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This series I’m writing is based on a simple idea: Each day, I’m going to wake up, pray and read in Proverbs with “parenting eyes.” Then I’m going to blog whatever comes to mind. This could be brilliant or an epic failure. But that’s the plan. The next set of entries will have to be different as the verses/chapters I’m reading are, as one of my former students referred to them, “Christian fortune cookies.” In other words, two lines of insight with no real connection or continuity among them for nearly 400 verses. So, there will be more smaller entries rather than longer ones and the verses will be pretty much randomly selected as ideas pop into my brain from wherever they are. Today, I read Proverbs 13.

We were waiting for an acquaintance to join us for lunch. He was late. I was more than a little miffed because this was an important meeting and I had a few other important meetings right behind it based on the discussion of this meeting.

“Well, you know how he is. He’s an artist. They’re flaky. They’re out-there. They play by their own rules and all that jazz. They’re undisciplined.” That’s how this guy covered for the other guy’s lateness after touching base on his mobile phone and discovering that there wasn’t really a legitimate reason for the tardiness.

Since I didn’t really want either of these guys on the committee anyway, and I was already in a cantankerous mood, well, let’s just say I decided to clear up this common misconception. Hey. That’s just one more service I provide when I’m crabby…and since I was buying I figured I’d throw that in for absolutely nothing.

“No. Actually any artist is highly disciplined. It might look like they’re not doing anything but doodling or strumming a guitar or scribbling nonsense in a journal or even staring out a window. But that’s part of the process. And once that process drives them crazy enough to where they have to express it, they have to put their butt in the chair and type or write or paint or rehearse or get out there and take the photos. Artists, or the good ones anyway, are some of the most disciplined folks I know. So, either this guy is a lousy artist or just inconsiderate. Maybe both. But don’t excuse it under the umbrella that artists are flaky or undisciplined.” Yep. That’s the gist of my response. Told you I was cantankerous that day. But I believed what I said. Still do.

And I’m not alone.

A few quotes from some artists who have written to encourage others in their pursuit of making all our lives better through artistic expression:

We must take arms each and every day. Perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout. The smallest effort to win means, at the end of each day, a sort of victory.

–From Ray Bradbury in Zen in the Art of Writing.

Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious seems to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist our cause, serendipity reinforces our purpose.

–from Stephen Pressfield in The War of Art

You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine in the morning or ten every night. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter or you turn on your computer and bring up the right file…But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started.

–from Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird

Okay, one more then I’ll move on.

The writer must have a good imagination to begin with, but the imagination has to be muscular, which means it must be exercised in a disciplined way, day-in and day-out, by writing, failing, succeeding and revising.

–by Stephen King in On Writing.

I’m struck by the number of times “discipline” is used in chapter 13. Aren’t you?

I mean, it’s all over the chapter, sometimes it’s implied and others it’s just laid out there. It’s presumed that a father will discipline his child. It talks about us being disciplined in the words we use. We’re supposed to get off our lazy rear ends. We’re supposed to live righteously and with integrity…which is it’s own special application and discipline, right? We’re supposed to watch how we get and use our money. We see that being disciplined to correct instruction will have rewards and failure will have penalty. We see that being instructed by the wise gives life, man. If you neglect discipline you wind up poor and shamed. If you accept discipline you will be honored. We’re supposed to plan to bless our grandchildren (how disciplined would you have to be to think about thirty years ahead or so, right?). On and on it goes…

…and then it culminates in verse 24. We all know the crux of it in Christian circles, right? Spare the rod/spoil the child stuff. And I don’t want to bog down in spanking because that cheapens the verse. The issue isn’t the method of discipline but rather the issue of motivation we have as parents.

See, the Hebrew word means to be “early or prompt” or “diligent” in our discipline (the “military like” training). It means that if we fail on this point we’re pretty much neglecting our kids, that we’re indifferent, that we are abandoning them to the ways and whims of the world of influences out there. And the converse is true. If we discipline them, we show we care about their character.

And my problem was that I always seemed to be too tired to focus on parenting discipline. I’d come home from work (didn’t matter if I’d had a good or bad day) and I’d be tired and want to be left alone. Just sit in my chair, eat, veg out a bit with some sports or mindless TV. Or even if I’d chosen to play with the girls, I didn’t feel like picking up afterward. Or if there were small chores that needed doing, who wants to be the bad guy?

But these verses highlighted what I really wanted to be: A loving father. Deep down that’s what I really wanted, even if fatigue would tell me to sit on my keester and watch the local team win or lose while they did their kid things.

Sometimes, I’d have to sit in the driveway and pray for a bit…you know, head on the steering wheel, asking God to give the strength to give my family what they needed for the next 3 or 4 hours. To focus on my wife…and give my girls what they needed.

It might look like announcing to the girls that we’re off to the local pizza buffet with cheers and high fives because I’d picked up that look from the wife the clearly communicated her need for time alone in the house…even though I’d been waiting all day for the big hockey game.

Others it might look like giving them more help than needed because they’d been out later than usual for the small group meeting so we’d tell them they still had to clean their room but we’d get in and try not to be noticed while we did the bulk of the work.

Sometimes it would be engaging them in conversation when they’d spout off something that didn’t jibe with Scripture they’d learn in school even though I was a chapter away from finishing the incredible novel I was into before I overheard that snippet.

Others it would be to plan ahead as a parent to set them up to succeed. Tracy was great with this as she’d go to the dollar store and get 10 games each, to be brought out hourly, on the long drive back to Alabama to visit family (or later, the right amount of DVD’s and plug/charger/video games). Or making sure to set the alarm earlier so we’re not rushing around trying to get all the softball equipment/dance gear together while breakfast isn’t ready, etc.

Sometimes it straight up communication of Scripture as it applied to the situation. Others it was knowing when to let the natural consequences be the discipline.

I could go on.

But my thoughts today are very bottom-line, man. You have to be disciplined in order to disciple (notice how close those words are? thought you might pick up on that) your children most effectively. You’re the grown-up. You have to get your butt in the parenting seat and metaphorically type…
…or doodle…
…or journal…
…or get out in the field and wait on the light for the photo…
…or sit in the chair and practice scales for hours…

…in order to let the God of the universe create the Ephesians 2:10 masterpiece only He can.

But for us, it goes FAR beyond being a lousy artist or even inconsiderate. The desire to discipline and be disciplined is the difference between apathy and love. There aren’t any in-betweens.