Arkad, the titular character in George S. Clason's, “The Richest Man in Babylon”, scoffs at the idea that “willpower” is what helps a man do things other men can’t do. Willpower is but the purpose to accomplish the task you set before yourself, he claims and encourages the listener to set a trifling task to build confidence in one's ability to do important things. He cautions against taking on something too difficult and impractical at first. As an example, he relates;
“Should I say to myself, ‘For a hundred days as I walk across the bridge to the city, I will pick from the road a pebble and cast it into the stream,’ I would do it. If on the seventh day I passed by without remembering, I would not say to myself, Tomorrow I will cast two pebbles which will do as well.’ Instead, I would retrace my steps and cast the pebble. Nor on the twentieth day would I say to myself, ‘Arkad, this is useless. What does it avail you to cast a pebble every day? Throw in a handful and be done with it.’ No, I would not say that nor do it. When I set a task for myself, I complete it.”
Arkad is trying to instill discipline as a “cure for a lean purse” but this lesson can be applied to many areas of life. I first heard this story in the context of the daily disciplines of my spiritual walk. For my “pebble”, I was encouraged to read the coinciding chapter from the book of Proverbs for each day of the month. On the first day of the month I would read chapter one and so on for two months. I had to “retrace my steps” a few times and honesty compels me to say I was tempted to “throw a handful” a time or two as well.
I am afraid my view of discipline was less than flattering. I saw discipline and accountability, discipline’s henchman, as words used by the strong and loud to exert power and control over the weak. They were the blunt swords used to enforce a punitive economy of doing what we are “supposed to do” or paying the price of shame. I saw failure and fear as the driving forces behind discipline and creativity was the casualty. For a long time, I could not reconcile my values of freedom and creativity with discipline.
God has met me in my darkest places and the light he has often brought has been creativity and freedom. They are the salve that say I matter. Some way, somehow, what I do matters. I love God for that. I love how the Word of God speaks to freedom and creativity in powerful ways. Oddly enough, that is how I came to see discipline as something that God has for my good. I accept that the God of the universe can communicate clearly with His beloved and he does so through the scriptures. Through the scriptures, God has much to say about discipline and I found that He was gently calling me to it.
I found my “trifling” task, not in the Proverbs, but in a glass of water. Proverbs was rich and beneficial and, though I can stick with the one-per-day pebble in doses, it proved to challenge me rather than build the confidence I lacked. I had to start smaller so I found a simple task that would improve my physical health. One of the first things I do every day is drink a glass of water. Within an hour of waking and before I eat or drink anything else, I drink a glass of water. It wakes my system, gets my metabolism going, helps my sinuses, and has many other positive effects. Most important of those effects, I find I can do it! I have also found that, as I embrace the discipline to do it, I have more energy and creativity.
Once I was able to reconcile discipline and creativity, I found many disciplines that I see are for my good. In the year following my father's death I found I had to lean into many of them. Rest, exercise, eating well, prayer, time with family, even grieving were all things I did because I knew they were for my good. As that season wound down, I found myself praying about what it would mean to move on. What would the transition look like to spend less effort caring for myself and more effort serving God and others. God’s answer, “Serve me, discipline will care for you.” I realized the daily disciplines I have been faithful to employ had become habits I could rely on without much effort. Really, how hard is it to drink a glass of water? Having allowed discipline to work its good, I was freed up to live and serve in other important matters. Having developed the discipline of throwing my pebble into the book of proverbs, I can now pay attention to what Proverbs is saying to me. My “lean purse” has begun to fatten.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!