Santiago is an elderly fisherman who hasn’t caught anything in almost three months in Hemingway’s classic, The Old Man and the Sea. Things are so bad that Manolin, his young apprentice, has been forbidden by his parents from fishing with him. They want him to go out with the more successful fisherman.
It’s a dejected and desperate man then who sails from his small village in Cuba, taking his boat far out in the Gulf Stream into the Florida Straits. His efforts initially pay off as he hooks a great marlin. He fights it for three days before the fish comes close enough for Santiago to harpoon it. However, as he heads back to Cuba with his magnificent catch tied to the side of his boat, sharks attack the marlin numerous times so that when he finally arrives, there is little more than a skeleton remaining. (Hemingway had such an experience years before when a thousand pound marlin he caught was attacked and about half of it was eaten before he could get back to the dock as seen in this picture). At the time of the attacks and afterwards, Santiago chides himself saying, “I went out too far.”
Most of us aren’t that unlike Santiago in that we can venture out too far. In our consumer culture, it’s not hard to fall into the trap of excess—thinking that if a little of something is good, then boatloads of it will be wonderful. Yet the moment we begin to define ourselves by what we have (as advertisers are constantly encouraging us to do), we have gone out too far. We might end up with everything to live with, but if we have nothing to live for it is meaningless—a skeleton of what life is intended by our Father to be.
The same is true in regard to ambition and achievement. While these are normally good attributes, we can go out too far if they skew our priorities and become our reason for living. We’ve all seen too many examples of people who were so driven in this regard that they devalued their marriages or their families in order to “get ahead.” God must remain at our center or we become eccentric in an unhealthy way.
Then there’s the obsession with entertainment that some are afflicted with. Everything has to be fun—there’s no greater sin than being bored. Life is not about improvement or inspiration, but indulgence. They as well have gone out too far.
It was Gordon Dahl who several years ago made the famous observation that Americans tend to to worship their work, to work at their play, and to play at their worship. I’m not sure that I know many people for whom all three of these things are true, but I know many (including myself), who struggle with at least one of these areas.
Balanced lives aren’t easy because they require discipline. Discipline doesn’t come naturally to most of us; it only occurs only when our core convictions become embedded in our behavior to the point that we exercise self-restraint. This keeps us from going out too far.
In a climate where faith can be a mile long and an inch deep, it all sounds like way too much effort to be spiritual. But Paul (who knew something about spirituality), is on record as saying it is the grace of God that “teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives” (Titus 2:11-12). He tells Timothy that that “the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).
God’s grace and the Spirit who is holy call us to discipled (disciplined) lives! We won’t fall in love with discipline or make it an end in itself, but we’ll live that way because of our love for Christ.