Monday, August 2, 2010

Grasping Self-Discipline

If I listen to what my heart, my head, God, is telling me, I may not be posting on this blog quite as often, or scouring other internet sites, as often for awhile. The gentle urging has been there for some time. The habits have slowly snowballed over the years. In just about every area of my life -- what I eat, how I keep fit, how I accomplish what I need to do for the day, and most of all, what I think about, I have a complete lack of discpline.

Maybe complete is too strong of a word. I do what I need to do. I get by. I'm obviously disciplined in keeping a schedule and making sure the house is relatively organized. I do my best to make time for the kids and a little extra time for Ethan. I don't mean to sound as if I'm making a choice because I'm feeling condemned that I'm not being the perfect wife and mother. No, this is for me. Well, for everyone indirectly, but for me, first and foremost.

The other day one of Ethan's therapists was talking about playing blocks with Ethan, which is one of his least favorite activities. He doesn't care for open-ended activities that require a lot of imagination and don't involve much cause and effect. One of the other therapists had been using a timer, but Jessica was concerned that we would start to use that too much and make Ethan reliant on the timer going off to stop, because the timer's not real life. "I want him to be able to sit with that uncomfortable feeling for a little while, and keep going," she said. I knew what she meant. Oh, how I knew what she meant.

For me, sitting with that uncomfortable feeling means saying no to snacking when I'm really not hungry but just want to do something mindless in the evening, because hey, I love food. Sitting with discomfort could mean getting on that elliptical or walking outside just a little bit longer, letting myself really break a sweat, rather than backing down before I've really pushed myself. Sitting with the uncomfortable means letting feelings and thoughts come but not pouncing on them, but refusing to travel down paths all of the time that will drag me down.

I've realized recently that not once in my life have I ever seriously attempted keeping my thoughts in check. I've always heard people say, "Well, such-and-such could happen, but I'm not even going to think about that right now," and I'd think, "Really? How do you not?" I am the type of person who finds a new mole and in 10 seconds has envisioned my funeral and my motherless children, has a clear picture in my mind and actually could get tears in my eyes from the picture. In ten seconds. Really.

I've gotten into lazy habits, and originally this was not my fault. This was what was modeled for me. Both of my parents in their own ways like to immediately catastrophize everything, out loud for us kids to hear. I can think of very few family members, growing up, who modeled much self-control, and those who did were labeled as "snobbish" for their emotional restraint. Instead, thoughts were blown into crazy, scary scenarios, and every emotion felt was often acted upon...which meant we had a nice level of openness and honestly, but also too many times where people flew off the handle into rage, spewed out cutting and toxic words, or dissolved into a pit of despair.

But that was then. I'm a big girl now and the time has past come for me to take a bit of a different path. Ethan has shown me that. You see, I am learning in a very painful way that Ethan doesn't allow me the luxury of chasing down rabbit trails. I can't run after every emotion and whim. I have to stay on an even keel.

This weekend is a good example. We went to Nate's house and Ethan wanted to play with musical toys the whole time, until he wanted to goof off a bit with light switches or the storm drain outside. Dan was playing a board game with Nate, Anna wanted me to play with her, Christina and my nephews were there, and I could feel the haze growing around me. In my head, I heard, Why can't he just play with his sisters and cousins? Look what the little boys are doing and how curious they are about their world. Why can't Ethan be like that? What would it be like if he were typical, to see all the cousins playing together? The pain started crushing my chest. I felt tears in my eyes. Worst of all, I could feel myself no longer being present. I was losing the moment and all the good things about it. I hated that, but when thoughts and feelings come to me, because of my lack of practice, I feel like I have to jump in the wave and ride wherever it goes.

I was talking to Dan about it last night. "What do you do?" I asked. "What do you do when those kind of thoughts come to you?"

"I just know I can't go there all the time," he said. "So I don't let myself...sometimes it happens, but I stop myself from constantly wishing and doing the what ifs.'"

And that's when I realized that Dan and other people in this world who don't live feeling completely downtrodden aren't just that way because they were born with a sunnier disposition. They're making choices sometimes. They are choosing what to dwell on and where to focus their energies. They're living in the now and finding places to laugh, places to cherish. I feel as if this shouldn't be news to me, but in some ways it is.

Hearing that made me realize that lately some of my tears have come not so much from sadness but from feeling that making the right choices is just too darned hard. I don't want to do it. Yet if I don't, not only I but my family will suffer.

The question is -- how to become more self-discplined with grace leading the way, rather than by my own human striving? I know now that I just can't do this on my own. I'm going to need some help from His hand of strength. Maybe just knowing that is an important first step.


elizabeth said...

i'm working on this myself, or, should I say, God's working this in me, too... i don't exactly have an answer, but I think He's telling me something along the lines of... accept His grace, accept His love, HEAR Him when He says 'I love you', accept His gifts, praise Him for His gifts, and out of a thankful heart for who God is, we will be joyful in our acts of self-discipline as an act of gratitude for His love for us. In other words, I think we need to focus less on the goal of pouring ourselves out and more on the receiving of God's love. Yes, yes, we know God loves us, but have you sat down, closed your eyes and let God's love and grace pour all over you today? You can't pour out with an empty cup. We are to pour out ourselves from the overflow, not from actually emptying our own cups. As for self-discipline, I think God's saying it should come from a God-honoring/loving attitude, not from a self-loathing attitude. Let Him love you completely and you will naturally act out of His grace.

???? let me know if you can figure it out. i don't have it all put together, so if God gives you some insight, I'd love to hear it! i do have a problem with self-discipline, but the way God is dealing with me is specifically about "running on empty" and pouring out myself for my family. there will be more to pour out for them if i were overflowing. i thought that kind of applied to "self-discipline", but maybe it doesn't, LOL! i'd better go take a nap! i hope something i wrote here encourages you as that was the intention! (it's been a looooong morning-- i read your entry about the pool and am totally relating!)

Deb said...

Elizabeth, that's sooo rich, what you are writing about. You don't know how much I want to better experience God's love. That really is the integral piece of the equation. I am taking your words to heart. Thanks for sharing.

rhemashope said...

oh yes.

maybe part of it is finding a Bible verse(s) that you cling to during this time of "grasping self-discipline." when discouraging thoughts or fears come, say or sing the verse with all your heart.

keep standing strong, mama.

"My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Ps. 73:26