by Joanie Butman
As homework for a course I’m taking on spiritual disciplines, we were asked to pick one discipline (our text lists 75!) to focus on for the week. These exercises are designed to address ‘signature sins.' It didn’t take long to identify mine, and if I asked my family I’m sure they’d be happy to point out a few more. The first one I chose to concentrate on was Control of the Tongue, but I left to visit a friend in Texas the next day. I don’t know if you’ve ever visited the Lone Star State, but people are so nice down there it wasn’t difficult to control my tongue.
Only one minor hiccup to report, and ironically, it was during Sunday service. I now know why they pad the pews down there. Services are lo-o-o-n-g. Just when I thought the end was in sight, yet another person got up to speak. Without thinking, I muttered to my host, “For goodness sake, NOW WHAT?!” Shame on me. Lack of patience is also on my docket for some spiritual disciplining.
Just that morning I’d received an encouraging email from the instructor reminding me to journal through the exercise. I felt guilty because I was having too much fun to concentrate more seriously on my chosen discipline. However, while discussing the assignment with my friends over coffee, I realized I was targeting the wrong discipline. Not that I don’t desperately need to work on controlling my tongue, but this week was about celebration. Who knew delight, joy and celebration could be a discipline? As you can see from the photos, I wasn’t having any trouble with that homework.
Adele Calhoun defines the spiritual discipline of celebration as identifying and pursuing those things that bring the heart deep gladness and reveling in them before the Lord. This may include time spent with others, sharing meals, working, serving, worshiping, laughing, listening to music, dancing, etc.* That’s funny; she’s describing my week in Texas visiting friends and family, sharing meals, making Halloween costumes, worship, music and laughter. We attended a country music concert together where the joy of the Lord was palpable. From what I witnessed, folks in Texas share their love of the Lord gladly, without apology or concern about offending someone (or being long-winded). Coming from the northeast where people tend to be more guarded and buttoned up, it was refreshing.
In our productivity-crazed society, it’s tempting to feel guilty or indulgent when participating in something for the sheer joy of it. Spiritual Discipline needn’t be a chore. God knows we already have enough of them. It’s simply intentionally inviting Him into every moment – whatever we’re doing. He doesn’t want to be one more item to check off our endless to-do lists, kept to an allotted time slot. No, He wants to be welcomed into all our activities so that our joy may be complete in Him. Sometimes it will be in prayerful silence, fasting or studying scripture, but it also might be riding a mechanical bull in Ft. Worth!
The state of the world can easily induce chronic anxiety if that is what we choose to focus on. However, the joy of the Lord is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is the only panacea able to offer peace amidst chaos. Being joyful doesn’t depend on perfect circumstances. It depends on perfect love, which He provides in abundance. That’s something to celebrate every day. Christ’s love is the source of my joy in celebration and suffering. Adele Calhoun explains that to set our hearts on His joy reminds us that we can choose how we respond to any particular moment. Our choice can be its own form of worship. That’s a spiritual discipline we can choose to exercise daily.
*Spiritual Disciplines, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun