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Cover image: ‘In Remembrance of Me’, by Walter Rane

We all struggle to be better disciples of Christ. We take his name upon us when we partake of the Sacrament, we try to see others the way he does, we reach out in prayer, we try to be more obedient. Of course we all fall short to some degree, but in his great mercy he allows us to try again. Repeatedly.

As with many goals, this one—to be a better disciple– becomes more manageable if we tackle it in small pieces. And the one small piece I want to focus on today is the element of discipline.

In his wonderful address, Discipleship, Elder James E. Faust said, “The word for disciple and the word for discipline both come from the same Latin root—discipulus, which means pupil. It emphasizes practice or exercise.” I love this because it already implies the imperfection we all have. If impeccable discipline were automatic or easy to attain, there would be no need for practice. Right away we know we are pupils who are learning, and we have multiple chances to get this right!

Jesus was extraordinarily disciplined. He never wavered from the plan, even with multiple opportunities. “Jesus operated from a base of fixed principles or truths rather than making up the rules as he went along. Thus, his leadership style was not only correct, but also constant,” said President Spencer W. Kimball in his wonderful address, Jesus: the Perfect Leader in Sun Valley, Idaho many years ago.

The Savior never invented new rules or tried to make things more palatable to the world. He had the discipline to stay the course and stay true to eternal laws. I think how often we try to justify a little edging and hedging as we go through life. It reminds me of the mission presidents’ credo: “Obedience brings blessings; exact obedience brings miracles.” We unleash the power of God to shower us with blessings when we are that disciplined, that obedient.

Christ had the discipline to hold back. President Kimball said, “His innate brilliance would have permitted him to put on a dazzling display, but that would have left his followers far behind.” On any number of occasions he could have just done it himself to get it done right (and how many times, as parents, have we done that?) but he allowed others to grow and learn by doing. He knew there would be mistakes, but he didn’t jump in and take over; he held back. Even when the ultimate opportunity came to call down angels and rescue himself from crucifixion, he didn’t do it. He willingly submitted to his Father’s plan.

Life seems to hurl our responsibilities at us when we are most tired, most overwhelmed and busy, most unable to step up and follow through. Yet these are the crucial moments when we plead for help from our Father in Heaven, exert faith, and find a way to power through adversity. That takes discipline and selflessness. The parent who rises for the fifth time during the night to comfort a crying baby, the falsely accused employee who summons patience rather than firing back in anger, the exhausted single mother working three jobs who stays up to help her son with his homework—the world is filled with people who muster the discipline to do what’s right. And they do it every day.

How disciplined are we when it comes to the world’s latest lure? I’m thinking of cell phones, video games, and the seemingly constant need we feel to have an electronic screen in front of our face. Can we discipline ourselves not to check it constantly for messages and likes? Do we know there’s a problem when families have to set a “no phone” rule just to have half an hour together to eat dinner? Easy access to the internet has also led to “the new drug,” pornography, a textbook study in the difficulty of discipline.

Sometimes it takes great discipline to love others, as Christ has told us to do. President Kimball spoke of the mortals we meet in everyday life. “It will do us little good to speak of the general brotherhood of mankind if we cannot regard those who are all around us as our brothers and sisters.” Does it take discipline to refrain from judging or ignoring the people God has given us to love? Does it take even more discipline to genuinely feel love for these people, even the most difficult ones? Does it require discipline to serve and to forgive? We must live deliberately and consciously if we are to be disciplined followers of Christ.

None of these are easy things to do. They take immense effort and much practice. But when we realize we’re still students, not masters of this yet, we can allow ourselves room to practice, grow, try again, even fail if necessary—always getting back up with the goal in mind. If we take discipline seriously and continue to strive in the right direction, we will make incremental progress. I love Elder Faust’s reminder: “By measure, the requirements of discipleship are much, much less than the promised blessings.”

Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.