calendarMarch 31, 2009

Almost three years ago I took a personal retreat at a Trappist monastery in the hills of Kentucky. The Abby Of Gethsemani is a 150 year old austere monastery located east of I-65 and south of the Bluegrass Highway out in the middle of nowhere. The Abby was the home of Thomas Merton, until his death in 1968. Merton is arguably the most influential American Catholic author of the twentieth century. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain has sold over one million copies and has been translated into over fifteen languages. Reading his book helped prepare me for the week of silent reflection I experienced.

The monastic milieu offers a place apart ?to entertain silence in the heart and listen for the voice of God ? to pray for your own discovery.? Merton wrote. I assumed God needed to speak with me on matters of great importance so I was not surprised when I got the call that someone had cancelled their reservation. There is usually a year wait to get in. I jumped at the chance to take my annual personal retreat at such a spiritual place. The truth is God didn?t need me to spend a week in total silence praying with monks so that He could speak to me. He told me what He wanted me to know on the drive up. Honestly, the rest of the week was really a time for me to feel like I was a good and faithful servant and to have a few cool stories to tell my friends at church.

There is no cell phone reception in that part of Kentucky. Nor is there any television, radio, newspapers, or any of the other modern technology or communications devices we take for granted. Mostly there is silence. Peace and quiet. With the exception of six worship services a day (beginning at 4:15 AM) with the monks chanting, there is plenty of time for meditation, reflection and prayer. But try as I might I could not hear a word from God. He had already spoken to me. Back to the drive up. The weather had delivered one of those misty rains that causes near invisible road conditions. It was nighttime and my nervousness led me to pray the whole trip long for my safety. I don?t know if you?ve ever had a long conversation with God but it was like a phone conversation where neither one of you hangs up. There were times of not speaking but I knew that He was still on the line the whole time. And then He spoke, ?YOU ARE AN UNDICIPLINED MAN?. It stung – I guess because of the truth of His words. Conviction is a powerful thing if you let it sink in and yield to the honesty of it. ?Of course I am, Lord. I know that, but I?m on a mission to hear something from you that will change my life and allow me to share it with everyone I influence?. I heard nothing more during the drive up nor during the five days of life with the Cistercian monks.

It?s pretty embarrassing when God ignores you. I was proud of the commitment of time I had carved out for communion with the Creator of the Universe. I was certain He would accept my sacrifice and bestow some cosmic secrete understanding on matters of faith or something equally impressive upon me as a reward for my piety. Aside from a lesson on humility all I got was this discipline stuff. Two years later as issues with my health and business took their toll I finally understood that most of my problems were caused by a lack of discipline in my life. The simple solution was to become more disciplined. I am now studying and applying the science of discipline to every area of my life and the results have been amazing. I?m still on the discipline journey and will have to stay committed to studying and applying it from here on but now I understand that you better be careful about what you pray for. I also understand that God is not impressed with our spiritual showboating.

I think we all ask God too many questions at one time. I think He knows we can?t handle everything we ask for much less what He wants us to work on. But He?s always right. It?s hard to impress Him and even harder to follow Him.


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  • Penny Howard says:

    Dear Mike,

    Wonderful insights – challenging as well to “be” instead of “do” when communicating with the Lord. You mentioned near the end of the article resources you began using to develop a more disciplined life. Do you have a list of resources posted someplace and/or some practical suggestions for daily living? I’m more of the “all or nothing” type and I really need to come to a place of balance and discipline in my relationship with God and others.

    Thank you for your heart and you willingness to put it out there for us to see.


    Penny Howard

  • Mike says:

    Penny – I suggest you start with a book I recently read titled “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. All discipline begins with a organizational system for all the things in your life. Allen’s approach is pretty intensive so be prepared to really work hard on his system. I am taking my whole company through a workshop with a coach using this approach.

    Master that and I’ll give you the next lesson I learned about dicipline. It’s not easy for us “all in” types but it is possible to learn some new techniques that will change our life. I think it will take the rest of my journey to master but it sure has been worth the investment so far.

    I look forward to hearing about your progress.


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