Christmas break is always a time of intense reflection for me. Not only has the fall semester ended, but a whole year of life, according to the calendar we follow, is coming to a close. I usually spend much of my time at home processing what has happened in the year that passed, and dreaming of what the new year may hold.
Around this time last year, I started thinking about what I wanted 2016 to be about. Some years I’ve made New Year’s revolutions, but they’ve never been particularly helpful for me, so I decided to instead pray for God to give me a word for the year. As I began to pray, I secretly hoped God would give me a word like joy, or adventure, or whimsy.
Instead God told me that my word for 2016 would be discipline.
And much as I wanted to push back, I knew, with complete certainty, that the word fit.
Most people I know (myself included) flinch a little at the idea of discipline. It just feels like such a rigid concept. But the overwhelming sense I got from God was of Him spurring me on to greater things than I had previously attempted, or in the words of my roommate Ellisa, shloving me (shoving me with love). In telling me that my word for the year was discipline, God was not being heavy-handed, but He was very clearly saying to me that in order to get where I wanted to be, I was going to have to be willing to put in some hard work.
When God gave me discipline as my word for last year, I knew it was relevant to January Kelly, but I had no idea just how relevant it would continue to be as the year progressed. I’ve never had a theme so completely follow me and shape my life for such an extended period of time. January Kelly often failed at discipline, but God said, “It’s ok, just pick yourself up and try again.” And then God told April Kelly, “Discipline, my daughter, is your word for the year because I am preparing you for the immeasurably more just over the horizon.” July Kelly was frequently reminded of Eugene Peterson’s words about faithfulness (which takes immense discipline) being a long obedience in the same direction in an age of instant gratification. And October Kelly continued to run into situations where discipline, or continual choosing, was incredibly important. It never stopped being important.
Here are a few of the many situations in which discipline played an important role in my life:
- It took discipline to stick to food restriction after food restriction after food restriction as my body continued to reject various food groups.
- It took discipline to read from Leviticus into 1 Chronicles.
- It took discipline to wake up at 5am and clean dorms for 8 hours a day all summer in a job that got progressively more draining as the summer wore on.
- It took discipline to stay while so many I know got to go.
- It took discipline to not walk away from two friendships that almost completely crashed and burned.
- And ultimately, it took discipline to sit still instead of running away while God took me to new depths of surrender and trust.
But hard as each of those things were, they produced incredible fruit. Here’s what I saw as a result of my discipline:
- Because I listened to my body and cut many foods out of my diet, I’m eating healthier and know more about my how my body works than ever before.
- Because I dug into the Old Testament instead of reading easier to understand passages of scripture, I’ve been able to find surprising solidarity amongst the characters of the story of God.
- Because I stayed in a job that, to be totally honest, ripped me apart emotionally, I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever had.
- Because I stayed in the states instead of traveling internationally, I’ve been able to plug into the prayer room at my church – an experience which has blessed me beyond measure.
- Because I continued to invest in friendships that appeared to have ended, I’ve seen breathtaking revival and renewal in our relationships that still leaves me speechless.
- And ultimately, because I’ve dug into God instead of running away, I am currently holding my future more loosely, and feeling more peaceful and content about my life than I have in a very long time.
All of this (and more) because I chose discipline.
But the purpose of this post is not for me to brag. None of these things came easily. Just this month it took me embarrassingly long (20 days if you must know) to get through the first eight chapters of 1 Chronicles.There were the two cussing phases I went through (before this moment I don’t think anyone but my housemates and coworkers knew about these) where my go-to response for strong emotions was swear words. I almost walked out on my summer job and both of the friendships I had ceased to hope could be restored. And there were intense periods of time where I questioned the goodness and faithfulness of God to an extent that scared me.
As you can clearly see, I’m not there yet. Something tells me that the need for discipline won’t magically disappear at the end of 2016. However, sitting where I do today, I can see progress that seemed completely outside of the realm of possibility at this time last year.
One of the most surprising things I learned this year was how much joy can be born of discipline. Think of a child learning to walk, or a man climbing a mountain – both accomplishments take immense discipline but produce immeasurable joy!
To be completely candid with you, 2016 has quite possibly been the hardest year of my life. And yet, looking back I see a year that ripped me to shreds, and a God that is putting me back together, more whole, and complete, and who I’m made to be than I’ve ever been in my entire life.
And that is something worth celebrating!
Occasionally in this life we get to zoom out and see the bigger picture, and wow, the view is stunning!
So as the sun sets on 2016 I am overwhelmed by gratitude for a God who has the creativity and foresight to give me a word that had the power to shape an entire year of my life, and helped me dig deeply into the circular process of growth in order to launch me into what this next year of life will bring my way.