Salmon swim upstream. They were created to. The drive is in their nature. It's clear that my instinct is to let the current carry me, and I'm having lots of thoughts about that.
A few weeks ago, I read something that stuck with me. It was one item on a long list of things some person thought you should do every day. You know those kinds. It could have been in a book, email forward, something that was not that impressive. But days later, one item kept itching like a mosquito bite. It said, "Make it a practice to deny yourself something every day."
My first question was "Why?" And I've been thinking about my answers to this question for about a month. My first reason is that we, as Americans, are way too comfortable. I can go purchase an iced-tea and pastry whenever I feel like it. I drive my full-of-gas car there. I use a debit card. I give in to my child's plea for the $3 package of madelines. And not once do I consider myself indulgent. It is normal. I know you know; we do and have and pursue a thousand things on a daily basis which provide us with comfort.
I'm pretty sure I don't want to be insulated from discomfort. I'm pretty sure too much comfort blots God out of our lives, because we are no longer aware of our need for Him. And I'm very sure discomfort is one of God's favorite tools to bring His children to Himself. So why, then, do I resist it so much?
It turns out that self-discipline hurts. As I've begun to live differently, I'm being reminded of the pain in so many ways; lately, I'm keenly aware of how resistant I am to being stretched, literally and figuratively.
I used to do yoga quite a bit, in between baby one and two, which was about five years ago. Well, I'm picking it back up and went to a class on Friday. And therefore, ouch. Somehow yoga reveals muscles you never knew you had. The large, normal muscles are fine. It's my obscure muscles that are probably too minor to have been named by scientists that were screaming, "What is happening? You've never used me before in your life and now you're trying to tear me into two?"
But all complaining aside, I couldn't stop thinking about how my physical body just didn't want to do what I was trying to make it do. It seemed that every few minutes of the class, I had to push through resistance to the physical work. Every few minutes, my body was saying, "Just stop. Just stop. This is too much effort, too uncomfortable." And inside, I kept having to push those suggestions OUT. The whole time! Self-discipline is something I keep chasing, and something that keeps eluding me all at once.
Then there's the getting up at 6 thing. I'm doing that too. I don't mention it because I'm so proud of myself for taking on new disciplines. I'm actually thinking (hoping) it may be strategic. Maybe if I incorporate self-discipline into my whole life - not just one aspect - it will be easier to assimilate as a way of life. I'm even trying to make different choices in tiny ways as well. If I walk past something out of place, instead of thinking "Ugh, I'll put that away later," I put it away then. "The dog can wait a while to eat....No, I'll feed him now." "I really don't want to have to deal with ______ today....but I'll choose to, if only for the sake of practicing DOING the thing I don't feel like doing."
All those choices have a push-through point. Throughout the day, I'm faced with a million decisions to either push through something that takes effort I don't want to give at the moment, delay, or avoid it completely. It has been a week and a half of this for me, and from time to time, I've been stepping back, trying to get a view from outside myself. I did not expect self-discipline to be such a continual challenge. I'm shocked at how much I feel like I'm swimming upstream.
I've pondered how our culture, our wealthy society, and the world at large has aggressively marketed comfort. I've wondered how future generations will even survive, given how tremendously indulgent much of American culture is today. But there is a deeper curse at work, and that is our inborn selfishness. Living for something beyond the desires and needs of oneself will always be swimming upstream. But I'm hoping, with practice, I'll become a stronger swimmer.