Healthy Habits that Lead to Thriving Families
By LESLIE LUDY
I know, I know. The subject of personal discipline — to most of us — sounds about as exciting as a scientific discussion on the history of dust. The word discipline conjures up images of legalism and lists of rules and regulations. Most of us have observed mothers who run their homes like a military academy and value discipline and order far above joy and family relationships. I remember going to a homeschool conference where all the women wore tight buns and even tighter expressions. Their faces were grim and they never smiled. Their children were well-behaved and orderly, but somber and lifeless. The kids trailed behind their parents in silent, dutiful lines. It was such a sad sight to behold. These families’ homes seemed to run like clockwork and their children seemed obedient, but they were completely lacking in the joy of the Lord — or any kind of joy at all for that matter. I wanted to stand up and yell out, “Hey, all you people — don’t you claim to know Jesus? Then why are you acting like you are at a funeral? Homeschooling doesn’t need to drain the life out of you! Where are your smiles?!”
It’s no wonder the word discipline has become taboo among the rest of us who would much prefer our homes to be filled with warmth, love, and happiness rather than dour rules and constant sternness.
But we must realize that the somber-grim-faced-military-bootcamp version of living is a just a twisted counterfeit of true godly discipline. True godly discipline brings life, not misery. True godly discipline doesn’t snuff all the fun, joy, and warmth from our homes — rather it makes those things even more possible. Why? Because true godly discipline helps us honor God’s priorities and make time for what is truly important.
Just what is godly discipline? It is an act of worship — crucifying our selfish agenda in order to surrender to Christ’s pure and perfect agenda. (See Romans 12:1.) Discipline does not bring misery and restriction into our life. Rather, it brings glorious freedom. When our bodies and emotions are subject to the Spirit of God, we are free to live as He calls us to live rather than being enslaved to our selfish desires. We are able to give our time, our energy, and our lives fully to the things of His Kingdom. And His kingdom is all about “righteousness, peace and joy” — not dour rules and regulations. (See Romans 14:17.)
During the seasons of my life in which I have embraced a disciplined lifestyle as an act of worship, my intimacy with Christ has flourished. But whenever I grow lax about how I spend my time, I find that my relationship with Him slips to the back burner, and I end up talking a lot about Him without really knowing Him. It is not the mere act of “being disciplined” that draws me close to Christ. But discipline allows me to hear His voice, understand His Truth, and connect with His heart in a way that is impossible when I’m controlled by selfishness and apathy.
The Apostle Paul said, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).
Personal discipline is no small thing in the Kingdom of God. When we disregard it, our spiritual life can quickly fall by the wayside. We may believe all the right things, but the Gospel will not have power in our daily lives, because we have not learned how to put priority on the things that matter to God — like faith, prayer, and time in His Word.
In addition, a mother’s personal discipline is crucial to a thriving home and family life. This doesn’t mean that our day needs to be scheduled down to the minute or that we have to be an expert in time management. However, it does mean that without any kind of order, routine, or discipline at home, our families cannot truly thrive. Godly discipline is what helps us make time for what truly matters.
As I said in my book Set Apart Motherhood:
Whenever I set a healthy routine for my kids and manage to stick with it, I actually find more freedom to focus on what’s really important in life, such as cultivating intimacy with Christ, spending meaningful time with my family, and practicing hospitality. Having a routine helps guard these priorities. It also provides my children the security and structure they crave.
If I don’t follow a daily routine, an entire week can go by before I realize I’ve had no time for prayer, quiet times, or meaningful time with my family. I’ve been too busy doing a bunch of “this and that” and dealing with extra discipline issues that arise because my kids feel unstable and off-balance. Children thrive on routine, and so do mothers, no matter what personality God has given you!
Personal discipline is not just a matter of building more prayer and Bible study into our lives. Personal discipline also allows us to spend quality time with our children, protect our marriage relationship, tend to our physical bodies, and keep an orderly home. It’s the exercise of saying yes to what really matters and no to the distractions. A woman who has embraced godly discipline will feel much more calm, peaceful, and strong for the challenges of motherhood than one who is purely spontaneous and led by whim and emotion in all her daily decisions.
