As a former competitive swimmer, I watched the Olympics in awe as Katie Ledecky dominated the 200, 400 and 800-meter freestyle events, plus relay events. During the post-race interview after her 200m victory, Katie shared “that was the closest that I have come to throwing up during a race.” I felt somewhat shocked at this comment, even though I understood and believed her. Because she is a distance swimmer, I knew Katie had to be accustom to discomfort. What I have subsequently learned about Katie is that she regularly feels like throwing up during practice. She has learned, through experience, the harder she works in practice, the better she performs during races.
Discipline with athletics is a given. Most athletes know – harder work equals better results. Do these lessons apply to our spiritual lives? Does discipline with our faith journey equate to better results? If so, what exactly is a “better result” in our spiritual lives?
I will start by drawing the distinction between being and doing. If we choose to believe in the love of Jesus, God gives us amazing grace for all our mistakes. We start with a clean slate every day – fully loved (our being) by God despite our track record (our doing). So if we have grace, what difference does it make how we run the race? God’s acceptance of us is not based on what we do, but rather his relationship with us (we are his children).
If we choose to love and follow Jesus, we soon learn he calls us to be his hands and feet and voice in the world and to love others (especially the marginalized) like he loves us. Loving the unlovable is not an easy task and I believe it takes a close relationship with God to sustain this ability to love. And it takes a lot of discipline to stay in a trusting, loving relationship with God. Without discipline, my heart wanders. When I engage in my spiritual disciplines (praying, reading the Bible, worshiping, serving, etc.), I am doing something that keeps me connected with God. Just like athletes, most spiritual people know… harder work (spiritual disciplines) equals better results (a closer relationship with God). What if we as spiritual people worked as hard at our spiritual disciplines as Katie Ledecky does in the pool? Are we willing to endure the discomfort that comes with spiritual disciplines and following God? How might our discipline in faith impact our family, our community, our world? – Bill Ernstrom, Director of Operations