Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Discipline: a 2015 recap (aka January's almost over and I haven't collected any *Year End/New Year* thoughts AT ALL)

2015 was hard. Can I get an amen?

It started with a mission trip to Nepal and a new job, and ended with an unusual trip home, hanging out with my dad in the hospital for a week. 

It included a lot of highlights, especially a summer trip around the world (gahhhh I still need to post about that), but behind the highlights were a lot of frustrations, most of which aren't meant to be shared. 

I wouldn't trade it, even if I'm really really really glad to have 2015 behind me. 

Every year I choose a theme to pray into or focus on.
2013 was Obey.
2014 was Set-Apart.
2015 was Discipline.

I know right?

Last year on New Year's Day, I posted that I had chosen a theme for my year and I said something like "if God is willing to teach me, I want to hear Him!"

What a naive thing to say.

Every time it got hard and I wanted to hurl something against the wall, I came back to that. I chose this. I decided this. I asked God for a word and when I heard "Discipline," I accepted it joyfully.

"Yay! What a challenge! This might be hard, but it'll be soooo worth it!"
Ugh. It's easy to think those things from the safety of January 1. Now we're in the middle of January 2016, and I've had a chance to reflect on how I grew because of the challenges and frustration that happened as I stumbled my way through my Year Of Discipline.

And I guess it was worth it. (I mean, I know it was worth it.)

But, oh.
Oh man.

Several times during the year, I remembered that chipper little imp who beamed at the thought of a long, hard year. Oh yes, I remembered her optimistic "think how much closer I'll be to God at the end of a year learning about Discipline!" I remembered her idealistic whims and pleaded with God to make next year easier. Can 2016 be the Year Of Puppies?

And, honest to goodness, it was a great year. The hard is what made it great. My head knows that, because that's what wisdom says, but my flesh is still all like ughhhh that sucked. On this side of it, in the arms of beautiful beautiful January 2016, I can say that gladly! 2015 had so much greatness, so much richness, so many obvious blessings. I almost let the blessings get buried by the struggles, but I want to remember that I love my job as a librarian. I love living in Seoul. I love my adventures! And dangit, I can even say I love the struggles. That annoying Pollyanna outlook just won't let go of me. I'm an idealistic optimist til the day I die.

The lessons learned this year are hard to explain mostly because they are below the surface. They're foundational, root, building block lessons. It's harder to fix a foundation with a house sitting on it, and landscaping all around, you know? Foundational lessons are often the hardest to learn.

Discipline is a foundational thing.

So, real talk. I am bold and talkative, and I’ve never been afraid to speak in front of people. Because I was willing to serve, I have been trusted with leadership in every church I’ve been a part of. In recent years, I didn’t realize that my confidence in leadership had begun to take me in a direction I don’t want to go... I was in danger of becoming arrogant with my faith, with my leadership skills, especially because I thought my opinion was better than anyone else’s in leadership around me... if only because my opinion was the loudest.

God started to open my eyes to the danger of overconfidence (read: PRIDE). There have been times when I’ve disagreed with a leader about this or that, and I would occasionally let them know that they were wrong and they should probably do it my way instead. The first time I was called out on that, I was shocked. Someone I esteemed pulled me aside and gently told me how disrespectful it was. I thought I was just being strong, refusing to be pushed around. I didn't see that I came across as stubborn and combative. In hindsight, I can see a number of times where I refused to submit to authority and thus disrespected the structure that I'd agreed to.

I started to ask God to teach me how to be a respectful follower. (danger! danger!) I'd never prayed something like that, but it became important to me. God is faithful. I didn't know what I was about to get.

This went deeper than just being a follower, truthfully. I want to be a better friend, co-worker, roommate, daughter, human being. The lessons that God threw at me this year went deep into every relationship I have. Thank you, dearly, to the people who faced all this with me. Thank you especially to the ones I fought with, or fought against. You might not have known it but you were being used by God to teach me priceless things. Thank you for being the iron to sharpen iron.

A while back, I went through membership and leadership training at my church in Seoul.Some of the key training, for me, was about healthy submission to godly authority. God has been radically changing my paradigm. In the past, the word “submission” made me recoil. Over time, God has been teaching me about the value of submission. It has stopped being a bad word. It's still hard. I have moments of rebellion (lots of them). That's part of why last year was so foundationally hard. I'm trying to figure out the line between independence and submission, between strength and rebellion, between being exuberant and being a bulldozer.