I learned that the level of chaos I experience in my motherhood is often directly related to the amount of personal discipline I’m willing to embrace. For example, if I stay up late at night working, frittering away my time on the Internet or reading a novel, I will likely oversleep, miss my quiet time, skip out on exercise, and feel chaotic and behind as I rush to get my children out of the door on time. I’ll get frustrated with my children for not eating breakfast quickly or that they can’t find their shoes when we are already running late. But in this scenario, it was a lack of discipline on my own part that led to the chaos. When my own life is undisciplined and disorganized, my kids feel stressed and rushed as we race out the door, which leads to fussing, meltdowns, and whines. This further escalates the feeling of chaos, and soon the entirety of my motherhood feels frazzled and overwhelming. On the other hand, when I discipline myself to get to bed early enough to wake up on time in order to tend to my children’s needs and establish a peaceful focus for the day, the entire atmosphere of our home changes.
That is not to say that children never contribute to chaos. In fact, the opposite is true! Sometimes a chaotic morning can happen even when I go out of my way to be organized and keep things peaceful and smooth. But there are a lot of times when we mothers contribute to the chaos in our homes simply because we are lacking in personal discipline.
If you sense the need to build more godly discipline into your daily life and motherhood role, here are some practical ways to begin:
1. Start Small
As I wrote in the previous article, it is important to recognize that godly discipline and human willpower are two different things. Willpower only lasts temporarily and is dependent upon our own ability. Godly discipline goes far beyond mere human “oomph” and comes through yielding to His Spirit and relying on His grace. It is impossible in our own strength. There have been many early mornings when I have whispered, “Lord, I do not have the energy to get out of bed. Please infuse me with Your strength. Give me the grace to do what You have called me to do!” Whenever I pray this prayer, I find that He enables me by His grace to do what would otherwise be impossible in my own strength.
Even if personal discipline doesn’t come naturally for you, remember that anyone can embrace godly discipline. All you must do is take steps of obedience and call upon Him for the strength and grace to do what you could never do on our own.
Here are some practical ways to start building godly discipline into your life:
Memorize a simple Scripture to recite the moment your alarm goes off. I love to whisper Psalm 118:24 first thing in the morning: “This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Meditating upon Truth turns my focus toward my King and helps me to ignore my body’s plea to pull the covers back over my head.
Recruit an accountability partner with whom you can honestly share the areas in your life that need greater discipline. Ask that person to pray with you and encourage you as you seek to make changes in these areas, by the grace of God. Having a trusted friend with whom you can share your failures and successes can make a tremendous difference in pushing you toward a more disciplined lifestyle, enabled by God’s grace.
Start gradually. If you are used to waking up at 9 a.m. and you try to switch cold turkey to a 5 a.m. wake-up time, chances are you will wane in your commitment after a day or two. Instead, try setting your alarm for 20 minutes earlier for the first couple of days. Then, set it for another 20 minutes earlier and work on that new discipline for a few days.
Continue this pattern until you have reached the wake-up time that you feel God is asking of you. Let your body get used to change over a period of a few weeks. You can do the same for lengthening your prayer sessions. If you have only been spending five minutes a day in prayer, don’t jump to an hour (unless of course you believe that God is asking you to do so!) Instead, add an additional five minutes each day until you reach the length that you feel God desires.
Remember that practical steps such as these should never become a “formula for holiness” or “means of righteousness” in themselves. Godly discipline is an act of surrender. It is a practical way that we can learn to “deny ourselves and take up our cross” to follow Christ. (See Matthew 16:24.) Every step to build godly discipline into our lives should be an outflow of our love for Christ, not a way to gain spiritual “brownie points” or prove our own righteousness (since we have none outside of Christ anyway!).
2. Don’t Get Discouraged
Most of us will go through unusual seasons in which regular, consistent discipline just doesn’t happen. It may be the birth of a child, a difficult pregnancy, a hospital stay, a family emergency, and so on, when every spare moment of our time and energy is given to “survival mode.” Recently Eric and I walked through a season like this. For several weeks, we were in the midst of an intense crisis involving several people that we were close to. We weren’t able to have regular prayer or quiet times during that season. Rather, it was just short bursts of crying out to God whenever we could steal away for a few minutes.
I knew that God was giving us grace for what we were walking through, and that He was sustaining us supernaturally even though it wasn’t possible for us to spend hours in prayer each day. But as soon as things calmed down and life returned to a relatively normal pace, I knew it was time to build regular, consistent routine back into our lives.
