Ask most elite athletes what got them to the pinnacle of their sport, many will tell you that it was hard work and perseverance. In short – discipline.
It takes a certain kind of discipline for young men and women to rise early or stay late to practice. I’m sure that even the most dedicated athlete doesn’t really enjoy a long and gruelling run in a cold winter rain, but a disciplined athlete runs just the same. You can see the fruits of such discipline in their results.
Ask any armchair athlete or weekend warrior why they never made it to the big time and their answers will be wide and varied – politics, wrong place – wrong time, injury, etc. Once you’ve filtered through all their excuses, I’m sure you’ll find that it came down to a lack of discipline in training for their chosen sport – that they gave up in the face of adversity.
Our spiritual lives are very much like our physical lives, and call for the same kind of discipline if we want to get the most out of them. When we find our spiritual lives slipping into the same rut as the athleticism of the armchair athlete or weekend warrior, it is tempting to trot out similar excuses – blaming God for turning away and distancing Himself from us. What we should be doing, on the other hand, is asking ourselves if we are approaching our relationship with God with the discipline that it deserves. Do we take the time to train our spiritual muscles to perform at their optimal peak? Are we as disciplined in our prayer life as we are in other areas of our lives?
If we are spiritual weekend warriors, going to Mass on Sunday but not working out spiritually in prayer through the rest of the week, then we can expect our relationship with God will seem lacking, even when we present ourselves before the Lord on Sunday.
We need to have good discipline to be good disciples.
With all of the distractions or world throws our way, it can be difficult to have a fruitful prayer life. That is precisely why our prayer life needs to be disciplined. Don’t fret, however, if by the end of the first week of your new spiritual efforts that you are not a candidate for sainthood. Remember that elite athletes call on hard work and perseverance to get results – prayer life is no different. When starting out on your spiritual journey, you need to be aware that there will be times when prayer comes easily to you, but there will also be times when prayer is difficult – it’s probably in the most difficult times that your prayer will bear the greatest fruit. Discipline will help your discipleship.
Like a marathon that can’t be run without proper training, a strong prayer life is built up little by little. There needs to be a solid foundation to support your spiritual edifice. Starting small with your prayer life (5-10 contemplative minutes a day, a decade of the Rosary, or simply remembering to say grace before meals) will allow you to build discipline in your prayer life without getting frustrated. As you become spiritually disciplined in small matters, you will feel confident in extending your prayer life – you will hunger for it.
In a world where we are told we can be who we want, can have what we want and can do what we want, it can be difficult to remain disciplined; period. If we remain disciplined in our prayer lives, however, we will be led to happiness beyond our worldly imagination.