A few months ago, I had the honor and privilege of sitting in a fireside chat with a former Navy SEAL. I had no idea what to expect or what was happening when I arrived to this event. A friend had an extra ticket and invited me and because I had the night open and I didn’t want my friend to go alone, I went. I didn’t ask many questions about the night. My friend told me that it was a black tie event…some kind of fundraiser, so I put on a dress and went along for the adventure.
I was confused for most of the presentation simply because I didn’t understand why we were sitting in front of this man listening to him speak on leadership. I mean, all the fundraisers I’ve attended in a formal dress included dancing and food. But the truth about me is I LOVE learning, and I especially LOVE learning about leadership, so I hung on this man’s every word.
There were less than 30 people in the room giving each of us a literal upfront and personal seat next to this real American Hero. He showed video footage of training and of “hell week” and he showed stunning photo after stunning photo of fellow SEALs that spoke thousands of words to my heart and stirred up all the feels. He spoke of communication and working together. He spoke of training and safety. He spoke of different leadership styles and how some were more effective than others in almost every line of work, especially his. He told of practices of our military people that I would never have thought about on my own. The whole thing was good and eye opening and I appreciated him and his service and experience. He was humble and kind but also BA and confident in a way few people ever are. Like seriously only an elite few…less than 1% of the navy, which means a tiny fraction of the human population! Let that sink in. Many men enter the program but only a miniscule percentage of them actually become active SEALs.
When he was finished speaking, the room was opened up for a Q and A and people began asking everything under the sun. All of it was interesting, but one thing really stuck out to me.
Someone asked what the difference was between the men who make it through SEAL training and become active duty SEALs and those who ring the bell of defeat either by choice or otherwise.
He paused for a minute, looked at the ground, and then said, “That’s a really good question.” He went on to tell us that a large sum of money had been spent to hire a company to find the answer to that question. I mean, that makes sense to me right? Find out the answer to that question and then create more and more successful Navy SEALs. I was sitting on the edge of my seat awaiting the answer so I could leave and apply this magical success ingredient to my running and my ministry and my parenting.
Do you know what that company concluded? They don’t know!
Yep, all that money and time and they don’t know why some people are successful in the program and some are not. Maybe it’s grit, maybe it’s wiring, who knows? They simply could not grab onto “that special something” that led some to success in the program and others not so much.
And then he said something that resonated in my soul.
He said in his opinion success had nothing to do with motivation and everything to do with discipline. The very words made my heart flutter as if God had just whispered something directly to me through this man with very different life experiences than me.
You see for years I’ve been beating the “why” drum. I’ve said over and over, if you don’t know your “why” for doing things in your life then your “how” will seem dang near impossible. The “why” is our motivation…it is what moves us toward action…it moves us to change…it impels our very being. Without the motivation, there is no change. In other words, if you don’t know your “why” for wanting to lose weight then it will be very difficult to stay on track and actually lose the weight and then keep it off. If you don’t know your “why” for eating more healthy food, it will be very difficult to say no to the pizza and fries. Hear me, the “why”...the motivation, is still very important in our journey, but it’s not what makes the difference. And that’s what hit me.
It’s a both AND situation.
The motivation…the “why” moves us and the “how” changes us. The “how” makes the difference in our lives. Just like motivation is our “why”, discipline is our “how”. Discipline is the quality that makes some successful in certain areas of their lives and others tap out time and time again. When I run marathons, my motivation is to finish the race but the discipline of the training is what changes my body and mind allowing me to cross the finish line.
The word discipline carries a heavy weight of negative connotation with it for most of the population. Some of us far more than others because of our specific wiring or our life experiences. It even makes me cringe a bit, so I get it. Please, don’t check out! Stick with me because I promise I’m going somewhere you want to go.
The SEAL went on to explain that there are 2 major areas of discipline that make all the difference. The first was in a practical “what to do” kind of a way. He explained that even though the 8 teams of SEALs had extensive training and were experts in their field, every single time they returned from a mission, they went right back in to basic training. They went right back to daily basic training and habits so that the next time they were called at a moments notice into combat, they were prepared, they were sharp, they were better than last time, and they could react out of habit and muscle memory.
They never let themselves come back from a successful mission and say, “Dang, we are good…we’ve arrived and now we can coast”.
They never allowed themselves to become complacent in their lives because complacency is dangerous.
The second area was in selflessness. He said the mission of the SEALs is every man comes back alive. No one man is more important than another. Not one life holds more value than another. They aren’t allowed to think about self…they aren’t allowed to get themselves through hell week alone. The goal is never to be the last man standing. The goal is to be one. At the end of his presentation, the SEAL showed us a video of men doing pushups…a whole lot of pushups. He stopped the video and asked us what we noticed. People pointed out all kinds of things like they looked tired or their form was off, but none of us were able to see what he saw. “Did anyone notice how the men were dressed?” he asked. “Some of them were fully dressed and some of them were in underwear only. Some of them had shoes and some of them were barefoot.” He went on. They had failed. He explained that it would have been better for the entire group to arrive late than for them to show up having only been concerned about themselves. He said that in order to achieve success, they had to be more concerned about the next guy. So in other words, put your socks on and then help the next guy get his on. Put your shirt on and then help the next guy get his on until everybody is ready to go and then GO! Together!
Are you getting it yet? Do you hear what God spoke to me?
Although I could somewhat relate to what he was saying from a running perspective, God was whispering more than that. Because the truth is, even on my best day, I will get nowhere near the BA-ness of a SEAL…at my best, I will never have the physical discipline or responsibility of an elite soldier.
I was reminded that all the things that were applicable to the success of a team trying to serve and protect, are also true of our spiritual lives.
We can have all the knowledge of the bible…we can attend church 7 days a week, we can volunteer for everything under the sun, we can shout our Christian status from the rooftops, but if we aren’t disciplined in the application of God’s word to our lives, we will get complacent and when things really go down in our lives, we won’t be able to respond well.
We have to know the practical “what to do” of this life following Jesus. If we don’t mediate over the truths of scripture daily, if we don’t know what God says about us…how HE feels about us…what HE thinks about us...how HE expects us to see others...when the world comes at us, we will stumble.
We need discipline in our spiritual lives.
Go back to the basics time and time again.
Read scripture using a devotional. Write a truth about yourself according to the creator of everything every day. Look through the grid of loving people in every decision that you make. Meditate on those things. You are beautiful…you are fearfully and wonderfully made…your body is a temple…your life has a purpose bigger than you…you’ve been uniquely gifted…you have value…your mistakes are things you did, not who you are…you fight from a place of victory…good things are coming…you have one purpose: to Love God and Love people...and hundreds of other realities and truths.
So when the heartaches of life come, you will respond out of kindness and love and confidence because you have muscle memory…because you are DISCIPLINED to understand the truth about yourself and others deep in your being.
And when the storm of your life has calmed and you are still standing firm, you will need spiritual discipline to reach over and bring the next person along in their journey.
The goal of this life isn’t to make it to the finish line and be the last man standing. Every human on the planet has equal value in God’s unshakeable Kingdom and our goal is to run the race set before us and to love ALL people so that we all finish well. But it will take discipline. Discipline takes time and work…it takes intention to go back to the basics time and time again. So let’s start now. Start today. Memorize with me this truth and then let’s be intentional about reaching out to bring the next human along. This is my go to reminder…I literally have it tattooed on my side. It reminds me that I don’t have to be perfect and I never will be, but God does His best work in my weakness.
2 Corinthians 12:9
…My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness…