The Unexpected Gift In Discipline

{Image: the Chinese character for “discipline”}

It’s 5 a.m., dark, 40 degrees outside. I huddle with 15 other yawning speedo-clad high school girls on the side of the pool. Steam billows thick off the surface of eerie green water – so thick we can’t even see 10 feet away.

My body screams: “Turn around, get your things and get the heck back home to that warm bed!”
My burly stubble-faced Danish swim coach screams: “Everybody in! 1500 meter warm up starts NOW!”

Which is why, ever since Coach Heartless, I’ve spelled discipline: p.a.i.n.

Pain from loss of something I like and want. My time. My choices. My favorite foods. In the case of swim team, my sleep! Because of my faith, the desire to live after God’s heart kept me pressing in to discipline, even when it hurt.

But for the past few years since I became a writer (a.k.a. one who sits for a living), I’ve insisted on continuing to eat like a high school athlete. Until a very-unpregnant me stood on the bathroom scale at the same weight I was when I delivered my last child (yikes!). I had to get over my hang-ups with the D-word.

The good news was this: I already knew discipline was a good thing. I used it almost every day in a life-giving way with our kids. As readers of my Facebook Page have shared, I knew synonyms for discipline are “teaching,” “structure,” “guidance,” and “boundaries.” I discipline my kids to teach them – to mentor them in life and decisions they make. Pain may come because of change or consequences, but it’s not the point of discipline. The point is to grow and live well.

The bad news? It didn’t matter. I still wanted the chocolate chip cookies.

Until a few weeks ago. I’d finally picked up Lysa TerKeurst’s Made to Crave and committed to reading it with a friend. We checked in each week to share thoughts on the book and how we were doing with our weight and nutrition goals. At, I fought the process hard. I agreed with what I read but didn’t want to give up anything that added a little joy here and there in the craziness of life.

It just didn’t seem fair. To have two kids with special needs who require so much from me, and not get to eat the doughnut. To have to cut back yet again after a financial setback, and not eat the dessert I made for the kids. Why would God ask me to have THAT much discipline? That much sacrifice of what felt good in a season of life where good was tough to come by?

And then I read this:

“What if this battle with food isn’t the curse we’ve always thought it to be? What if it’s actually the very thing, if brought under control, that can lead us to a better understanding of God?” (Lysa TerKeurst, Made To Crave, p. 105).

As a coach who asks clients similar kinds of questions, I had to face the “what if” question. In less than a minute, I started to weep.

The thoughts went like this:

  • Yes, I’m in a really tough season with one of my daughters with special needs.
  • Yes, the financial setbacks have gotten worse and it’s hard to hold things together at home.
  • Yes, eating healthy means I’m frustrated and have to beg God for help with each craving, moment by moment through the day.
  • Wait a minute. In a tough time in my life, having discipline with food forces me to lean hard on God more often than I’ve been doing for a long time.
  • This battle is actually a …gift! God was giving me a circumstance to spend more time with him in a season when he knew I needed it more than ever.

The battle was – is – a gift.

Discipline is a gift, not a loss. It’s a way we connect deeper with the heart of God, with healthy choices, with life-giving habits. It’s a way to shed not only physical pounds that hinder us, but emotional weight that makes living hard. It simplifies life and struggles – making them about each individual choice in the moment, rather than a slew of unknowns in the future.

Chocolate can’t even hope to give that to us. Neither can cookies. Or 2 hours on Twitter. Or watching movies all day. Or any of the other things we think we want when we’re struggling. Not that those things in themselves are bad – they just can’t be for us what discipline can. They can’t set us free.

But God can. And that kind of discipline is not fair at all. It’s delight-ful. It’s abundant. It’s sweeter than anything I’ve tasted in a long time.

“If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.” – John 8:36

What about you? What’s your experience with discipline recently?


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