I do not always feel like a roaring success in preserving our family’s routine. It often seems that no sooner do I establish a consistent rhythm to our daily life, than something unexpected happens to throw everything off. And the neatly organized “flow chart” I have posted on the refrigerator serves as a shameful reminder that I am not sticking to the routine the way I had intended. When this happens I’ve learned not to wallow in guilt or frustration, but to simply modify the routine the best I can to fit the unique season we are walking through, and keep things as consistent as possible, even if it’s not picture perfect. Then, when things settle down again, I get back to the routine as quickly as possible.
3. Recognize Time Wasters
Many of us look at our daily schedules and can’t see any available time for seeking God, spending quality time with our children, or building an orderly home life. Yet often, our lives are filled with distractions and time wasters that take up far more of our free time than we realize. Social media, Internet surfing, phone chats, movies, and T.V. are a few of the most common culprits. Again, it’s not that these mediums are always wrong in themselves, but if not put in their proper place, they can dominate our time and pull us away from building our lives around God’s priorities. When we aren’t guarded in these areas, we often waste our time on temporal things, without even realizing we are doing so.
Financial consultants often recommend that their clients keep a record of exactly what they are spending their money on. Often, as clients evaluate their spending habits, they are surprised to learn that they’re spending far more in various categories than they would have guessed. The same principle applies to the way we spend our time. If asked to guess how much time you spend each day on social media, you might say, “Oh, probably a half-hour or so.” But if you were to set a timer each time you are on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter, you might be surprised to learn that you are spending far more time in those arenas than you had assumed you were.
Or how about texting and phone calls? I’ve never been much of a texter. But about a year ago, a friend of mine started texting me daily with various updates, comments, and ideas. I felt obligated to text her back whenever I had a pause in my work or family activities. After a few weeks, I began to realize that texting with my friend was taking up at least an hour of my day, and I knew it was not the best way for me to be spending that time. A lot of our texts were nothing more than idle chitchat. It was amazing how much of my time freed up once I eliminated the habit of unnecessary texting.
T.V. viewing is much the same; it can rob your precious time before you even know what’s happening. You might sit down with the intent of watching one episode of your favorite show, but once that remote is in your hand, it’s all too easy to click around from one show to the next for hours at a time. Eric and I have not had T.V. in our home for quite a few years. (We use our computer to watch family friendly movies with our kids every now and then.) The peace that we’ve experienced by removing the distraction of T.V. has been palpable.
If you find yourself wondering where all your time has gone, consider keeping a diary of your daily activities, especially the things you spend your free time on. For a week or two, write down exactly how much time you spend on the phone, emailing, texting, on Facebook, on Pinterest, posting on Instagram, watching movies, channel surfing, reading magazines, and so on. Don’t just guess at how much time you are spending on these things. Set a timer or monitor the clock as you do them, and write down the exact number of minutes or hours being spent on each activity. Then, prayerfully evaluate whether you need to cut or reduce any of these potential time wasters from your daily life.
Ask God to show you how to spend more of your time on what is important. For instance, can you replace your nightly T.V. time with a regular prayer time instead? Can you dedicate some of your Facebook time to studying the Bible instead? Instead of letting social events and household projects consume your weekend, could you spend some of that time teaching your children how to serve the elderly, the poor, the imprisoned, or the refugees in your local community?
Yes, I realize that some of these suggestions might sound about as attractive as exchanging a Hawaiian vacation for a year of grueling factory work. But if you are willing to consecrate your time to Jesus Christ, you’ll find a satisfaction far beyond what the distractions of the world can offer. When you experience the true and lasting fulfillment that comes from a lifestyle centered around God’s priorities, you will no longer be content to settle for a counterfeit.
Remember, it’s not that spending a little time on Facebook each day or watching an edifying movie now and then is sinful. The problem is devoting the majority of our free time to these things and allowing them to pull us away from God’s priorities. A good rule of thumb is this: leisure activities should be an accent to our lives, not what we build our lives around! Ephesians 2:10 says that we are created to do the “good works” that God has prepared for each of us. Let’s not miss out on the world-changing opportunities that God has in store for us each and every day — oftentimes right in our very own families.