Several books have changed my life.

I don’t say that to be dramatic. People, places, and experiences can all represent turning points and crossroads in our lives, but many shifts in my way of thinking, many epiphanies that led to greater freedom, occurred while a different version of me was reading a book.

Book #1: The Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.

One of my mentors in high school, Lee Edwards, pointed me towards this book in which Foster does exactly what his title suggests. He celebrates the benefits of classic spiritual exercises.

The Church of Christ, or at least the ones that I attended growing up, didn’t offer much in the way of spiritual formation and intentional discipleship. I don’t mean to criticize a particular preacher or person, I just wanted more. I felt like the Gospel must mean more than behavioral modification, bible studies, prayer, service projects, and church attendance. Avoiding the Big Five—Drinking, Smoking, Cussing, Gambling, and Dancing—was paramount to be a good Christian.

I wanted to be good. And holy.

blackeyesusansWhere was the transformation? Where was the Holy Spirit tearing through our stolid worship services like a wildfire? Where was the passion, the mystery, the heart-rending beauty of grace? I carried around a dull ache for a personal God I had never known. I wanted God to be real but felt paralyzed, waiting for Him to strike me with some experiential knowledge of Him like a bolt of lightning. I ached for the presence of Him Who Created me.

Imagine if you lived your whole life in a house lit by candles. You knew where all the doors were, but they stayed locked. Sometimes, you thought you heard far off noises, laughter. A violin. A child singing. You were happy for the most part, yet even moments of intense joy had tinges of sadness.

The Holy Spirit worked through Richard Foster to throw open a door to the outside world. Now, imagine open country bathed in sunlight. Imagine discovering the desire and ability to run.

I can’t say that I implemented a rich mixture of spiritual disciplines as soon as I finished the book. Instead, I was filled with the desire to become the kind of person whose life was a rhythm of solitude, silence, prayer, study, fasting, hospitality, exercise, community, confession, and the others.montan

Foster taught me that spiritual exercise can sharpen my awareness of God’s constant presence in my life. To use another metaphor, I can’t make the seeds grow, but I can help God till the soil. This participation, this strengthening vision to see that God is already at work, has always been at work inside of me, gave me hope. God runs to embrace us like the loving father in the story of the prodigal son.

God gives us ways to watch for him and maybe even to sprint across that open country feeling his breath on our skin.

[More book recommendations to follow…]

Case in point: Seth Godin

February 24, 2009

Yesterday, for “One dirty diaper at a time,” I wrote about the discipline of writing, the writing craft. Doing anything well requires practice. Practice takes years of concentrated effort. 

Well, persistence—one blog post, one dirty diaper at a time—has paid off for Seth Godin. He’s written 3000 posts without missing a day. That’s nose to the grindstone every day for over eight years. Granted, he enjoys himself, but that doesn’t diminish his achievement.

Congratulations, Seth, and thank you for your example.

The rest of you, do yourself a favor and subscribe to Seth’s blog. You’ll be challenged and inspired.

One dirty diaper at a time

February 23, 2009

I started blogging because I got a full-time job at Morris Creative Group—a marketing, advertising, and branding firm—and I thought that making regular posts would be a good way to keep the rust knocked off. My senior year of college, I wrote a term paper about T.S. Eliot’s poetics. I read his poetry, especially Four Quartets, and his essays on poetry and writing poetry.

What I learned while writing that paper has stuck with me. Eliot taught me that writing a good poem takes practice. Writing is like any other discipline, meaning that it’s a discipline. Chances are, you’ll only see the fruits or rewards of your many hours of hard work years down the road.

Rather than discourage us, though, Eliot’s insights offer some good news. Good writing is not some mystical occurrence to which some people gain access by stroke of fate or from which others are excluded.valarium

Stay at it long enough, and you will improve. Invest enough gumption, sweat, and time, and you will become a proficient writer.

Eliot talks about the dual trajectories of craft and experience. Unless you take care to hone your craft, even if that means producing a canon of doggerel, you will not have the skill necessary to capture a truly significant experience. Eliot believes that five to ten years must pass before we’ve given ourselves the chance to accumulate these transformative experiences.

The question is, are you willing to take a little time every day for the next five years in hopes that you have built up enough literary muscle to lift that boulder into the light? Are you willing to accept the mundane task of dogged day-to-day effort, knowing that the payoff may be years in the future?

The answer for most of us is no.

I’m convinced, however, that most people who publish books and enjoy a positive critical and public reception are not necessarily the naturally gifted writers who sit down when the muse strikes. They are people who carve out a half hour here and there to put pen to paper, fingertips to keypad.

What stands between you and a noteworthy achievement is your lack of discipline, not your lack of inborn talent and ability.

Sure, Shakespeare was a genius and he worked hard at it. Keep in mind, we know he was a genius because he worked hard at it. People will remember you for what you actually do, not for your potential.

Now, go change the world. One writing exercise at a time. One brick at a time. One dirty diaper at a time.

*For more of this kind of stuff, read a post I wrote at work.