On Discipline and Water Pitchers

 
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Hi, I'm Michael and I'm the Network Services Director. I'd like to share a little bit about habits.

Much ink has been spilled over developing healthy habits. Many sermons and self help books alike close with a call to adopt or grow in a particular spiritual discipline. Less Netflix, more prayer. Less social media, more intentional solitude. Most of understand the huge benefits these rhythms offer, but they seem distant and hardly attainable.

Many microchurches may find themselves in a free fall when coming from a traditional Western church context. Vocational church leaders provided a pillar to lean on through a color by numbers approach in the past, but now the freedom and autonomy in a microchurch setting may feel more overwhelming than freeing. 

I'm not here to give you a shortcut. Meaningful change happens day after day, drip by drip. So today I'd like you to learn from an unlikely teacher: a water filter.

One evening in early January 2014 I found myself at the kitchen table staring blankly at an old yellow scratch pad. Energized by the clean slate of a new year, I scratched out some goals. Following Claire Diaz-Ortiz’s approach, my life found itself compartmentalized into neat little sections: Personal, Work, Financial, Family, God. Each had a few bullet points. Run a marathon. Have a date night each week. Bench press more than a gallon of milk.

Half of me felt empowered, the other, terrified. Was I really going to accomplish all this? Would most of my progress putter out by March 1st? Self-doubt continued to creep in the more I scrutinized the daunting list. Time and time again I’ve attempted goals on the list only to find them quickly abandoned.

I got up from my seat to stretch and thought about the last goal on my Personal list, drink 64oz of water a day. I snagged a glass with one hand and popped open the fridge with the other. At the time my wife and I liked drinking out of a filtered water pitcher. Let’s just say that our water district had some peculiarity in the pipes.

I picked up the pitcher to find an empty reservoir. Great start.

I begrudgingly slung the jug under the faucet and started filling it for an eternity. Yes, I was too impatient to wait for a water pitcher to fill up and therefore too lazy to fill it after draining it.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. If I cannot stay committed to the small, daily rhythms of life, then how am I supposed to commit to these larger, long term goals?

Embarrassed, empowered, and still thirsty, I poured myself a glass from this fountain of truth and made a toast to this low moment: From now on, I solemnly swear fill up the water pitcher after every pour.

Every.

Single.

Time.

Yes, this sounds petty, rudimentary and incredibly insignificant. But for whatever reason, that dry, plastic container became the tipping point for a rush of self discipline. I wish this story ended with, “And 2014 was the year I accomplished all the things.” Not even close. I will say, though, that slowly building a habit, even if it was as simple as filling up a water pitcher after I used it, grew my character.

So, what’s the point here? Commitment, resilience, and self-disciplines are muscles. Our everyday habits reinforce these character traits. Annie Dillard wisely says, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

I can’t tell you how many times after I long day I put an empty water pitcher back in the fridge, walked out of the kitchen, then guilted myself back to fill it up. The laziness I had accrued over years and years of a bad habit took many months to break. The cool part? In July, the flow became automatic. Filling up the water pitcher was no longer a conscious decision, but a part of my daily life. It took a while to get there, but I was rewarded during those hot summer months.

Do you have any water pitchers in your life? Simple, persistent tasks that keep kicking your tail? It’s sexier to chase an illusive and grandiose discipline like solitude, but harder to break the ideology into something you can concretely practice. Most people resist committing to something tangible since it means they’ll be on the hook for the empty checkbox.

As 2018 grows evermore towards its close, how can you commit, and actually keep, the daily promises you make to yourself?

Narrative Network