Discipline Will Make You Free (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 13 March 2016


Though you’ve broken your vows a thousand times, come, yet again, come. —Rumi

Close your eyes for a moment and listen: “Discipline.” 

What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear that word Discipline? 

Do you want to rebel? Do you see a stern parent, a demanding teacher, or a demanding God forcing you in a direction you don't want to go? Do you feel that aching regret that you don't have enough self-discipline to accomplish the things that you've always wished you could? Do you wish you had the discipline to spend the 10,000 hours it would take to master your craft, your art, your music, your sport, your dreams?

Do you find yourself facing a wall: the daily demands of life, the distractions, the fear of failure, or the perfectionism that gets in your way and keeps you from making a daily commitment to something that matters to you? Do you have a practice, a discipline, that connects you daily to a passion, to a place of inner peace or to the transcendent? Or do you wish that you did?

Open your eyes and turn to someone sitting near you and share, if you wish, the first thing that came into your mind when I first said the word discipline. [The congregation shared their thoughts with each other.]

When I was studying to become a minister, I took a course on prayer.  Our assignment was to pray or meditate for a half hour every day for four months and to write about our daily experiences in a journal.

I was such a diligent student. (Really, I was an obsessive student.) I had these irrational fears that if I didn’t put in constant effort, I’d fail all my courses — even a course about prayer.  So, every day, I dutifully put in my half-hour of prayer without ever skipping a single day. 

And just to clarify, prayer for me, as a Unitarian Universalist, is a combination of meditation and meditative words, of silence, and sometimes conversation with the universe or that which I call God, and often a litany of gratitude and blessings for everyone and everything that touches my life.

At the end of the semester, I suddenly discovered that my prayer practice had literally rewired my brain. It was that experience, more than my courses in theology, pastoral care and church management, that prepared me to do this work. It clarified my faith, it calmed the noisy anxiety I had carried inside of me for years, and brought me to a place of equilibrium. 

When the course finished, I told myself that I would keep up this daily discipline. I promised myself that, really, I would…  I set up my quiet meditative space, I bought myself a new journal and a fine pen to write with. But without the external incentive of being a good student, I found myself constantly struggling to keep my vow. 

I started my last prayer journal in March 2006. Ten years have gone by and that journal is still not complete. It’s filled with entries that promise again and again that today I really will return to my practice of a half an hour each day in meditation and prayer. Sometimes I succeed, but more often I find I’m bargaining with myself. OK, I say, if not a half an hour, then 15 minutes. Ok, how about 5 minutes?

When I opened my journal this week, I discovered to my surprise that the last entry was written almost exactly a year ago. March 12, 2015. There it was, unequivocal proof that an entire year of broken vows has passed. That very day, I took up my prayer practice once again. I sat in quiet for half an hour. Then I wrote:

“Though you’ve broken your vows a thousand time, come, yet again, come:. Isn’t that what I need to remember? The holy is always waiting for me, welcoming me back, no matter how many times or how long I stray. I am still yours and you are still mine. This day awaits us both.”

Like the jazz musician who practices for thousands of hours to master their instrument so that they will have the skill to truly improvise, I know that this spiritual discipline will set me free. It’s just that I have to keep coming back to it, again and again. 

The Sufi mystic Rumi expressed it beautifully hundreds of years ago:

“Though you've broken your vows a thousand times, come, yet again, come.” 

How hard it is for us mere mortals to keep our vows — and how essential it is for us to keep trying. 

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