Only A few Things are Necessary: Identifying your life’s practices

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“And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, ‘This is important! And this is important! And this also is important. You need to worry about this, and this, and this.”

And each day, It is up to you to yank your hand back, place it on your heart, and say, ‘No. This is what’s important’     Iain Thomas

Only a few things are necessary—really, only one.”   Luke 10:42

I have a history of quitting. I quit wrestling. I quit Piano. I quit track. I quit football. I quit some friends. I quit God. I quit family. I know how to start—and I know very well how to quit. When the going gets tough, well…

Then I “Fell Forward” into a life principle that has transformed the way I think, feel, and act– the very elements that make me who I am.

This principle is discipline. (I now have either lost you, or you are braced for a lecture.  I hope neither occurs.) If you are like me, the word discipline has a lot of negative connotations—whether from a fourth-grade nun wrapping you on the knuckles, or standing at the blackboard in front of the class with your nose firmly planted in a circle on the chalkboard.

Then years ago I heard a definition of discipline that would save me from myself. It was this;

To follow another’s path until it becomes your own.”

The path I had been following for the past twenty-five years did not bring the results I had hoped for. No white picket fence. No two car garage, and no wife or children waiting excitedly for me to come home from work. I finally was willing to follow another’s path. Almost anyone’s would do.

Study the lives of artists, writers, musicians, sports figures, or anyone in any field who strove towards a challenging goal, and they all say the same thing. They followed a precise path, patterned after someone else they wanted to be like.

Driven by a life-record of mostly self-inflicted pain, I accepted the help of a mentor and made the decision to follow a set of daily spiritual disciplines. I quit complaining about the mess of my life, got up off my back, and began following another.  At the time, I did not realize the power of a few simple, concrete acts done daily, and how the accumulative power innate in these acts would transform my life.

Here’s the thing. There really isn’t anything new under the sun. The world religions and wisdom literature all attest to the necessity of some commitment to a set of life practices, or disciplines – of following a path that others have forged until it becomes your own. In the view of the spiritual masters in all religions, it is only after a set of critical daily practices are established that steady progress can be made towards ones goals, purpose, objective, and dreams.

In my last blog, I reflected on my purpose as a channel of God’s love and peace to others. What is blocking me from being a free and clear channel? How can I stay on this narrow path without getting pulled away?

The modern world does not as a rule cooperate with internal spiritual growth. It resists our efforts at every turn. The opening quote of this blog says it well. It is up to me to reject demands that do not support my life purpose, and focus on the critical few that do. How do I resist the “Tyranny of the Urgent” and stay invested in those few critical important activities and disciplines that open me to receive the special grace of God to be that channel of his love?

The classical Spiritual disciplines in Christian Spirituality and other religions are widely known, but rarely adopted—Disciplines such as silence, solitude, prayer and meditation, simplicity, poverty, chastity, study, charity, community, fasting and abstinence.

Over the years, I have more precisely identified for myself those critical few daily actions that I believe will keep me moving forward and growing into what I know to be my purpose in life today. I cannot get to my destination from where I am without the journey of the middle.

My purpose to me is clear:

  1. To continually grow in my love for and relationship with God, my family, and my neighbor.
  2. To be of maximum service to others, using my particular traits and interests.

The spiritual disciplines that have moved me down the road towards my purpose are few but critical. They can be divided into three categories popularized by both addiction recovery and classical spiritual practices.  Each category  mutually supports and influences the others.

  1. Trust God
    1. Morning and evening periods of silence & solitude, prayer, and meditation
    2. Built-in times during the day to connect with God- little pools of solitude.
  2. Clean House – (Keeping my channel open…)
    1. Paying attention to myself as I interact with others throughout the day.
      1. Watch myself think and act. Make on- the- spot corrections.
    2. Evening Review-Where was I helpful today? Where was I not?
      1. Thank God for his grace, and ask for his help tomorrow.
      2. Journal
    3. Get some exercise today
    4. Get eight hours of sleep
    5. Keep up with doctor and dental periodic check-ups.
  3. Help Others
    1. Every morning I ask God to show me how and when to be helpful this day— For his guidance, strength, and direction all through the day.
    2. Write something each day
    3. Read something each day

My great challenge today is staying consecrated to my few practices, no matter what. Often the good of my daily duties encroaches upon me and  keeps me from the best – my critical few practices. I then begin to lose both my effectiveness and my enthusiasm in those very duties I have been given.

I also realize that ones state in life, age, marital status, number and ages of your children, all will influence greatly what disciplines you can adopt. A young mother could not expect to adopt the same disciplines as a retired senior citizen. Yet there are some disciplines that none of us can ignore if we wish to live happy and fulfilling lives, no matter our stage in life.

The Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard wrote a thesis entitled Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. In it he says “To will one thing means to have a mind that is unified around an organizing principle.”

For Kierkegaard the person who wills one thing is the person who is focused on the Good- the good being a generic term for God’s will for me.  The disciplines I adopt are my pathway to realizing more fully with each day God’s will for me.

The irony of this is what was once perceived as an uncomfortable restraint I ran from, has become the very vehicle giving me the freedom to become who I was meant to be.

What are your critical few daily activities that will take you to your dreams? What encroaches upon those activities? IF you were convinced this activity would lead you to your dreams, what adjustments would you be willing to make to your daily life?

My prayer is we all embrace our unique disciplines and daily practices with joy, and in doing so realize all that we are meant to experience.

Kind Regards,

Bob

 

 

2 Responses

  1. Don Dodson

    July 30, 2016 5:24 pm

    Many years ago, my manager at work told me to put my phone on silent; calls going directly to voicemail, for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. She said something like, “Don’t let the urgent things keep you from doing what’s important. This way you will have four hours each day to devote to the important things in your job instead of just reacting to the next stimulus.”

    It took me even more time to connect this concept to my spiritual life and is still a challenge for me. There is apparently something appealing about reacting to the current stimulus, the urgent, rather than letting that pass by and concentrating on and giving time to what’s important.

    Reply
    • Bob Toohey

      July 30, 2016 5:33 pm

      Thanks for your comment Don. It seems we are so “Connected” to signals and messages that have little to do with my life purpose that disconnecting from technology for periods of the day is itself a spiritual practice.

      Reply

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