Everyone loves self discipline. The hard work, the daily routine of sweat and blood, the power to resist temptation, the success—all this gives a sense of satisfaction that resounds deep in our hearts. It might require pitching practice until his fingertips are bloody, running when his legs already feel exhausted, or writing at the same time every day, no matter how she feels. No matter what the exact daily challenge entails, there’s something inspiring about it.
Yes, self discipline is a great spectator sport. I enjoy the training sequences in sports and action anime almost as much as the games and fights. But actually practicing discipline on a daily basis? I’m not sure about you, but I’m not that great at it. Sure, I’ve instituted some routines for homework, but they come with a crutch: if I’m not at one of my specific study spots, the homework probably won’t get done. And what about my other goals? When people suggest I (or their audience in general) set aside time to do something every day, my instinct is to protect myself from certain failure. For example:
“If you’re serious about writing, make time for it every day. Or at least every weekday.” —many published writers
“If you want to grow in Christ, I really recommend daily devotions.” —various pastors, writers, and other wise Christians
“But I can’t!” —me
Whoa there, “I can’t”? Hmm… focus and daily effort don’t come easily, but “I can’t” seems a little strong. And whether or not I can do something, as soon as I say “I can’t,” I really can’t. If I give up instead of persevering through something that’s difficult, if I don’t have the discipline to continue trying, then I won’t make progress.
When I watch anime, I expect the protagonists to face the impossible without backing down. Whether it means tracking down a stubborn friend, killing a Colossal Titan, or beating the Generation of Miracles, these heroes must never give up. Instead, they train hard and fight hard.
[Kurobas spoilers next paragraph only]
Right now, in Kuroko’s Basketball, the Kaijo and Seirin teams are in the final minutes of an intense game. Kaijo could have lost after Kise was subbed out. But the captain didn’t give up, and neither did the rest of the team. They played hard enough to slow down Seirin. Kise himself could have accepted his injury and his coach’s protection, but he felt responsible as the team’s ace, so he came back on the court earlier than planned. Now, Seirin must find the fortitude to maintain their lead. If they doubt themselves, then Kise will easily beat them with his Perfect Copy. But if they refuse to give up, if Kuroko finds a way to defend against Kise’s new moves, they have a chance. They just have to persevere through the next few minutes… and before this? They persevered through daily training. Without the discipline to train their bodies and minds, they wouldn’t even be at the Winter Championship.
Yes, but that’s anime logic. I’m not an anime hero. I’m not an athlete either, though I do run a little. I’m just a college student, and I can’t even balance work or club activities with school anymore. I don’t have the time or energy to add to my daily routine… or so I’d like to say. This past weekend, after a week of letting a sermon stir my conscience, I confronted myself. I listed the things I do daily, or almost daily. Eating and sleeping don’t count, because I barely think about them, and when I eat, I’m usually multitasking. But I do take extra time to choose my outfit, and I usually do makeup and get a little creative with my hair. Even on days when I’m “just too tired to care,” I put thought into which sweater, hat, and messy bun combination to don. If I have time for that, I can make time for journalling. Maybe it means more hat days, but if my priorities are straight, then it’s worth it.
At the beginning of Baby Steps, Ei-chan is a top student. He puts a lot of time, energy, and notebooks into his studies, and it pays off. Then he starts playing tennis. At first, it’s just for exercise. Then it becomes his passion, his priority. He starts spending less time on schoolwork, and he talks to his parents about dropping cram school so he can focus on tennis. He doesn’t come close to flunking, but he does lose his top spot, and he doesn’t mind. He’d rather schedule more time for training—and wow, his training his impressive! He’s very self-motivated and disciplined about tennis. He’s willing to take the daily steps he needs, even if they’re baby steps, to reach his goal.
I can learn from Ei-chan’s sense of priorities. I’m a good student, and I’ve become a little too attached to that. I want to honor God with my schoolwork and to respect my professors, but honestly, doing well in school is usually just about me and my pride. Studying is important, but there are more important things.
I mentioned before that Jesus retreated to pray even when everyone around him clamored for his healing. Obviously, healing the sick and crippled is good. But Jesus still took a break to spend time talking with the Father.
Jesus taught his followers about priorities, too. Many of us are familiar with the story of Mary and Martha. Martha hosted Jesus, and she was focused on serving him and anyone else present. I imagine she was getting stressed—she respected Jesus and wanted to give him the best meal she could. Meanwhile, her sister just sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to him. Martha finally said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” Okay, I’m no expert on first century Jewish culture and communication, but she sounds pretty stressed about this, even more stressed than I’ve seen the ladies among my relatives get over hosting. So how did Jesus respond?
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)
Ouch. The Son of God just told her that she shouldn’t be anxious about serving, and that she was wrong about what her sister should be doing. Serving Jesus and others is good, yes. But listening to his teaching? That is necessary. It takes priority.
I started this column with my post “Aiming for the Championship.” In it, I mentioned concrete goals and personalized training plans. Honestly, I went a little easy on myself. It’s time to get more specific. This week, I’m scheduling each day. For inspiration’s sake, I’m thinking of my Spring Break as training camp—a really tame one, with scheduled time for family and anime. I’m hoping to start developing habits I can continue to practice when I go back to school. It’s not just about establishing morning devotions or a writing routine—not all of that will work in the daily bustle of school life. But I want to cultivate my ability to focus on what’s important to me, even when I don’t want to. I want to cultivate self-discipline.
I’m not an anime hero. I can’t count on anime logic to guarantee my success. Since I’ll need discipline in order to learn discipline, this could be difficult. Unlike in sports anime, I’m doing my “training camp” without teammates or managers constantly by my side. But writing this post will keep me accountable, and since I’m back at my parents for the week, I can expect concerned looks when I’m not doing what I should be. I am drawing from what my “coaches” have taught—from my parents, my pastors (both at my home church and my college church), and my professors, with added wise words from other experienced Christians and writers. And above all, I have the Holy Spirit with me—our Counselor, our Helper, our God.
My “training camp” begins today. I’d love to hear your experience with developing daily discipline—whether you have daily devotions, athletic training, a writing schedule, or anything else. Let’s encourage each other!
Side note: I will take a break from Annalyn’s Corner next week. Every year, Beneath the Tangles does a special series of posts in the week leading up to Easter. I’ve watched the special queue build for a while now, and I look forward to reading the posts as they come next week. I hope you do, too!