that being really busy and living without margin are inevitable and good. No, that’s not it.
What I mean to say is that “busy” is not the problem. Busy — when we have capacity for it — is fine in  moderation. I really do think a person can be busy in moderation. The clue is capacity. Discipline matches busyness with capacity and then leaves margin. 
I can increase my capacity and therefore take on more without jeopardizing the margin that is very important — but I have to know the signs of decreasing capacity so I can back off when I need to or push through when necessary. There are things in our living that decrease our capacity for a season. There are also things that take more out of us than would seem logical or reasonable. 
All of this requires me to pay attention AND, for me, it requires me to have a few people in my life who also pay attention and are willing to hold up signs of warning on my behalf on occasion. That kind of accountability is critical for me. 
So, now that I’ve rambled in circles for a few paragraphs, I think I’ll try to say what I intended to say all along. This definition of discipline is helping me put handles on an issue that I’m trying to navigate these days. I’ve often been heard talking about needing to rediscover or redefine balance in my living. I think that “discipline” is more what I was needing, as it is defined here.
I want to create space where God can act in my life and where I see Him, embrace Him, celebrate Him. 

One thought on “Henri Nouwen on Discipline

  1. Lucy says:

    Discipline is…something I’m not very good at 🙂 I’m praying God helps me! Also I’m frequently challenged over my ‘capacity’ to do things, which isn’t high at the moment. So looks like I need patience, too!

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