“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.” ~ Brennan Manning
Something I heard in an interview the other day got me thinking. A well-known actor was asked about his preparation for a difficult role, and he said it took a lot of work but it was good for him because “Freedom lies on the other side of discipline.”
“Freedom lies on the other side of discipline.”
I’m really drawn to that statement. It’s a beautiful phrase, for one thing. Simple. Clear.
But…is it really true?
I think it all depends on what sort of discipline you mean.
In my coaching work, I often encounter people who see discipline as a kind of war you wage against yourself, passing judgment on a particular part of yourself as bad or unwanted and declaring war against it. But I have found that any discipline fueled by this kind of self-rejection can never lead to real freedom, because it is rooted in shame and fear, which has nothing to do with freedom at all. Rather, it has everything to do with control, and with hiding, as though we’re putting a part of ourselves under lock and key and “efforting” our way into a kind of false perfection that has nothing to do with genuine wholeness.
I’ve noticed we often deal with ourselves in this self-hating way in the name of our faith ~ that is to say, in our desire to please God ~ even though this is never the way God deals with us. Even when engaging what we might judge as the darkest and most undesirable part of ourselves, God’s approach is always the same: Compassionate Curiosity.
It is “His kindness that leads to repentance,” which is to say it is in His kindness towards us that we find the capacity to become something different. God knows that love, not judgment, is the key to personal transformation. When we experience this kindness from God, especially in those parts of our lives we consider shameful or unworthy, we call it Grace. Yet there is this strange disconnect between the grace we long to receive from God, and what we decide is the best way to treat ourselves. We do not typically extend God’s divine kindness toward ourselves, choosing instead to let Shame drive us to reject and hate the darker or more conflicted places within us. We think, mistakenly, that doing this will produce change.
Love, not judgment, is the key to personal transformation.
But this is not the way God deals with us. Rather, His Spirit comes to love us at the very point of our deepest self-rejection. The thing in us we think cannot be loved is the very thing He loves the most, and through loving it, restores it to life.
The discipline of God is fueled by love. He loves us too much to leave parts of us shattered or half-formed, shadowed in darkness. The first step to restoring anything to its original glory, after all, is to love it. This is what God does with us, and this is what all good discipline does as well. You cannot change any part of yourself unless, first, you love it.
Conversely, any discipline fueled by shame cannot produce freedom. It leads only to a soul divided, at war with itself, continually bound in a struggle that can never be won.
What has typically fueled your attempts at self-discipline ~ self hatred, or self love?