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Posts Tagged ‘discipline’

I have gracious friends, who graciously invited me to join a book discussion / accountability group centered (initially) around an old book on Christian living (for women) called Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman. My friends have been so gracious, in fact, that they have not kicked me out of this little group, even when my reactions to this book have been less than enthusiastic.

The book is just chock full of motherly advice about how to simplify and organize your life, from wardrobe to bedside table to daytimer. Sounds healthy, right? And of course, the task can be overwhelming, so here’s a sympathetic encouragement from the end of the book, where author Anne Ortlund imagines what her overwhelmed reader might be thinking about all the organization systems she has presented. Read it in your best Sue Ann Nivens voice:

“But here I sit,” you say, “with a girdle in the middle of the floor, dishes in the sink, and unanswered mail strewn on the bed. Where do I start?” (p. 123)

Did you catch that? There’s a girdle on this poor reader’s floor.

See now, I too would be truly bothered by the presence of a girdle on my floor, but not for the reasons Ortlund may be thinking.

Before I go off on why this book is not for me, let me recommend it to SOME of you. If you can get past the dated examples she gives (it was published in the 70’s, after all) and the privileged life she leads (at the time of writing, she had a housekeeper three days a week, and traveled all over the world sitting in hotel lobbies and on cruise ship decks writing books while her husband had speaking engagements), you might find the organization systems in this book useful. You will especially warm to it if:

  • you feel your home and your schedule is messy and out of control and this bothers you, because
  • you accept the premise that your outward self ought to be organized, neat, and attractive because this is becoming to a woman of God, and
  • you are the kind of woman who cares a great deal about appearance (of your outward self, of your home and “personal space”) and
  • you are looking for a some ways (and a pep talk) to simplify and organize your life so that you can devote yourself more fully to personal devotion and to discipling more women.

While I found some of the ideas in this book useful and have even implemented some of them (albeit in my own non-fussy, artsy style), I have to give this book only two stars because there is a tone and undercurrent to the book that disturbs me—so much so that while I wanted to learn from her ideas, reading the book was for me a prolonged exercise in eye-rolling and repeating to myself “it is for freedom that Christ has set you free … it is for freedom that…”.  There are an awful lot of “oughts” and “shoulds” in this book that don’t seem to have any basis in scripture.  Having been raised in churches with lots of oughts and shoulds, and having long since diligently and joyfully shed the underlying legalisms of all those voices in my head, I just balk at this kind of tone.  When someone writes that dirty laundry is “unworthy of lying around, untended to, in the life of a child of God!” (both quotes, p. 75), I have to ask the question, “why is this presented as a moral issue?”

So unless you’re up for being tisk-tisked into the virtues of tidiness, fastidious organization, and charm-school appearance and manners, you may, like me, take umbrage at the Sue Ann Nivens-ness of it all.

In the chapter on cleaning up and organizing your immediate surroundings, for example, she begins with the assertion that your closet, your bathroom counter, your bedside table “should reflect the order and peace of your inner life with God” (75).  It should?  Why?  Are people assessing my inner life by the orderliness of my bedside table?   And if it’s messy, just what are they assuming this announces about me and my God?  A cluttered table equals a cluttered soul?  How about I just don’t value tidy housekeeping as much as I value the books that are stacked on that table, and given a spare half hour I will almost always choose reading over dusting?  How about if my husband and my boys find me way more interesting that way?

In her defense, I have to say that the chapters on kingdom priorities and discipling show me that this woman’s heart is in the right place.  For her, the outward appearances are important, probably because of the way she was raised and the people she’s around, and I really believe that she devised her organizational systems and wardrobe planning (“eliminate and concentrate”) in an effort not to be bogged down by what she sees as the demands of good housekeeping and feminine grooming.  I just am glad that my in my generation, women don’t fuss over these outward things as much as hers apparently did – at least not the women I enjoy being around.

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I have delayed this entry far too long. I kept waiting to be inspired to write something uplifting, encouraging, amazing. It could be months. My life contains aggravatingly long stretches of completely uninspired days. The question is, whose fault is that, and if it’s mine (which it probably is), how do I make it stop?

