There’s a famous passage in one of St Paul’s letters – the one he writes to the church in Rome - where he says, ‘For I do not do what I want but do the thing I very hate…I do not do the good I want but the evil I do not want I do.’
It’s a cry of frustration from the depths of Paul’s being. And it’s a cry we easily empathise with.
We do not do the things we want to do
For, very often, we feel exactly the same way. We do not do the things we want to do. On the contrary, we find ourselves doing the things we don’t want to do.
Take exercise, for example. I very much want to get up early and work out but I find myself tapping the snooze button and staying in bed.
Take diet, as another example. I do not want to eat crisps or cranberry and almond cookies but I walk straight past the fruit bowl to the cupboard that contains them.
Take work in the community. I want very much to visit the sick and lonely in hospital but I find myself staying home and watching a football match on TV.
We so often fail to live up to the life we want to live, the life we believe God calls us to live and enjoy. We so often end up doing things or not doing things and feeling dissatisfied with ourselves.
How community makes a difference
And this is where community comes in and can make all the difference.
If I look at the things I do - not on my own but with others – then I see how much easier it is to be self-disciplined.
If I agree to go on a long walk with my daughter, then I’ll get up early, if necessary, to do this. If I agree to cook supper to eat with my husband, I’ll resist snacking in the afternoon so I don’t spoil my appetite. If I join a group of people volunteering in the community – like our night shelter project – then I will meet and connect with new people who may need my friendship and support.
When I think about it - even the things I do and love doing, such as reading my Bible, praying and painting, I would do far less of, if I did not do these things in community. Morning Prayer at 9am on midweek mornings with a few neighbours, Wednesday morning painting group with half a dozen local artists, Wednesday evening bible study with five or six friends and Sunday morning church with a large number of local people.
Don’t do things alone, do things with others
So think about the things you want to do but don’t do. And ask whether trying to do these things with others might be a help.
Don’t do things alone, do things with others – and see the difference this makes. Not just to your self-discipline. But to your self-enrichment too.