I don't want to be an uncooperative, obstinate mule.

You know something funny?

ALL DAY LONG I expect my students to follow directions because I am their teacher, because I care about them, because I have their best interest at heart and I know more about what's going on in the whole classroom than any one of them individually might realize. It bugs me SO MUCH when the little ones refuse to follow directions. Their tiny, stubborn voices pepper me with "why?" "why?" "why, teacher?"

Substitute "leader" for "teacher" and "me" for "students" and BY GUM! I'VE DISCOVERED MY PROBLEM.

My mom taught me to obey her instructions first because she was the parent and I was the child. I expect my students to obey my instructions because I am the teacher and they are the student. SO...

When my boss or church leaders ask me to do something, why do I constantly ask why? Can I just take my own advice and trust that they are my authority and they know a lot about the whole situation and probably have a good reason to ask me to do something (or not do something) and I can trust them? I trust God, don't I? Doesn't that mean I can trust the leaders He has set?

Over a long season, I came realize just how much I didn't like to submit to authority and, more importantly, why. For years, I feared submission because I feared the abuse of authority. Knowing that godly leadership is safe because leaders are accountable to God, based on Hebrews 13:17, brought me to a new level of understanding. Layer upon layer of distrust and fear are being peeled off and it's so FREEING.

[Big Specification Here: I am not encouraging myself or anyone to trust all leaders everywhere, blindly. Don't be blind. If your leader is asking you to do something immoral or illegal or just dumb, I think there is room to respectfully ask for clarifications,etc., and, of course, don't do the immoral or illegal thing. I think the reason many of us fear authority is because it's been abused so often. That hurts. It's real. It takes time to heal those scars. 
The leadership structure I'm talking about is a godly, Biblical structure that has proved to be trustworthy. I'm also talking about leaders at work, where my pigheadedness has gotten me into some conflict with bosses over the years. I've made mistakes and learned a lot. I'm certain that I'm a better employee because of 2015. This is big for me!]

I want to have a heart for submission because I trust God.

I think that's what this year is about. And that's why this year has been so hard. My "token sin" is pride. Willful pride. Obstinate, combative, stubborn, inflexible, headstrong, bullheaded pride. The voice that said that my opinion was better than anyone else’s around me... if only because my opinion was the loudest.

It takes discipline to re-learn what I now want to know, which is to say, submission.

It takes discipline to re-learn how to submit.

And it might have sucked, but I needed 2015 to begin the process of re-learning what I should know, cause I've had yeeeears of practice not submitting. There is a lot of stuff built on a broken foundation.

(When I say I need to re-learn submission, I'm not just thinking about submitting to bosses or leaders,  but to friends and parents and roommates and even people who push me on the subway ... based on Ephesians 5 ... because submission is a form of kindness, and love, when you think deeply about it.)

Last year I wrote... 

Who am I? What is this?? I'm willingly seeking discipline, knowing full well that discipline is rarely easy. I'm inviting all sorts of challenges with this word. And yet, at this point I know without a shadow of a doubt that discipline is worth it. I'm a little nervous, yes, but I also eagerly anticipate some huge, valuable lessons at the end of it all. Proverbs 3:11-12 confirms what we all know: good fathers discipline because of love. I'm asking my Father for discipline, confident that whatever He does will be good, pure, righteous, and that I'll be a better daughter because of it.

"My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in."
Proverbs 3:11-12

If I want God to use me for greatness, for His purposes, for His glory, I need to be ready for that. I need refining, I need challenges, I need iron sharpening iron, I need discipline (all wrapped in love) to accomplish great things. I am a set-apart, obedient daughter of the King. Royal daughters are leaders. Princesses must act with decorum. Princesses must have self-discipline. 

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. - Hebrews 12:11:

Proverbs 3:11-12:

But seriously, God, I'm praying that 2016 is less of a struggle. 2015 was hard. Lots of waiting. Lots of pruning. Lots of refining. I want the harvest. 

But thank you for your Discipline. 

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