Friday, January 16, 2009

Freedom or Discipline?

Last weekend I spent some time with a friend who is my accountability partner for the Live It Out challenge. If you're not familiar with this challenge, check it out at So - in our desire to live more simply, justly and faithfully, we spent a bit of time setting some specific and more or less measurable goals in different areas of our lives: financial, social (that is, family and friends), physical, intellectual, spiritual, work, etc. It was just a bit like making New Year's resolutions and maybe that's why it made me a little bit uneasy - you know what happens to most New Year's resolutions, right?

So I've been thinking about the whole approach to Live It Out and wondering if my admonition that we must avoid "legalism" is going to work if we make lists of dos and don'ts to help us move in the direction of greater simplicity, justice and faithfulness. Hear me out. I'm not abandoning the idea, just wondering. It seems that we have a stubborn resistance to exercising our freedom in healthy ways. For example, when I think about past efforts to lose weight without being obsessive about it, I must confess that, as sensible as my thinking is (that is, eat healthy but in moderation, get plenty of good exercise) I invariably GAIN weight rather than lose it! It's only when I get serious (aka LEGALISTIC and OBSESSIVE!) about keeping track that I start to lose, and that only as long as I stay focused. As you MAY know, it's a frustrating TRAP...

This same friend - my accountability partner - was telling me about an audio lecture she'd been listening to by a Catholic theologian, John Shea, who said something to the effect that our objective in our relationship with God is not KNOWLEDGE so much as WONDER. As I think about the way my mind works, I realize that I LOVE knowledge. The pursuit of TRUTH is a huge motivator for me. There's nothing like having some new insight or learning something that helps put other things, previously learned, into a new and clearer perspective. I love learning and thinking. But yet, there was for me an immediate resonance with this notion that it's the WONDER of God that nourishes the soul. That, as rich as knowledge is, it can - if we're not careful - get in the way of wonder. Child-like wonder. Child-like simplicity. Child-like delight.

Maybe I just need to live with the tensions - between freedom and discipline, between knowledge and wonder. And just one other quick thing. I've listened this week to an audiobook, Abandoned to God which is a wonderful biography of Oswald Chambers (perhaps best known for the devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest. I REALLY enjoyed listening to this inspirational and very well narrated story of the life of one of my spiritual heroes. It tied in very nicely with my thinking about freedom and discipline, though you'll have to read it or listen to it for yourself to understand the full impact. Oswald Chamber's motto for everyday life could be summed up as follows: Trust God and do the next thing! So - in addition to my specific Live It Out goals, I'm intent on applying this principle in my own life. It occurs to me that Oswald Chambers was a man of great insight and knowledge, but it was a knowledge rooted in wonder. By the way, you can download Abandoned to God for free from You'll need to create an account, log in and then go to the free download section. This book is the free "book of the month" for January. Enjoy and pass the word...

Ultimately I want to be the kind of person who naturally lives simply, justly and faithfully. I know I'm not there just yet - I'm easily distracted and all too often give into temptations to indulge my appetite for "stuff" and the complications that invariably come with the stuff (reminded just now of Jonathan Wilson's article in the most recent Mosaic magazine called "Consumed: Faithful Discipleship in a Society of Consumption". I'm not there yet, but I'm on the journey. And for now, if it helps to set specific goals and be accountable to a friend for how I'm doing, so be it. Freedom beckons!

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