One of the more difficult acts of discipline for me is holding my tongue. The most difficult, is holding my tongue in my car. I’ve learned to temper my speech at work and in most social settings, but when I’m alone or with friends, it’s not so easy. And when I’m in my car, forget about it. When someone cuts me off in traffic or goes slower than I think they should, it’s so tempting to hurl a curse at them. I realize that in those situations they probably aren’t even aware, so it’s tempting to think that it’s not really hurting anyone. But wouldn’t it be better to send up a blessing or say nothing at all? And even if it doesn’t hurt them. It hurts me. If I cannot let the Holy Spirit guide my tongue in such a small thing, how can I expect my willful soul to submit in larger things?
My mom always told me that if I couldn’t say anything nice, I shouldn’t say anything at all. There is true godly wisdom in that teaching. Today, I will strive to take it one step further and bless those who curse me, or even just those who irritate me.
Growing up, I thought of temptation as overt. I thought that Satan would tempt me to do big things. These days some of the biggest temptations I face are seemingly tiny and insignificant. Previously I’ve mentioned that I use flossing me teeth as both an act of discipline and of worship and prayer. (Oh no, she’s writing a out flossing again! Stick with me, there’s a kernel of truth in here).
Sometimes, when I’ve stayed up to late, my mind will tell me to skip it and just go to bed. What’s the big deal? It’s just one night, right? Wrong. The truth is that, it’s not too late, and if it is, it’s because I chose to watch one more episode, read one more chapter or play one more game. So if I can read one more chapter, I can also take two minutes to floss my teeth. Why is this such a big deal to me? Because, this one little thing is an act of discipline that calls my will and flesh into line. The enemy knows that if he can derail me from this one little thing, it will be all the more difficult for me to show discipline in bigger things of more eternal importance. So, I choose to remind myself that it just takes two minutes to brush my teeth, and if I have time for that, I have time to spend two more minutes flossing, and two more minutes washing my face. Those few minutes of lost sleep are an investment in my spiritual training. Every time I crucify my flesh-with this minutiae, that spiritual muscle gets a little bit stronger, and I get a little bit better at resisting the next, bigger temptation.
Letting it go
A few weeks ago, I was very upset by something someone had done. I was right, he was wrong. I was following the rules, and he was making them up as he went along. But he won anyway, and there was nothing I could do about it. Except seethe. And seethe I did. My undisciplined mind kept returning to the scene of the crime and rehashing my rightness and his wrongness. The more I thought about it the angrier I became.
It's fine to be upset when we are wronged. Getting your feelings hurt is not a sin. However, it's not fine to dwell on that anger or hurt. That's usually a sign of unbridled pride. For me that's what this was. My pride was wounded. I couldn't change the situation, so I needed to let it go and move on. Easier said than done.
So I took a break, walked to a little chapel down the street and tried to pray it away. It worked for about five minutes. Then the feelings of anger and unjustness were back. I was desperately trying to do the right thing and let it go, but because I had previously allowed myself to indulge in this type of thing, I was finding it increasingly difficult. The harder I tried, the harder my soul clung to its hurt feelings. All day this battle raged within me. When I finally got to the end of the day and was saying my final prayer before going to bed, my mind continued to churn. I prayed again and asked God to help me let it go. I prayed that prayer a dozen times, every time my mind went back to the situation, I stopped. I said, no to my soul. And I prayed. Eventually, my wounded pride took the hint and let it go.
What? How does flossing my teeth help me on a quest to be holy?
It’s something I need to do, but I don’t always do it. For me, it’s usually not because I forgot, it’s because I’m too lazy. I stay up late watching TV, surfing the web or even doing some spiritual reading. Then, I think I’m too tired to floss my teeth. But last year I made a commitment to myself to floss my teeth every night. It seems small and stupid. For me, it’s become a small act of discipline that I can devote to God as worship. Yes, I’m saying that flossing your teeth can be an act of worship and prayer. How? I choose to make it one. My flesh is weak and often unwilling. I must train it and bring it under submission. I can choose a simple activity, that seems like it would be irrelevant to God, and make it something more – an offering of myself. Just like an athlete must condition their body, we all must condition our flesh. For you, it might be something else, for me it’s flossing. I was recently telling a friend about this, and a small truth came out. If you want to know how I’m really doing in my prayer life or just life in general? Don’t ask me how I am, ask me if I flossed my teeth last night.
Monday starts the work week. It's a great time to set the tone for the whole week. So I like to focus on an act of discipline that calls my mind and body in line with Him and helps me on my path toward unsullied holiness.
For me, writing this blog is an act of discipline. God placed it on my heart almost a year ago. Since the beginning of this year, it has been like Jeremiah's words – a fire shut up in my bones. If you know me, you know I don't like to do anything halfway. So I put off starting this blog for a long time. It's a commitment. A commitment to write. A commitment to be real when I'm succeeding and when I fail. A commitment to actually follow the path of unsullied holiness – publicly. So here you have it, my commitment to you who read these words, my commitment to myself and most importantly, my commitment to God – to write. What has God asked you to do that you haven't done? I challenge you today to begin whatever it is in whatever way you can. He will meet you where you are and help you rise to the challenge.