Logophile that I am, I have to pause a bit here and examine the word “uninspired,” because I believe that language (diction) often chooses me more than I choose it, in a way. What I mean is, I could have chosen any number of synonyms to describe this stretch of days (“unexciting,” “unremarkable,” “commonplace”…), but what came off my fingertips is “uninspired,” and I believe that word moved from my unconscious onto my computer screen for a reason that bears examination. (Word choices often do bear examination, particularly for people who think as metaphorically as I tend to do.) Here’s the significance: I know consciously that “inspire” means breathe in, and I certainly connect that image (and etymology) to the Holy Spirit (spirare – to breathe), but I wasn’t consciously thinking about the relation of my creative doldrums to my spiritual doldrums until I saw the word on the screen. See now, this is why writing matters: to write is to think.

Given that rabbit trails–such as this one I just took–are the stuff of life, or at least the stuff of writing, what can I learn from that little rabbit trail? Simply that it reminds me of why I started this blog in the first place, and subtitled it “Weekly musings on life in Christ.” I need the discipline. To have musings to write requires reflection, and God knows I need to be doing more reflecting. And to do more reflecting requires taking time to be still. Which is exactly why I’ve had several uninspired weeks: no stillness.

Why? Because when a family of five takes a memorable, adventurous vacation in August, someone spent hours in April planning it (mom). Because once you start arranging flights and lodgings for Maine-Boston-NYC, big money is on the line, so you better be sure of your plans and book quickly while affordable things are available. Because Skybus pretends that all is well just two days before it declares bankruptcy and announces that your tickets are worthless (but of course you have already booked rooms for the cities you now have no way to get to, unless you re-book tickets with another airline, which will completely bust your budget). Because retrieving your money is your responsibility, not the bankrupt airlines’. Because our puppy hasn’t quite learned proper respect for the invisible fence yet. And because, at the end of a solid week of all this time of pretty much full-time travel-planning on the internet (and puppy chasing), my mood and my mind defaulted to black scribble, which is the best way I know to describe that foulness of outlook, that ticked-off funk I get into from time to time. It looks like Lucy in the cartoon here. Words are just inadequate. Everything is a mess of ugly knots. Oh, and I pretty much resent everybody I know.

Remember that comment I made on the last entry about knowing that in the parable of the sower, I am the “good soil?” Well I’m still claiming that by faith, but these are the days when the Savior has to remind me of it, if I would give him just half an hour: 29 minutes to calm myself down and stop being petulant, and a minute to listen to him call me his child. But for days on end, I gave him no such time. No, I was too busy stewing about whether the owner of that awesome apartment in Brooklyn with the rooftop view of the bridge was going to e-mail me back, or if I should just go ahead and book the one in East Village, which is $100 more per night. Tick tock. Things are booking up. Better not lose this one. Maybe check one more website…

Good soil, but thorns sometimes. The seed still grows, but the fruit is limited, choked by the “worries of this life” (Matt. 13:22). Deep inspiration stops, replaced by shallow panting. Mercifully, God does not forsake us then. But equally mercifully, he also does not usually reward us with his peace until we stop bolting like a frantic deer, realize that we are short of breath for no good reason, and lie down in those green pastures where He will restore our souls, every time.

How timely that the Tozer Daily Devotional (you HAVE to sign up for this one!) yesterday said this:

“Prayer: Take Time to Listen”

The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. I opened my mouth and panted, for I longed for Your commandments. -Psalm 119:130-131

The Quakers had many fine ideas about life, and there is a story from them that illustrates the point I am trying to make. It concerns a conversation between Samuel Taylor Coleridge and a Quaker woman he had met. Maybe Coleridge was boasting a bit, but he told the woman how he had arranged the use of time so he would have no wasted hours. He said he memorized Greek while dressing and during breakfast. He went on with his list of other mental activities–making notes, reading, writing, formulating thoughts and ideas–until bedtime.The Quaker listened unimpressed. When Coleridge was finished with his explanation, she asked him a simple, searching question: “My friend, when dost thee think?”

God is having a hard time getting through to us because we are a fast-paced generation. We seem to have no time for contemplation. We have no time to answer God when He calls. – Jesus, Author of our Faith, p. 46.

Tozer knew it and I know it:  when there is a dearth of inspiration, it has nothing to do with lack of available air.

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